The Opening of the Factory

Exhibited within the Wedgwood Museum are two black basalt vases. These vases are not the most technically advanced of their time neither are they the tallest or heaviest vases created by Wedgwood at that time. However, these vases mark a milestone in the industrial revolution. Josiah Wedgwood’s First Day’s Vases were the first fruits of the new Etruria factory, a factory that would provide the blue print for mass production.

The black basalt vases made to celebrate the opening of the ornamental works at Etruria were, quiet fittingly, in the ‘Etruscan’ style in both shape and decoration.  Six vases were thrown personally by Josiah, with Thomas Bentley turning the wheel. The vases are listed as shape number 49 in the Shape Number One Book. The decoration, encaustic enamelling, consists of two distinct parts. One side the vase is decorated with ‘Hercules in the Garden of Hesperides’ copied from plate 129 in the first volume of the catalogue of Sir William Hamilton’s renowned collection of antiquities. Below this scene is the motto, ‘Artes Etruriae Renascuntur’ – the Arts of Etruria are Reborn. The other side of the vase is decorated with the following inscription and the date:               

  JUNE XIII M.DCC.LXIX  

One of the First Day’s Productions  

at  

Etruria in Staffordshire.  

by  

Wedgwood & Bentley.

The First Day’s Vases perfectly embody the zeitgeist at the time of Etruria’s opening. Not forgetting the fact that Wedgwood’s collaboration with Bentley in making the vases was symbolic of a business partnership that would go on to become arguably the world’s first global brand. Having built his business up and outgrown his two previous factories, the Ivy House and the Brick House Works both in his birth town of Burslem, Josiah decided to build a factory of his very own. Etruria was a factory to match his ambition and on June 13th 1769 Josiah celebrated his achievement.   

By the time of the official opening Josiah had transported his ornamental ware workers from the Brick House Works in Burslem, whilst on the 14th April 1769 he writes to Bentley telling him that he had fired “two ovenfull of Sagars at Etruria”. Demand for his products soared in 1769 and Wedgwood was eager that his new factory start to quench the increasingly insatiable thirst for his wares. The increased factory space at Etruria would undoubtedly allow for a much higher volume of production. However, Josiah then had the task of filling his new factory with capable workers. He did of course have his workforce from his previous factory in Burslem. Josiah’s workforce and machinery relating to ornamental ware were the first to me moved from Burslem to Etruria. In late 1769 Josiah writes to Bentley confessing he has now taken all three turning lathes from Burslem to Etruria as well as all of the experienced ornamental ware workers and lathe operators. He goes on to concede, “I sacrifice all to Etruria, & Vases!” Some twelve days after the official opening of the Etruria Factory Josiah writes to Bentley to discuss the possibility of hiring workers formally of Derby and Worcester. It was the shortage of workers or ‘hands’ at that time throughout Staffordshire which led Wedgwood to welcome labour from further afield than he had done previously.

Despite the initial teething problems such as a shortage of workers, Wedgwood was able to quickly and efficiently get his new factory up and running. The partnership of Wedgwood and Bentley would go on to enjoy 10 years of manufacture. Indeed, the new factory would see the Arts of Etruria Reborn.

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  • First Day's Vase, © Wedgwood Museum

    First Day's Vase

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be  had at Derby and Worcester;, Transcription, page 1; E25-18245, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester;

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be  had at Derby and Worcester;, Transcription, page 2; E25-18245, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester;

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be  had at Derby and Worcester;, Transcription, page 3; E25-18245, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester;

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 1, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 1

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 2, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 2

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 3, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 3

  • To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 4, © Wedgwood Museum

    To Mr Bentley. Bentley’s house at Etruria finished; Workmen to be had at Derby and Worcester, page 4