January 10, 2009

"Selling was an intellectual pleasure, an art form" for Josiah Wedgwood.

"No fad was too small. In 1772, when women started bleaching their hands with arsenic to make their skin a fashionable porcelain tone, Wedgwood immediately advertised black teapots: against this background, hands looked even whiter. No cause was too great, either: the company produced emancipation medallions asking, 'Am I not a man and a brother?' that were worn as buttons and bracelets."

Judith Flanders looks at the downfall of a company that what was once was an innovative marketer.

15 comments:

paul a'barge said...

wow.

who knew?

Kewl.

Ralph said...

Black ceramics were originally a high end display item, not for use.

My great grandmother's flawless and rare cobalt-blue jasperware tea set was stolen out of my house 10 years ago. Still makes me sick, particularly since I'd left the door unlocked.

Bissage said...

The company is in trouble because it has long forgotten the lessons of one of its founders: Josiah Wedgwood, among the greatest and most innovative retailers the world has ever seen.

Not true.

The cause of the decline in sales is, in fact, the prevalence of the special locker room intimacy that shares Mr. Wedgwood’s surname.

A butterfly flapping its wing and all that . . .

Didn’t there used to be an appetite-suppressant candy called Ayds?

Ann Althouse said...

I remember how those old Ayds ads continued long after the discovery of AIDS. These ads would say things like: You will lose weight with Ayds. It was absurd.

Cedarford said...

Wedgwood going down also means Waterford Crystal is going down.

The miracle of free trade....or the folly of thinking anything can be made in the West anymore under globalism. In receivership, jobs in Ireland making crystal and in UK&US making certain Wedgwood items go away. Waterford Crystal will go to Slovenia and Wedgwood ceramics will be made in Jakarta - then an Asian company or two will buy up the assets and keep the brand names going via a "line".

The West, losing its revenue-generating factories and value-added sectors, having lost it's gamble on "post-industrial" high-tech, sophisticated financial products, and mansions for the poor concepts in exploded bubbles, faces wage levelization. As the consequence of a race to the bottom for labor.

Meaning that 3rd World and E European wages will increase modestly, and Western wages in the countries clinging to true "free trade" will decline steeply until global parity is reached. If we stick to it. But we won't because the Ruling Elites cannot wall off their high benefit, well-paying jobs from consequences of the average US worker facing a declining standard of living...lawyers may have to take a 40% cut in pay for people to afford them again or legal work gets outsourced to India and "The Bar" cannot stop it. Same for medical professions, executives, Big Pharma, etc.
Once Free Trade and Globalisation affect the bottom line wealth of Ruling Elites in the West - you will see changes.

Original George said...

Ok, ghost guy, time for you to make some comment about 18th century china and sex and dueling and free trade.

I think we'll see recovery about the time Mattel opens toy factories in Mississippi.

Palladian said...

"No fad was too small. In 1772, when women started bleaching their hands with arsenic to make their skin a fashionable porcelain tone, Wedgwood immediately advertised black teapots: against this background, hands looked even whiter."

I've been a minor collector of Wedgwood black basalt ware and a few pieces of other 18th century Wedgwood for a few years, and I just want to disagree with this assessment. Wedgwood did not suddenly create and start selling his "basaltes" ware simply because it showed off white hands to advantage. It was one of his first major successes, and like so many of his other innovative clay bodies, it was an improvement and a refinement of a preexisting type of black Staffordshire pottery.

The op-ed is correct in its assesment of the dreadful state of the company of late. Wedgwood has made little of interest in the last 30 years, choosing instead to become a "quaint" luxury brand rather than the multi-tiered company Josiah masterfully lead in the 18th century.

bill said...

A good read is Jenny Uglow's "The Lunar Men, Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World." Centers on the actions of five men: Matthew Boulton, James watt, Josiah Wedgeood, Erasmus Darwin, and Joseph Priestley.

bill said...

Not to disagree with Palladian, the expert, but Flanders only says "Wedgwood immediately advertised black teapots...." This appears to be correct. It was an existing product and he took the opportunity of a fad to remarket it.

Christy said...

Brides don't even register for it these days.

Don't you think fine china goes best with French cooking? Or high tea? Who lives that lifestyle any more?

Bitter Lemon said...

"Brides don't even register for it these days. "

Well, I got married a year ago and Wedgwood was certainly on my registry. The trend does seem to be towards registering for gadgets that will only last you a few years - or trying to get your guests to pay for your honeymoon - but my local department store and the local china shop both seemed to be doing a roaring trade based largely around weddings.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Wedgwood going down also means Waterford Crystal is going down.

OMG... Say it ain't so. My collection of Waterford and antique cut crystal is one of my most appreciated and loved items in my accumulation of collections. I bought much of it when I was in Ireland in the 1970's.

The reality, besides the bad advertising and marketing of the products of Wedgwood and Waterford, is that people don't live the lifestyle anymore...as Christy said.

Fine crystal, sterling silver flatware, sterling hollow-ware, table linens,crystal decanters full of wine and spirits setting on a marble topped sideboard, china and porcelain table settings ... Who needs them when you don't entertain or dine in "style"? When the idea of eating out is a Whopper, TGI Fridays or a microwaved meal at the Olive Garden, there is no market for these finer and (perceived as) snobbier things.

We are all the worse for the loss of the appreciation of beauty in utility items.

Palladian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

"Don't you think fine china goes best with French cooking? Or high tea? Who lives that lifestyle any more?"

I do.

Don't dream it, be it. What's stopping you? I use all my pieces fairly regularly. I even break out the 18th century Sèvres for a cup of coffee from time to time.

Christy said...

Bitter Lemon, good for you. What are your patterns?

Palladian, I knew as I typed that you would be the one to say "I do." In fact, I have tea on that very Sèvres set whenever one friend hosts book club. Among my older women friends the fine china does come out, among my contemporaries, not so much.

Aesthetically speaking, I don't see Mexican or Italian food on 18th century china patterns. Of course, my test for a good china pattern is how runny eggs look on it. ;)