The newspapers are right this morning to mourn the passing of the Wedgwood company. It is another sad casualty of this vicious Credit Crunch.
Josiah Wedgwood has long been a hero of mine. As an industrialist I often looked to him for inspiration. He seemed to have it all. He was an innovator, developing new glazes, better furnace controls and better factory organisation. He was a great marketer, realising the value of celebrity endorsement and the need to engage the thought and taste leaders of the day with his products. He was a pioneer of better transport and logistics for access and exit from his factory at Etruria, favouring the then modern canal. He provided employee housing, recognising the need for a settled and motivated workforce, capable of high quality workmanship. He knew how to raise efficiencies through smarter working. Above all he understood the power of beautiful design and decoration, turning to classical designs. In his later years he was determined to produce a copy of the Portland Vase.
He was famous for the royal patronage of Queen Charlotte, which led to Queen’s ware, and to the interest of the Empress Catherine of Russia in his work. His blue Jasperware is still being sold to this day, from his use of barium sulphate in the firing. His black basalt range was another classic which has survived 250 years. This year we will remember him as well for the work of Charles Darwin, whose money came in part from his links to the Wedgwood family, which made possible his researches.
The modern Wedgwood company still has title to the fabulous designs and glazes that Josiah pioneered. I do not believe they are all without value. Something should be rescued from the collapse. I realise the last Wedgwood product I bought was sometime ago, when they produced a reproduction Clarice Cliff vase. I thought the originals were too expensive for me. I wanted to keep flowers in mine, so a fresh modern version of the original style was just what I needed. They then ceased to make any more reproductions from the amazing Clarice Cliff range, where they hold the title to the designs. Perhaps someone else can if and when they buy that part of the business. it seemed like a missed opportunity.
A modern Wedgwood should move with the times, responding to the different needs of people. Some in the press imply it was bound to die because it makes old fashioned dinner and tea services people no longer need. We live in a country with a rising population, who all need to eat food off plates and drink out of mugs or cups. The new owners of Wedgwood need to blend the best of the old and new as Josiah himself did. Josiah sold 2000 year old styles in sets that matched contemporary needs. Today we need a Wedgwood owner that loves the best of the inherited designs, glazes and shapes, and adds to them the magic of modern marketing that can capture the market that is there for good ceramics, and the best of modern design.
Meanwhile, this is another casualty of the recession. The business model clearly needed improvement, but the Credit Crunch has claimed yet another iconic victim. It shows just how deep and dangerous this crunch has become.