Old trades and new trades


Josiah Wedgwood (1730- 1795), Vase Maker General to the Universe

With the kind permission of the V&A Wedgwood Collection Archivist, (14 October 2021), I am allowed to reproduce passages from a most interesting Book and Catalogue, The Genius of Wedgwood, dedicated to Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) and his extraordinary potteries.

It will allow you to measure the importance of the work accomplished by Wedgwood in spite of his important physical disabilities on one of his knees. Visit the website and appreciate the quality of the work and the expansion at the wider world - or international level- of his trade.

Through the novelty of his methods of production and of selling his ware, including the special wrapping of his ware for transport in such climates as Russian winters, with the help of ambassadors and travel agents while interfering for better transport means like turnpikes and canals in Great-Britain, he remains an outstanding figure among the « revolutionary players » among his contemporary salesmen as you will also study in Birmingham.

He made a great fortune, he achieved abiding fame; and, by marrying art to industry and beauty to utility he made a lasting contribution to public good.

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The Genius of Wedgwood,
Edited by Hilary Young
Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1995. (239 pages)
The V&A Museum, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL

  • Introduction
    Page 19

But it was in the capital that reputations were made and that fashions were set, as was repeatedly acknowledged in provincial newspaper advertisements. Here Wedgwood centered his promotional activities on his showrooms. In May 1767 he set out his requirements in a letter to Bentley. He wanted a « large Room... not to shew or have a large stock of Ware in Town, but to enable me shew various Table & desert services... in order to do the needfull with the Ladys in the neatest, genteelest and best method. The same, or indeed a much greater variety of sets of Vases should decorate the Walls, and both these articles may, every few days be so alter’d, revers’d, & transforme’d as to render the whole a new scene, even to the same company, every time they shall bring their friends to visit us. I need not tell you the many good effects this must produce, when business & amusement can be made to go hand in hand.


  • ’Vase Maker General to the Universe’
    Josiah Wedgwood, ’A Lifetime of Achievement, Robin Reilly’.
    Page 51
JPEG - 436.1 kb
Wedgwood Boutique in London
York Street (St James’s Square),
from Ackermann’s Repository of Arts (1809)
[click on the picture to enlarge it]

As early as May 1769, Wedgwood had noted the great gathering of coaches to his London showrooms to see his latest vases, and he anounced to Bentley his intention to become ’ Vase Maker General to the Universe.’ ’ We must ’he told his partner, ’endeavour to gratify this universal passion.’

Wedgwood MS E25-18240, Wedgwood to Bentley,1 May 1769.


  • Page 57

Surprisingly little of Wedgwood’s work was truly original. He was above all, a manufacturing innovator, a man who recognized opportunity and made it its own. Jasper was his single ceramic invention, but it was the most significant since the Chinese discovery of porcelain some 900 years earlier...

Most of Wedgwood’s designs for tablewares and ornamental pieces were adapted from engravings or examples of French or English porcelain, or remodelled from casts of antique models. It was their application and Josiah’s insistence on the highest quality of materials, design and production that was new in pottery manufacture. Wedgwood’s supremacy in the third quarter of the 18th century, in succession to Meissen and Sèvres, was founded on Josiah’s personal ability to create, adapt and refine wares for the ascendant fashion.

In 1769, in the early days of their partnership, Wedgwood had suggested to Bentley that their days should be spent in the pursuit of ’ Fortune, Fame & the Public Good.’

He made a great fortune, he achieved abiding fame; and, by marrying art to industry and beauty to utility he made a lasting contribution to public good.

Wedgwood MS E25-18264, Wedgwood to Bentley, 1 October 1769.

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  • A Rage for Exhibitions
    The Display and Viewing of Wedgwood’s Frog Service. Malcom Baker
    Page 126

Eighteenth-century publics would also have been familiar with the presentation in various forms of innovations in technology and materials. Alongside accounts of antiquities, poetry and digests of recently published books, ’polite’ periodicals, such as « the Gentleman’s magazine », carried descriptions about processes of manufacture and new inventions. During the 1760s, for example, the « Universal Magazine » included articles on the ’Arts and Sciences’ which may render it useful to Gentry, Merchants, Farmers and Tradesmen », and published a series of accounts of various trades and manufactures, each illustrated with an engraving of working processes. Attitudes towards new materials and innovations would also have been shaped by the activities of the Society of Arts and Manufactures, which offered ’premiums’ for technological inventions as well as proficiency in design, a combination paralleled by Wedgwood’s activities, and by public lectures on ’natural philosophy’ that were being advertised in the same newspapers as Wedgwood’s exhibition. Audiences familiar with technological innovation would therefore have been alert to the technical qualities of the wares that Wedgwood was so keen to stress.


  • ’Business and amusement hand in hand’ Catalogue
    Page 129

Originally a goldsmith, James Cox ( active 1749-91/92) opened his museum of automata, clocks and ’Pieces of Mechanism and Jewellery’ in 1772, and partly through his own effective self-advertisement, it became the subject of much comment. Its fame was certainly registered by Wedgwood, who commented to Bentley on 11 April 1772 about ’the almost miraculous magnificence of Mr. Coxes Exhibition’, In 1774 Cox obtained an Act of Parliament to sell the exhibits by lottery, and several catalogues were issued listing as many as 56 items including the Silver Swan (now in the Bowes Museum) and the Perpetual Motion clock.

Mechanical Marvels: Clockwork dreams

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  • Catalogue D57, page 87
    Punch bowl

Printed in Liverpool by Guy Green (d. 1799)
Queen’s Ware, transfer-printed in black with « The Sailor’s Farewell, The Pipe and Punch _ Party, The Triumph of Amphitrite and Neptune in his Car , and with enamelled inscription: « JURRY PARKER EN ELISABETH PARKER EGTE LUYDEN BINNEN DE STAD ROTTERDAM 1779 »
Mark « WEDGWOOD » impressed
About 1779
Diameter: 26,7cm

The bowl was transfer-printed in England and exported to Holland, where the inscription celebrating a marriage was added.

Samuel Tadder, an English merchant of Rotterdam, was one of Wedgwood’s earliest overseas agents. This first surviving letter was written on 22 April 1763: « Having heard the Character of your house being a very good one, I take the liberty of writing to you on the articles of your manufactory. I do considerably in this Branch & have a mind to make tryall of your goods if the price & terms suit me. [...]

In 1769 John du Burk became Wedgwood’s agent in Amsterdam, an association that lasted from 1769 to 1777.

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Josiah Wedgwood, Trade with Russia,
Gaye Blake Roberts, FMA, FRSA

  • Page 213

At a time when communications were neither easy nor fast- with letters and orders being carried by mail coaches, and, until the opening of the canal system, with the finished pottery being transported on strings of pack horses known as ’pot-waggons’- the size and success of Wedgwood’s trade with Russia was a remarkable achievement. Wedgwood’s introduction to the Russian court through ambassadorial channels was to ensure his acceptance.


  • Page 215

The interest in their products occurred, as Josiah commented to Bentley, at a time when the general trade was ’going to ruin on the gallop...This Russian trade comes very opportunely for the useful ware, and may prevent me lowering the prices here... even though we should be obliged to run some considerable risque in the adventure, and you know my sentiments as well as I do myself respecting the conditions with Jackson & Company, so do the best you can with them, and we must leave the rest to time and Chance’.

Many documents referring to the trade with the far north contain anxious requests for details of the last sailing of boats to St Petersburg, the River Neva on which the port is situated being frozen and inaccessible by boat for over half the year. […]

Wedgwood MS LHP, Wedgwood to Bentley, dated 21 and 22 April 1771.


  • Page 216

Many of the orders from Russian merchants stress that goods should be well packed, complaining that items arrived damaged or broken. One such adds: « We are desirous of having them dispatched immediately fearful that the beginning of next month they may be no more ships this season from Hull.

Wedgwood, MS E31-23273, Alexander Baxter to Wedgwood, 15 August 1769.

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  • Page 217

The duty payable on all ceramic items entering Russia and constantly changing regulations added to the burden of the shippers, Tamesz of Moscow complaining at having to pay 40 per cent.There were however unscrupulous agents who would run the risk of contravening the regulations. Charles Hampeln, in his accounts from St Petersburg, states: « Duty I paid here the regulation for this commodity being 40 per cent, but I run the hazard of declaring the full value & in consequence paid but 28 per cent »

Wedgwood MS E8-6855, Charles Hampeln to Wedgwood, undated.


  • Page 221

The fame of Wedgwood’s manufactory at Etruria had spread through Russia, and the model factory became one of the sights to be taken in by members of the Russian nobility when travelling in England. Several references are made to prospective visits. [...]

The market in Russia that Wedgwood’s pottery enjoyed during the 18th century was extensive and prestigious, embracing the nobility, the court, and the Empress herself. Josiah regarded it highly; as he commented to Bentley on 22 August 1777: « The sale of our manufacture had been greatly extended of late in Germany and Russia and our business continued good notwithstanding so many prohibitions and high duties laid upon it abroad, and I believe the demand for it at foreign markets, under all these disadvantages, was owing to its being the best and cheapest pottery ware in Europe ».

Wedgwood MS E25-18650

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Game: test your knowledge!

What did this trade consist in ? Has the profession changed or disappeared ? Give its new name.

a. apothecaryb. blacksmithc. cabinet makerd. chandler
e. cobblerf. computerg. cooperh. gunsmith
i. leech collectorj. millinerk. printerl. tailor
m. wheelwrightn. wigmaker


14 definitions to match with the right trade:

1. A health professional trained in the art of preparing and dispensing drugs

Now: chemist, pharmacist, druggist

2. Someone who makes tools and other objects out of metal: heating metal,, then bending and hammering it into the desired shape, craftsman who facricates objects out of iron by hot and cold forging on an anvil

Now: horseshoer, smithy, farrier

3. Someone responsible for the entire creation process of a piece of furniture from its initial conception to its shape and colour all the way to final production

Now: cabinet maker and carpenter

4. A person who makes or sells candles and sometimes other items of tallow or wax as soap, a dealer or a trader in supplies, provisions...

Now: business person, merchant, trader

5. A person whose job is mending shoes

Now: cobbler

6. A person who computes or makes calculation

Now: a programmer

7. Cooper also called hooper, a person skilled in making and repairing barrels and casks

Now: cooper (old fashioned)

8. A person who repairs, modifies, designs, builds guns.

Now: gunsmith

9. ’Leech gatherer or leech finder’ a person occupied with procuring medicinal leeches which were in growing demand in 19th-century Europe.

Now: leech collector

10. A person who designs and makes hats and other headgear such as caps, berets, bonnets...

Now: milliner

11. Basic job description: set type according to copy; operate press to print job order; and read proof errors and clarity of impression and correct imperfections

Now: employees who use their creative and practical skills to create a range of products including food labels, newspapers, books and CD labels but NOW mostly a device that accepts text and graphic output from a computer and transfers the information to paper

12. Someone responsible for constructing, altering, repairing or modifying garments for customers . They take customers’ measurements, assist in fabric selection, and arrange fittings to determine whether additional adjustments are needed. Ability to use a sewing machine.

Now: tailor

13. A person whose trade it is to make or repair wheels, or wheeled carriages. They had to have precise measuring skills as well as knowledge of basic geometry.

Now: 2005 Royal Warrant of appointment to Rowland and his son Greg, by Queen Elizabeth II as her wheelwrights and coachbuilders

14. A person who makes wigs and hairpieces which are worn for fashion, in the performing arts and for health reasons. They catered to Judges, Attorneys and the Rich. They see new hair as a means of miraculous transformation.

Now: wigmaker