Today is the birthday (1730) of Josiah Wedgwood, well-known manufacturer of pottery and entrepreneur. His expensive items were in much demand from the nobility, while he used emulation effects to market cheaper sets to the rest of society. Every new invention that Wedgwood produced – green glaze, creamware, black basalt and jasper – was quickly copied. Wedgwood is credited as the inventor of modern marketing. He pioneered direct mail, money back guarantees, traveling salesmen, carrying pattern boxes for display, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.
Josiah was born in Burslem in Staffordshire, the eleventh and last child of potter Thomas Wedgwood (d. 1739) and Mary Wedgwood (née Stringer; d. 1766). By the age of 9, he was proving himself to be a skilled potter. He survived a childhood bout of smallpox to serve as an apprentice potter under his eldest brother Thomas Wedgwood. Smallpox left Josiah with a permanently weakened knee, which made him unable to work the foot pedal of a potter’s wheel. As a result, he concentrated from an early age on designing pottery and then making it with the input of other potters. The pottery created in his father’s and brother’s business was inexpensive and low quality, black and mottled in color.
In his early 20s, Wedgwood began working with the most renowned English pottery-maker of his day, Thomas Whieldon, who eventually became his business partner in 1754. Wedgwood also began to study the new science of chemistry, seeking to understand the materials science of fire, clay, and minerals and to develop better clays and glazes for pottery-making. Following an accident in 1762, Wedgwood met Joseph Priestley, who gave Wedgwood advice on the chemistry of the materials involved in pottery. Wedgwood’s experimentation with a wide variety of techniques coincided with the burgeoning of the nearby industrial city of Manchester. Inspired, Wedgwood leased the Ivy Works in the town of Burslem. From 1768 to 1780 he partnered with Thomas Bentley, a potter of sophistication and astute taste. Over the course of the next decade, his experimentation (and a considerable injection of capital from his marriage to a richly endowed distant cousin) transformed the sleepy artisan works into the first true pottery factory. Wedgwood was keenly interested in the scientific advances of his day and it was this interest that underpinned his adoption of its approach and methods to revolutionize the quality of his pottery. His unique glazes began to distinguish his wares from anything else on the market.
By 1763, he was receiving orders from the highest levels of the British nobility, including Queen Charlotte. Wedgwood convinced her to let him name the line of pottery she had purchased “Queen’s Ware,” and trumpeted the royal association in his paperwork and stationery. Anything Wedgwood made for the queen was automatically exhibited before it was delivered. In 1764 he received his first order from abroad. Wedgwood marketed his Queen’s Ware at affordable prices, everywhere in the world British trading ships sailed. In 1767 he wrote, “The demand for this sd. Creamcolour, Alias, Queen Ware, Alias, Ivory, still increases — It is amazing how rapidly the use of it has spread all most [sic] over the whole Globe.”
He first opened a warehouse at Charles Street, Mayfair in London in 1765 and it soon became an integral part of his sales organization. In two years his trade had outgrown his rooms in Grosvenor Square. In 1767 Wedgwood and Bentley drew up an agreement to divide decorative wares between them, the domestic wares being sold on Wedgwood’s behalf. A special display room was built to entice the rich and fashionable. Wedgwood’s in fact had become one of the most fashionable meeting places in London. His employees had to work day and night to satisfy the demand and the crowds of visitors showed no sign of abating. The demand was against the Baroque and Rococo and in favor of simplicity and antiquity. To encourage this outward spread of fashion and to speed it on its way Wedgwood set up warehouses and showrooms in Bath, Liverpool and Dublin in addition to his showrooms at Etruria and in Westminster. Great care was taken in timing the openings, and new goods were held back to increase their effect.
The most important of Wedgwood’s early achievements in vase production was the perfection of the black stoneware body, which he called ‘basalt’. This body could imitate the color and shapes of Etruscan or Greek vases which were being excavated in Italy. In 1769 classical vases were all the rage in London. Around 1771 he started to experiment with Jasperware, but he did not advertise this new product for a couple of years.
Gilding was to prove unpopular at this time, and around 1772 Wedgwood reduced the amount of ‘offensive gilding’ in response to suggestions from Sir William Hamilton. When English society found the uncompromisingly naked figure of the classics ‘too warm’ for their taste, and the ardor of the Greek gods too easily apparent, Wedgwood was quick to cloak their pagan immodesty – gowns for the women and fig leaves for the gods were usually sufficient.
Wedgwood hoped to monopolize the aristocratic market, and thus win for his wares a special distinction, a social cachet which would filter to all classes of society. Wedgwood fully realized the value of such a lead and made the most of it by giving his pottery the names of its patrons: Queensware, Royal Pattern, Russian pattern, Bedford, Oxford and Chetwynd vases for instance. Whether they owned the original or merely possessed a Wedgwood copy mattered little to Wedgwood’s customers. In 1773 they published the first Ornamental Catalogue, an illustrated catalogue of shapes. A plaque, in Wedgwood’s blue pottery style, marking the site of his London showrooms between 1774 and 1795 in Wedgwood Mews, is located at 12, Greek Street, London, W1.
In 1773, Catherine the Great of Imperial Russia ordered the Green Frog Service from Wedgwood, consisting of 952 pieces and over a thousand original paintings, for one of its palaces — the Kekerekeksinen Palace (palace on a frog swamp in Finnish), later known as Chesme Palace. Most of the painting was carried out in Wedgwood’s decorating studio at Chelsea. Its display, Wedgwood thought, ‘would bring an immence (sic) number of People of Fashion into our Rooms. For over a month the fashionable world thronged the rooms and blocked the streets with their carriages.
As a leading industrialist, Wedgwood was a major backer of the Trent and Mersey Canal dug between the River Trent and River Mersey, during which time he became friends with Erasmus Darwin. Later that decade, his burgeoning business caused him to move from the smaller Ivy Works to the newly built Etruria Works, which would run for 180 years. The factory was named after the Etruria district of Italy, where black porcelain dating to Etruscan times was being excavated. Wedgwood found this porcelain inspiring, and his first major commercial success was its duplication with what he called “Black Basalt”. He combined experiments in his art and in the technique of mass production with an interest in improved roads, canals, schools and living conditions. At Etruria, he also built a village for his workers.
Not long after the new works opened, continuing trouble with his smallpox-afflicted knee made the amputation of his right leg necessary. In 1780, his long-time business partner Thomas Bentley died, and Wedgwood turned to Darwin for help in running the business. As a result of the close association that grew up between the Wedgwood and Darwin families, Josiah’s eldest daughter later married Erasmus’ son. One of their sons was Charles Darwin (only one of a large number of famous progeny from the Darwin-Wedgwood line).
To clinch his position as leader of the new fashion he sought out the famous Barberini vase as the final test of his technical skill. Wedgwood’s obsession was to duplicate the Portland Vase, a blue and white glass vase dating to the first century BCE. For three years he worked on the project, eventually producing what he considered a satisfactory copy in 1789. In 1784 Wedgwood was exporting nearly 80% of his total produce. By 1790 he had sold to every city in Europe. To give his customers a greater sense of the rarity of his goods, he strictly limited the number of jaspers on display in his rooms at any given time.
In his later years, Wedgwood became an ardent abolitionist and produced a famous medal with a pleading slave image and the text, “AM I NOT A MAN AND A BROTHER?”
After passing on his company to his sons, Wedgwood died at home, probably of cancer of the jaw, in 1795. He was buried three days later in the parish church of Stoke-on-Trent.
I’ll give you a sort of two-fer in recipes for Josiah Wedgwood (more like a one-point-fiver). Recipes from Staffordshire in the region of the potteries. First there is Staffordshire beef lobby (or simply “lobby’). This was a stew made from the leftovers of Sunday dinner, or made from offal as a cheap meal. It really is completely ordinary, so I will just give you a list of ingredients. Put all the ingredients in a saucepan or crock pot and either slow simmer them on the stove for several hours, or cook overnight in a crock pot. You’ll end up with something akin to Scotch broth or beef-barley soup.
Staffordshire Beef Lobby
1lb stewing steak, cut into small chunks
1 cup pearl barley
1 onion, peeled and diced
4 large potatoes, peeled and diced
1 swede, peeled and diced
4 celery sticks, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
Much more on the money is Staffordshire Yeomanry pudding, which, despite the name, is a two-crust pie with an almond custard filling, and a thin layer of jam. Type of jam is cook’s choice. I prefer raspberry. This pie is not well known outside of Staffordshire, but it ought to be.
Staffordshire Yeomanry Pudding
1 ¾ cups/220 gm plain flour
½ cup/113 gm butter
1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp salt
1 egg yolk
1 tbsp cold water
½ cup/113 gm cold butter, cut in small pieces
½ cup/100 gm sugar
¼ cup/28 gm ground almonds
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
2 egg yolks
1 egg white
2 tbsp jam
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C.
For the pastry: Put the flour and the cold butter, cut into pieces, into a food processor. Pulse several times, until the flour and butter are combined and resemble breadcrumbs. Add in the sugar and salt and pulse again. Add in the egg yolk and water. Pulse again, scraping down the sides of the food processor in between pulses, until the dough just comes together.
Turn out the dough on to a sheet of cling film and wrap it firmly. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill.
For the filling: In the bowl of your processor or with electric beaters, cream the butter and sugar together until they turn pale yellow. Mix in the vanilla extract, salt, and ground almonds. Next add in the whole egg and one egg yolk and process until the mixture is well combined, scraping down the side of the processor occasionally.
To assemble and cook: Roll out ⅔ of the dough and fit it into a pie plate. Spoon in the jam and spread it around evenly on the bottom. Pour the custard filling on top of the jam and smooth it out.
Roll the remaining piece of dough out in a circle and top the filling with it. Crimp down around the edges to seal the two crusts together. Cut some slits in the top crust. (You can brush the top crust with a little egg wash to improve browning if you wish).
Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 minutes or until the crust is golden.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 20-25 minutes before cutting and serving.