June 26, 2010

Wedgwood Museum Collection May Be Sold in a Pension Dispute

From the Guardian

Supporters of the award-winning Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent are launching a battle to save priceless examples of Josiah Wedgwood's work from being sold to the highest bidder.

The contents of the museum, managed by the independent Wedgwood Museum Trust, are under threat because of a huge pension debt left after the ceramics company went into bankruptcy.september 011

A complex law introduced to protect the 7,000 former factory workers at the site means that the trust, if found legally liable this autumn, may be forced to sell its collection to meet the £134m shortfall of its former parent company, the Wedgwood Group.

New owners took over the brand last year and the trust was forced into administration this spring, although the museum remains open while the future of its contents is decided.

"It would be desecration if this incredible collection was broken up for sale," said Alison Wedgwood, of the family, as a campaign to preserve its heritage was launched. Among the items that could be lost are precious "first day" vases, dating from June 1769, when Wedgwood moved his renowned ceramics works to a new factory he called Etruria in Staffordshire, and then personally threw six celebratory pots to mark the event – fashioning them into regal vases. Later that year he told his colleague Thomas Bentley that the vases should "be finished as high as you please, but not sold, they being the first fruits of Etruria".Wedgwood 049

A legal decision is expected in October. If lawyers rule that the trust is liable for the shortfall, the collection will be stripped of its unique assets. "But this would not mean a penny more for pensioners in Stoke. It is not about that," said Alison Wedgwood, an economist who is the wife of Josiah's descendant Tom Wedgwood. "It is just that the national Pension Protection Fund cannot step in until the legal matter has been decided." Wedgwood and her husband argue that it would be "a tragedy" to see the collection sold separately, and a decision against the trust would have damaging implications for similar trusts set up to protect historic items. The factory site is still used to make high-end ceramics, though most of the porcelain is now made in Indonesia.Wedgwood 077

Josiah, who was born in 1730 and died in 1795, invented and produced three of Wedgwood's most famous ceramics – Queen's Ware, Black Basalt and Jasper. He named the Etruria factory after the district of Italy where black Etruscan porcelain was excavated, and he turned the family business into a pottery empire with quality as its trademark.

"He was a force of unstoppable energy, funny and fierce, tender to his family and ruthlessly determined in business," according to the writer Jenny Uglow, who is campaigning to safeguard the collection. "He also combined a set of qualities rarely found in a single person: a genius for chemistry, a passion for good design, a daring, innovative style in manufacturing and a genius for marketing."Wedgwood 016

Bone china made in his Stoke works graced the best tables of the world for hundreds of years, including in the dining room of President Theodore Roosevelt, whose tureen serving dish is part of the collection. In recent years, sales of china have suffered due to changing social trends. Now the people of the Potteries fear the museum may go the way of the Minton Museum collection. Once this passed into the hands of Royal Doulton, much of it was sold as individual lots at auction.Wedgwood_Logo_40What a shame.


  1. just so sad -i hope they can save the collection especially since I won't be able to afford any of it anyway! lol.

  2. Maybe a generous benefactor will suddenly show up to save the day. Many, many wealthy people, who have the means to help, treasure Wedgwood.

  3. So very sad. I photographed a caneware piece in an antique store a while back. I'll have to find it. And oh, how I love basaltware, the little black dress of the butler's pantry.

  4. I love it all and Meg you have shown some of the very best of the best!

    I too hope that the fabulous Wedgwood collection will be kept intact.

    Art by Karena

  5. Thanks for posting this. By circulating news like this perhaps the right people will learn of this and figure out a way to keep this collection intact and in the public domain.

  6. Noooooooooooooo!!! This collection is part of the world's heritage. How many of us have loved wedgwood despite changing fashions. These priceless pieces were created long before the pension fund was established and were intended to be saved for all times. But I do feel for those who may have lost their pensions. Bottom-line accounting is destructive, besides being simply stupid.

  7. I'm not much for the white figures on colored background stuff, but that darling blue and white striped pot and sugar and creamer set!!! Oooooh!

    I'm of two minds about the whole collection thingie. First of all, if everything is photographed, everyone can look at them any time they want to. If they're in a museum, you can't touch them or use them anyway.

    If they get sold, then they're going to be enjoyed by people. Which, really, is the point of being an urn. Or a teapot. Or whatever.

    Keeping stuff like this in a museum is kind of like people who lavishly decorate a living room, cover everything with plastic, and put a velvet rope across the entryway to the room. What's the point, really?

  8. Indeed, we have been antiques dealers for 45 years, and the last few years have seen far more radical changes in the taste for china than had the previous 40.

    Of course the collection should remain intact, and it was such a disgrace about the Minton museum. And the English government, more broke than usual, probably can't do their usual enlightend thing of taking it on as a national treasure.

    Oh sometimes it's just too frustrating!

  9. I cannot believe that this is happening. Wedgwood ceramics are among the most important and historic treasures of the now all but gone British ceramics industry. For two centuries, England was the foremost ceramics producer for the world. It is very important that this comprehensive collection stays together. These pieces are not intended to be "used" but studied for artistic, historic and technical purposes. They should be together, because they were developed there and from earlier research. Altogether they tell important stories and illustrate incredible, revolutionary, highly innovative technical and artistic developments.

    I feel that this is so very important to the history and heritage of Britain, as well of world ceramics, that the government should step in to protect this complex treasure.

    One reader mentioned the changes in taste. Prices of good Wedgwood and other venerable ceramics have dropped significantly. For those of us who are collectors and admirers of Wedgwood, it is an excellent time to buy.

    Wonderful post, terrific photo selections.

  10. Thanks, Square... I took all of the pictures at an exhibition of 300 Years of Wedgwood at a local house museum. The selection that was on display was excellent. You can see the post about it here.

  11. Heartbreaking. Thanks for these beautiful images which rescue Jasper from one's idea of the horrible mass-produced stuff. On the other hand it must have helped keep the company going. I love the 'first day' celebratory pots and Uglow's description of the man himself.


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