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Wedgwood Pottery Productions

[Wedgwood Pottery And The Eighteenth-Century World]  [Wedgwood's First Fruits]  [Wedgwood Pottery Productions (Part 1)]  [Wedgwood Pottery Productions (Part 2)] 
[Josiah Wedgwood - The Artist]  [Wedgwood's Working Life]  [Wedgwood Glossary] 


Perhaps tea and coffeepots, milk jugs, and punch pots provide the best record of the universality of Wedgwood's art, for they were made in continuo from the earliest days of his career to the latest and occur in all his materials and styles of decoration. He created pots and jugs which would hold a gallon or a gill, cups and saucers, cans, stirrup cups, and goblets, each designed according to the criteria of functionalism, good proportion, and fine workmanship, and with a decorative interest which would make the object harmonize with some prevailing style or appeal to purchasers of different tastes. He called those who bought them "connoisseurs of eating and drinking." They must have thanked him for spouts and lips that would pour, handles with room for the hand, covers which would fit and not fall off, and a body which was light and perfectly balanced.

Typical Wedgwood spouts included the cabbage or overlapped leaf, twisted leaf, crabstock, faceted, basketwork, reeded, molded with a female mask, straight or curved, springing from stylized acanthus or fern leafage. The lipspout for teapots was mentioned in 1777 in the blackware and is also found in jasper and other materials. The handles included loop, foliated scroll, wishbone, imperial, twisted rope, double rope, single ribbon and double ribbon, with or without flower, leaf, and tassel ornament applied at terminations. Overarching handles of self material in many types were used on teapots and kettles. Some kettles had pierced lugs for the attachment of a wicker bale handle. The coversflat, domed, or with gentle curves-might be fluted, sprigged, printed, or painted to match the body, while stylized flowers, cones, fruits, birds, lions, lambs, dogs, cupids, and seated figures frequently served as knobs.

Wedgwood's pattern books list 40 shapes of teapots ranging from globular, square, and lozenge, to cylindrical, elliptical, ovoid, upright, and inverted pear-shape. In general, coffee and chocolate pots were tall and bag-shaped or straight-sided, while creamers which came in 40 shapes might be squat and Lilliputian, and milk and ale jugs capacious enough for giants.

Teacups could be obtained in 28 shapes; coffee cups in 15; and chocolate cups in 12. Teacups had handles or not according to the customer's preference, and sometimes one saucer served for both tea and coffee cup. Saucers were plain or had a ring to steady the cup or a deep socket to hold the foot firmly in position, another idea borrowed from the Chinese. Cups intended for custards, ice cream, chocolate, or broth were usually covered. "Cans" for punch, coffee, or chocolate were straight-sided, with or without handles. There were also many mugs, fox and hare-head stirrup cups, and goblet-shaped drinking vessels. Some of these were mounted with silver or Sheffield rims.

All pieces could be obtained singly or as complete services which might include sugar basins, slop bowls, tea caddies, hot-water plates and gondolas for toast, and butter tubs and stands. The tete-a-tete or dejeuner set was intended for two and the solitaire for one, the pieces being grouped on a tray of self-material or wood according to the taste of the buyer. A caneware set on a carved mahogany tray is illustrated. The small handled cups are for coffee and the bowlshaped ones for tea.


Canisters or containers for tea were made in great variety, but because of breakage, examples are rare. The caddy was introduced in the reign of Queen Anne. The word caddy, it is said, was derived from a weight called the "Kate" equaling eleven-fifteenths of a pound. Many of the shapes were suggested by specimens in Chinese and continental porcelains and Wedgwood made rectangular, octagonal, and cylindrical models in great variety in most bodies and with many decorative treatments. The covers ranged from cap- to dome-shaped, fluted, or painted.


In general, the early bodies were used for drinking and pouring vessels, dessert dishes, bowls, tureens, and special and individual pieces. With the perfection of the cream color, however, large table services were made in that material and became the staple product of the potter, beginning about 1766.

Plates were of varying sizes, ten inches being general for a dinner plate, a size arrived at after much experimentation. Plates came in nine shapes not including designs based on shells, fruits, and vegetables. The plain shape with concave or flat rim and no footring as designed by Wedgwood suggests Ting ware dishes of the Sung period. Besides the Concave Rim and the Flat Rina there were the Queen's Pattern, the Royal Pattern, Octagon, Shell Edge, two different Feather Edges, and the Gadroon Edge. Plates were made in salt glaze, tortoise shell, agate, green glaze, Queen's ware, basaltes, caneware, "Pearl" ware, redware, and jasper, the body and its capabilities dictating ornament and form.

The rims of Queen's-ware plates lent themselves to piercing and painting as well as embossing and printing. The painted designs usually consisted of freehand lining and simple conventionalized borders of ivy, laurel, grape, bellflower, oak and strawberry leaf, thistle, feather, shell, spiral, waves, egg and tongue, and interlaced rings, in monotone or several colors. Crests and heraldic devices were also placed on the rim or in the center. Centers were plain, painted, or printed with scattered flowers or birds and insects, clusters of shells, landscape views, or portraits of prominent people.

Orders for plates were enormous. In 1776 Wedgwood received one foreign order for 1500 dozen with "all the other articles to make them up into complete services." An order for 500 dozen came a few days later. When one considers the handwork involved and the methods of transportation by packhorse, cart, and barge, one can form some idea of the problems faced by the potter.

Just as dinner plates were made to preserve "distinctness in eating," so a gravy well was invented by Wedgwood in a platter for the convenience of the carver, to free him from "poking, sloping, and splashing," as Maria Edgeworth, the novelist, expressed it when referring in 1825 to this feature. Platters were listed as oval, the largest ig inches. There were also round, oblong, and triangular serving dishes, soup and sauce tureens, gravy boats with stands, soup and flat plates, ladles, fish trowels, and spoons in variety. The ladles, illustrated on page 85, are like the one pictured in the first Queen's-ware catalogue of 1774 and bear a striking resemblance to the creamy Chinese dippers of the Sung period. In addition there were fish drainers; root dishes with pans to keep them hot; gravy cups with water pans; egg baskets and cups; oil and vinegar stands for two to six cruets; breadbaskets inspired by baskets of osier twigs; asparagus pans; monteiths far keeping glasses cool in water; cuvettes for the same purpose; glaciers; openwork dishes or "croquants" with or without compartments for hors d'oeuvre, chestnuts, and oranges; honeypots; and salts in forty shapes, the twin salt with twisted handles being among the most unusual. As in the case of the teaware, tableware was not confined to any one body, although the jasper pieces were more decorative than practical and used mainly for special dishes or figures for elaborate table settings.

For the kitchen, there were "sauce-pans for cooking that will bear a charcoal fire," strainers, funnels, jugs and bowls in all sizes, boxes for beating eggs and cream, and many molds. The latter formed a large class for pastry, jellies, ices, cakes, and puddings. Those for transparent jellies were ornaments for the table. The center or core, which was shaped like a cone or wedge or obelisk, was decorated with painted flowers. This core fitted into a form which contained the warm mixture. When this had cooled, the whole was inverted on a dish and the outer mold removed, leaving the core encased with transparent jelly through which the colored flowers could be seen.

Tiles for walls and floors added to the cleanliness and pleasantness of dairies as did many creamware utensils such as milkpans, churns, skimmers, ladles, steins, slabs, strainers, jugs, and bowls.

Mortars were produced in great variety ranging from two to thirteen inches in diameter. The pestles sometimes had wooden handles. Crucibles, retorts, and evaporating baths were made for chemists and apothecaries, and many other articles, including nursing bottles and medical utensils.

In the closing years of Wedgwood's life, he made, at the suggestion of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, father of Maria Edgeworth, artificial pies and tarts in piecrust or caneware, and cakes with jasper icing for use in time of famine. Some of the pies were dummies but others, representing standing pies, were receptacles for rice and stewed fruit instead of the scarce game. The period, 1795-1805, was a time of great dearth and distress in England and these pieces gave a semblance of plenty to dinner tables.


Cameos and intaglios were small gemlike pieces for mounting as rings, chatelaines, brooches, buttons, and other objects of use and ornament or for arrangement in cabinets for study. The cameos bore designs in relief; the intaglios resembled engraved stones and were adapted for seals. They form two large and important classes in Wedgwood's ornamental catalogues, and many of the subjects which appear in cameo were also made in intaglio, sometimes on the obverse and reverse of the same piece. Double examples of each form also exist. Wedgwood regarded gems as the "fountain-head of fine and beautiful composition." For his use, kings, princes, and connoisseurs in England and on the Continent opened their cabinets of real gems and other works of art allowing his artists to study and model and mold from them. He listed over two thousand designs including subjects from Egyptian, Greek, and Roman history, mythology, masks, chimeras, figures, and heads. The heads were not all portraits of ancients. There were many of illustrious men and women of modern times with numerous contemporaries now unidentified.

The size ranged from that of a pea to about two inches. Some of the cameos had grooved edges for mounting, or pierced edges for sewing on fabr,ics, or pierced centers for stringing as beads. Unmounted cameos were sold, each wrapped in a paper with the catalogue number.

The intaglios were made in all black resembling black basaltes or jasper or polished to resemble colored agates and other stones then in fashion, or in white biscuit or jasper. Some had polished shanks of self material, while others were mounted in gold, ormolu, or silver for rings. Cyphers in all single letters and all combinations of two letters as well as family crests could be obtained. Two of the most famous intaglios, historically, are the seal of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery representing a kneeling slave with the words, "Am I not a Man and a Brother," and the device used on the flag of the American Navy of a coiled rattlesnake and the words, "Don't Tread on Me."


In general, medallions varied from two to five inches in diameter. Plaques-round, oval, or octagonal-measured five or six to about ten and three-quarters inches. Tablets, or rectangular bas-reliefs, ranged from five to twenty-seven and one-half inches. They were made in several bodies, the best known being basaltes and white and colored jaspers. A few large plaques measuring thirty to thirty-six by fifty-four inches were made for the artist, George Stub bs, for enamel painting in i7;g, but these were extraordinary.

Encaustic painting was sometimes employed on basaltes plaques and tablets, and printing on Queen's-ware plaques arid tablets, but usually the designs in both materials were in relief. Early examples were cast from plaster-of-Paris molds, each piece being finished by a modeling tool before firing. Later the reliefs were luted to the surface of the background with slip, the relief itself having been made from a mold which had been prepared from a cast of the artist's original model. The process was difficult and success was attained only after long experiment. Many pieces required two firings. The shrinkage during the drying and firing amounted to about one-eighth of an inch, but the warping and cracking were unpredictable. There were many wasters, the loss being sometimes as much as three out of four.

The medallions were sometimes set in boxes, cabinets, trays, tea caddies and other objects for use in the home or in fine mountings for personal adornment. The large plaques and tablets were framed for wall decoration or, unframed, were used in architectural treatments of doorways, fireplaces, and windows.

The first basaltes tablets were made in 1772; white reliefs on colored jasper grounds were not successfully accomplished until 1775, the larger examples not being offered for sale until 1778.

The designs were drawn from ancient gems, wall paintings, medals, vases, bas-reliefs, sarcophagi, and engravings in books. Contrary to general opinion, all were not copies of classic art. A very large number were from the works of contemporaries. That these enjoyed great popularity may be seen by the number listed in the early catalogues and the number in collections of old Wedgwood. Those illustrated in this book were drawn from a wide variety of sources. For example, The Marriage of Cupid and Psyche was modeled from a gem in the collection at Blenheim, now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; The Nymph with Cymbals from a painting found at Pompeii, 1749; The Hour Before the Dawn from a painting on a ceiling of Le Sette Sale discovered near the Baths of Titus in Rome in 1683; The Bourbonnois Shepherd and Poor Maria from drawings furnished by Lady Templetown inspired by characters in Sterne's Sentimental journey; Venus Chiding Cupid for Learning to Cast Accounts from Sir Joshua Reynolds' painting; and Amalthaea Giving Drink to Zeus from a wellhead in Rome.

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