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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

The Beautiful Pottery Of Wedgwood
(Part 2 Of 2)

The jasper ware was Wedgwood's own invention. It received his closest personal attention, and some of his finest pieces were made in it. It is best described in his own words as "a white porcelain bisque of exquisite beauty and delicacy, possessing the quality of receiving color throughout its whole substance. This renders it particularly fit for cameos, portraits, and all subjects in bas-relief, as the ground may be made of any color throughout and the raised figures in pure white." It included in its composition barium, clay, and finely ground flint, and in its natural color was a peculiar dense, opaque white, varying from chalk-white to ivory.



It is hard to say whether the chief charm of jasper-ware lies in its color, its form, or the beauty and perfection of the ornamentation. Certainly the colorings are superb. Many colors were employedmostly delicate tints-the light blue perhaps being the most popular and best known. There were at least five tones and hues of blue derived from cobalt, six tones of green, three tones of red, from orange to terra cotta, lilac, rose, plum, chocolate, buff, brown, canary-yellow, black, and four distinct whites. White was usually employed in relief on one of these colors, and sometimes with a combination of two other colors. Occasionally two colors were employed without white, such as olive-green on buff.

There were two ways of coloring the Jasper-coloring throughout and coloring simply the surface by dipping. The latter method was invented in 1777 and made possible several new effects. The majority of the ware, however, is colored throughout.

Previous to 1781 the jasper-ware had been used almost exclusively for plaques and cameos. Then Wedgwood turned his attention to vases, adapting the forms largely from the antique. They were made in various sizes, chiefly in one color with white reliefs. Many were ornamented in Classic figures by Flaxman. To these jasper vases Wedgwood owes much of his reputation as a consummate artist and craftsman.

The well known incident of the Portland vase may be worthy of mention at this point. In 1787 Wedgwood made fifty copies of the famous antique Barberini vase, owned by the Duke of Portland. This vase was a wonderful example of the highest type of Classic art, and Wedgwood's copies nearly surpassed the original. They were made in black and blue, with white reliefs. It is said that about twenty of the original fifty copies are extant in museums and private collections, chiefly in England, but the authenticity of some of them is disputed.

After 1780 many articles were made in jasperware: tea and coffee sets, including cups and saucers, bowls and sugar basins, tea and coffee pots, cream pitchers and trays; plaques, medallions, and cameos; scent-bottles, match-pots, a few pipe-bowls and hookahs, candlesticks, pedestals for statuettes and busts, pots for growing bulbs and flowering plants, and a remarkable set of chessmen designed by Flaxman in 1785.

While less remarkable than the basalt or the jasper, the variegated ware manufactured by Wed, wood & Bentley is not without interest for the collector. Agate effects were produced by differentcolored clays, and cream-colored earthenware was colored on the surface and glazed to represent porphyry, granite, Egyptian pebble, etc.

A number of vases and bulb and flower-pots were made in these effects and in terra-cotta, likewise a few lamps and candelabra. A white porcelain biscuit, with smooth and wax-like surface, was also made, but only a few pieces of it are in existence. Some enameled ware was also turned out, but this is neither as distinctive nor as beautiful as the painted basalt.

The subject of cameos, medallions, etc., deserves a paragraph to itself. Some of Wedgwood's most decorative and most minutely perfect work was done in this class of pottery. At first these were in cream colored relief, with the ground stained. Then medallions, miniature portraits, intaglios, medals, etc., were made in black basalt. A few of these were flat, with a Classic figure painted in encaustic, but most of them were in black bas-relief. The invention of the jasper body enabled Wedgwood to produce white cameo reliefs on a colored ground in beautiful combinations. The relief was molded separately and so carefully applied that these cameos are often flawless under a magnify inb glass. Classic figures were used, and also portraits of royalties and other personages. There were several classes of these portrait cameos, some in basalt and others in jasper-chiefly blue and white. Medallion portraits were often set in silver and ranged from ring size to three inches in diameter. The commonest size was 2 x 1 1/4 inches, in oval form. The Classic medallions were also made in small sizes for jewels, and in larger sizes for framing or for mounting on furniture or mantels. Plaques were made for this purpose in sizes ranging from 9 x 6 inches to 27 1/2, x 81/2 inches.

Practically every piece of genuine old Wedgwood bears the potter's name in one form or another. A few trial pieces, often imperfect, left the factory unmarked, but most unmarked pieces may be set down as imitations. These marks were impressed in the clay before firing, and are usually clean cut and easily deciphered, though on the backs of the smaller medallions and on other small pieces the mark is sometimes so small as almost to require a magnifying-glass. Workmen's marks usually a single letter or number scratched or impressedsometimes appear, but always in connection with the regular Wedgwood marks. These marks are rare, however, as Wedgwood wished only his own mark to appear. Other marks, with a few exceptions, were used chiefly after the elder Wedgwood's death in 1795.

Prior to 1768, on the queen's ware, the single name WEDGWOOD appeared in fairly large capitals. About 1768 to 1769 the name was used in four different, sizes of type. From 1769 to 1780 the firm name Wedgwood & Bentley appeared. The two names, one above the other, were used in four sizes. The names were also used in raised letters in a circular impressed mark, usually a little over an inch in diameter, the word Etruria being added on the later basalt, Etruscan, and variegated vases. On the small basalt intaglios the initials W. & B. were sometimes used.

After Bentley's death the single name Wedgwood was used again in six different sizes. Since 1795 other marks have occasionally been added, but often the mark is so similar to the old ones that the classification of a piece as old Wedgwood must depend on the style and other distinguishing features.

The senses of touch and sight are both called into play by the expert, and an almost indescribable air of lightness, and perfection of form and finish, are the criterion, as well as smoothness of the ground, in both the jasper and the basalt. The novice can hardly hope to determine the genuineness of a piece unaided, but a fairly good working knowledge of the ware can be gained with a little practice. One Wedgwood enthusiast of my acquaintance carries a small Wedgwood bell-pull with her when she goes Wedgwood hunting, as a sort of model to compare in "feel" with a doubtful piece.

As to color, that, too, must be studied, for it is not always uniform in the old pieces, and has been cleverly imitated. But there is a peculiar tone of blue in the genuine ware seldom found in the counterfeits. The old color was made from mineral or vegetable elements; modern fakers mostly use aniline.

Wedgwood had many contemporaneous imitators of whom the collector must needs beware. Some of them made pottery well worth treasuring, but it is not old Wedgwood. The queen's ware was widely copied, but the material and workmanship are neither of them as fine in the imitations. Basalt, too, was usually quite noticeably inkrior. John Turner, from 1762 to 1786, made a good blue-and-white jasper, but its appearance is harder than that of the Wedgwood, and the blue less delicate and usually greenish or purplish. Some of the Turner pieces rank with the best Wedgwood, however. William Adams also made an excellent blue-and-white jasperware that is highly prized by some collectors, but the differences in color become apparent after a little study. Another imitator of some importance was Spode.

Seals, ring intaglios, and portrait medallions were also made by imitators of Wedgwood, but their workmanship can seldom compare with his, and they usually fall short in cleanness of design, surface finish, and color. Blue-and-white cameos, similar to jasper, were made at Sevres and Paris, but their coloring and general appearance are inferior to Wedgwood's.

It goes without saying that spurious Wedgwood is made by modern fakers. The less reliable shops are full of it. But the careful collector need not be deceived by it. The fakers are not as clever with basalt and jasper as they are with brass and mahogany. In fact, genuine old Wedgwood is so seldom found at large in these days that the antique shop which carries a large supply of it is at once open to suspicion. One of the largest and most reliable establishments in New York had not a single piece of Wedgwood in stock when I called a short time ago.

It can easily be seen, therefore, that genuine old Wedgwood is rare, and the money value of authentic pieces is high. Because there is so little changing hands in the open market to-day in this country, it is practically impossible to make any statement that would give a trustworthy idea of the money values of old Wedgwood. Sometimes, of course, a piece may be picked up for a song, but this is the exception, and enthusiastic collectors do not hesitate to pay large sums even for cracked and mended pieces, provided they are authentic and good specimens of Wedgwood's best work.

To give a slight idea of the values, it may be stated that small basalt portrait medallions are worth from $12.50 to $15 each, larger ones more. Jasper medallions of the ordinary type are worth from $25 to $75 each. Small seals are sometimes valued at $15 or $20. The larger Jasper medallions are worth from $75 up, the rare white-on-black jasper medallions having brought as high as $100 to $500 each. It is very largely a matter of how badly , the collector wants them. Jasper cups and saucers range in value from $15 to $100 a set, while the vases run the whole gamut of prices, according to age, design, size, color, and workmanship. Ten-inch jasper vases of good style, white on blue, are worth perhaps $75 to $100 each, though much larger sums have been paid for pieces especially desired. Good basalt vases cost but little less. Genuine copies of the Portland vase, not claimed to be one of the original fifty, have brought all sorts of prices, from $75 to $750. Good basalt pieces, however, may be had at lower prices, if found at all. Prices quoted in England must be practically doubled here, to allow for duty and importer's profits. So little genuine old Wedgwood is to be found in the shops that valuations are largely taken from auction prices, and these are naturally unstable.


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