18th Century Classic Revival's Influence on English Pottery Josiah Wedgwood & Jaspar Ornamental Wares

by: Lorena O. Allen, M.Ed., Fine Art & Antique Appraiser


As seen in Antiques & Art Around Florida, Winter/Spring 2009

Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) came from a long line of potters, whose family had owned factories in Burslem and Stoke-on-Trent since the Elizabethan days. He initially was apprenticed as a "thrower" on the pottery wheel, later becoming a master potter and member of the British Royal Society. Wedgwood established his own factory "Etruria Hall" in Burslem in 1769 and with partner Thomas Bentley, began experimenting with mixtures of the clay later to famously be known as "Jaspar". Wedgwood’s British pottery factory flourished during the era of a classic revival and passionate interest in ancient Roman and Greek antiquities. He acquired expert craftsmen including artists, chemists, modellers, glazers, ornamenters and enamelers.

Initially Jasper was reserved for portrait medallions, which were also made into jewelry or incorporated into furniture, fireplace surrounds and desk accessories such as the leather box and album set with blue Jaspar medallions within brass cartouches.

Later, the factory produced ornamental wares including vases, busts, plaques, candelabra and jardinieres. One of the most famous modelers working for Josiah Wedgwood was William Hackwood, who remained with Wedgwood over sixty years.

Attributed to Hackwood is an oval plaque with white figures in bas relief upon a blue Jaspar ground depicting "Erato, The Muse of Love Poetry" Circa 1778. (below).



Wedgwood was always willing to experiment and seeking to improve the quality of the clay to produce his ornamental wares. Some of Wedgwood’s clays came from China in the form of kaolin. The final version of the clay mixture included sulphate of barium and flint whereby its surface was able to take a high polish resulting in the tactile quality of velvet.

Wedgwood used two varying processes in the coloring of clay for ornamental wares. The first process of being able to receive a solid ground color all the way through the clay was revolutionary to pottery. The second process became known as "slipped" or "dipped" clay (not as rare). The bas relief figures and motifs usually white tinged with blue are applied after the piece has been fired in the kiln, forming a frieze of neoclassical themes, garlands and lattice designs. The modeller has to have the skills of a sculptor in order to perfect the detailed "undercutting" of the figures and motifs.

The most popular color of Jaspar is "Wedgwood blue". Other colors include rare lilac and yellow as well as sage green, black and crimson. Some of the most sought after wares are the multi-hued vases and "tablets" or plaques. A plaque originally modelled by sculptor and modeller John Flaxman, circa 1778 entitled "The Dancing Hours" depicts a frieze in bas relief of seven dancing nymphs in flowing robes, against a lilac ground surrounded by a sage green border.

This classical theme was one of Wedgwood’s most famous and has remained so to the present.


Wedgwood’s pottery interpretations were gleaned from ancient classical Roman and Greek mythological themes. Sources included unearthed vases from Pompeii, sarcophagi, altars, prints and paintings, which Wedgwood had direct access to either in museums or the private collections of the English nobility. Although Wedgwood was inspired by earlier neoclassic themes, he sometimes found it necessary to take artistic license in response to the modesty of the Victorian era and was compelled to add drapery to the nude figures copied from ancient works.

One of Josiah Wedgwood’s most celebrated creations is the "Portland Vase" inspired from a Roman vase discovered in the sarco-phagus of a Roman Emperor which became the property of Princess Barberini and subsequently owned by England’s Duchess of Portland. Wedgwood obtained permission to make a copy of the famous vase, renaming the Jaspar version the "Portland Vase". It took four years to reproduce the first edition, perfected by Wedgwood modeller Hackwood Circa 1790. The vase is decorated with a continuous frieze in bas relief of classical Greco Roman inspired figures illustrating the courtship of Peleus, King of Thessaly and Thetis. Only twenty from the original edition of the Portland Vase are known to be in existence today although it has been produced in limited editions in various colors. Existing originals of the Portland Vase are exhibited in The Victoria and Albert Museum, London as well as The Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.



Since there are several imitators of Wedgwood Jaspar, it is important for collectors to examine the pieces for identifying marks. Earlier wares of Jasper are simply marked "wedgwood" (1759-69). The earliest Wedgwood & Bentley wares, circa 1769, had an impressed mark forming a circle with both names.

Some earlier wares are impressed with "Eturia-Burslem" or "Wedgwood -England". The impressed mark "Made in England" signifies a late 19th Century to current piece. Wedgwood has an elaborate system of Date codes used to identify age, whereby the last letter of a three letter mark denotes the year of manufacture; for instance "**0" would be. Circa 1860; from 1924 the letter "4" replaces the first letter; 4*A becomes Circa 1924. In addition, items such as biscuit barrels with attached silver handles have silver hallmarks as well as the impressed marks of Wedgwood. (Shown above, collection of the author).



Collecting Jasper ornamental wares is not only a pleasurable hobby but also an investment. Prices have risen to new levels over the last ten years and 18th -19th century pieces are especially highly prized by collectors although costs of production have led to lower quality and mass production in the late 20th century. In 1986, Waterford Glass Group purchased Wedgwood, renaming it Waterford-Wedgwood.

Rare and beautiful Jaspar wares consistently turn up in the auction houses of Sotheby’s and Christies as well as smaller galleries and regional auction houses. Earlier ornamental wares such as jardinieres, urns and plaques are commanding prices of $400-$1,700.00; If a collector is lucky enough to find a pair of tri-color urns the price may be $5,000.

Besides studying the many museum collections it is a good learning experience to attend regional auctions, handle the pieces and study the marks for age, quality and rarity.

Collections of Wedgwood Jaspar in American museums include The Art Institute of Chicago, Cincinnati and Cleveland Museums, Ohio, Huntington Art Gallery, San Marino, California and the Lightner Museum, St. Augustine, Florida.

Serious collectors at some point usually belong to The Wedgwood Collectors Society of America or The Wedgwood Society of England.

About the author: Lorena O. Allen, M.Ed., President of L. Allen Appraisal Studios, Inc., is a fine art appraiser/consultant and certified member of Appraisers Association of America and International Society of Appraisers. Ms. Allen lectures to museums, antique societies and other groups. Address: P.O. Box 2543, Winter Park, Florida 32790. Tel: 407-671-1139; email: allenfineart@earthlink.net

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