It’s the birthday of Josiah Wedgwood, born this day in 1730 (died January 3, 1795) the founder of Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Pottery, a company still in existence although it’s now owned by a US company. Here are the UK and US websites.
Now Josiah is a bit of a hero for me. He was smart, hardworking, came from humble beginnings and was an abolitionist. What’s not to love? He was also the grandfather of Charles Darwin. Yesss!
Also, according to Wikipedia:
Wedgwood is credited as the inventor of modern marketing, specifically direct mail, money-back guarantees, traveling salesmen, self-service, free delivery, buy one get one free, and illustrated catalogues.
And it was his marketing acumen that came up with the idea of a logo and tagline (Am I not a Man and a Brother?) for the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade. It became tremendously successful and was reproduced on pottery, jewelry, and other artefacts. (He probably didn’t actually design it himself, though.) As his friend and fellow abolitionist Thomas Clarkson said,
…ladies wore them in bracelets, and others had them fitted up in an ornamental manner as pins for their hair. At length the taste for wearing them became general, and thus fashion, which usually confines itself to worthless things, was seen for once in the honorable office of promoting the cause of justice, humanity and freedom…
He was interested in more than business or design, becoming involved with the science of pottery, and was a member of the Lunar Society of Birmingham, a group of businessmen, scientists and philosophers, so named because they liked to meet on the night of the full moon, thus allowing them more time for talk and less for travel. He was elected a member of the Royal Society after he invented the pyrometer, a device to measure the extremely high temperatures in kilns during firing.
I could, but I won’t, fill this entire post of pics of Wedgwood’s work although he considered this, the Portland vase, his greatest work. It was a copy of a Roman intaglio vase, made of glass. Here’s his (on the left) and the original (on the right).
Another thing I really love about Wedgwood is how he ties into so much that’s fascinating about the Georgian period. Sir William Hamilton, later husband of Emma, first brought the Portland vase to England. Mrs. Radcliffe’s father managed the Bath Wedgwood showroom and one of her uncles was a business partner of Josiah’s. There are the Darwin and abolitionist connections. Jane Austen owned some Wedgwood, as she wrote in a letter to Cassandra in 1811:
On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking and approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely and upon the whole is a good match, tho’ I think they might have allowed us rather larger leaves, especially in such a year of fine foliage as this. One is apt to suppose that the Woods about Birmingham must be blighted.
So did her brother Edward, and some of his china is on display at Jane’s home, the Chawton House Museum. For more about Austen and Wedgwood, visit this wonderful post at austenonly.com.
And for a sneak preview of the cover of my next book, Hidden Paradise, go to Facebook!
Do you own any Wedgwood? I have a pair of earrings. I don’t know whether I’d want to own a whole set of his famous designs. They might be a bit overpowering… What do you think?