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Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95)

Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) was a Staffordshire potter who established an international reputation for British ceramics. A tireless innovator, he perfected a cream-coloured earthenware known as 'creamware' as well as developing a new coloured unglazed body 'jasper'. His wares ranged from buttons, vases and tableware to cameos set into chimneypieces, jewellery and boxes. Wedgwood's most important patron was Queen Charlotte (1744–1818), though his long-running family firm was later frequented by George IV (1762–1830) and Queen Mary (1867–1953).

Wedgwood was born in Burslem, Staffordshire, in July 1730, into a family of potters stretching back four generations. He opened his first London showrooms in 1765 and there took over an order for a tea service for Queen Charlotte from another manufacturer. From that time he was entitled to style himself 'Potter to Her Majesty' and this royal patronage proved crucial to his success. The Queen remained a valuable customer, and in 1774 paid a private visit to Wedgwood's showroom to see the famous 'Frog Service' ordered from him by the Empress Catherine of Russia. 

Throughout his career, Wedgwood recorded thousands of designs and formulae in his experiment book, aspiring to become 'Vase Maker General to the Universe'. His most important innovation was the coloured unglazed body known as 'jasper', which enabled production of two-colour ornamental wares which matched the colour schemes of neo-classical interiors. Four miniature busts on pedestals in the Royal Collection are excellent examples of this work (RCINs 45780, 45778, 45779, 45777). Wedgwood was also a campaigner for the abolition of slavery, and his plaque depicting a kneeling man in chains with the inscription 'Am I not a man and a brother?' (RCIN 45792) became a prominent image in the abolitionist campaign.

Wedgwood died in 1795, but the family firm continued for a further five generations with ongoing royal patronage. George IV had ordered a Wedgwood dining service (RCIN 39882) when Prince of Wales, and proved an important customer after this time. A century later, Queen Mary visited the Wedgwood shop in London as she sought to identify items in Queen Charlotte's collection, including a Wedgwood dish and urn likely made for the dairy in the grounds of Frogmore (RCIN 53002). The Royal Collection today contains several hundred Wedgwood medallions, plaques and pieces for the table.


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Objects associated with Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95)