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First day’s vase - 1769

The ‘First Days’ Vase, ©  Wedgwood Museum
    The ‘First Days’ Vase
    © Wedgwood Museum

The vase is one of six 'thrown' by Josiah Wedgwood himself to mark the successful opening of the Etruria manufactory on 13 June 1769.

To mark the successful opening of the new Etruria factory Wedgwood and his business partner Thomas Bentley 'threw' six vases to mark the occasion. Transfer of production from Burslem to Etruria had taken place gradually between November 1768 and the following spring. On 13th June 1769 the new ornamental works were formally declared open. The occasion was celebrated with Josiah personally 'throwing' six vases, with Thomas Bentley turning the wheel. Josiah used his newly-perfected Black Basalt stoneware body to create these celebratory pieces. After the pieces had been turned and fired the vases were sent to the London decorating studios to be painted in encaustic enamel colours. On one side the vases were 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. The reverse of the vases was decorated with an inscription and the date – 13th June 1769. The inscription, painted in red enamel, was the latin motto ‘Artes Etruriae Renascuntur’ – the Arts of Etruria are Reborn. Josiah wrote to Bentley in November 1769 commenting that these vases ‘shod. be finished as high as you please, but not sold, they being the first fruits of Etruria’. The figurative decoration was probably the work of William Hopkins Craft, one of the most-skilled painters to be employed by Wedgwood and Bentley in London, while David Rhodes, the manager of the London decorating works, probably painted the inscription and borders. Of the six vases originally 'thrown', only four survived the firing and decorating processes. This vase is one of two in the Wedgwood Museum’s collection. The third vase has recently been acquired for The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent and the fourth is owned by the Wedgwood family.

  • Type of object: Ornamental ware/vase
  • Mark: JUNE XIII.M.DCC.LXIXOne of the first Days Product
    Etruria in Staffordshire
    Wedgwood and Bentley.
    [Encaustic painted]
  • Year produced: 1769
  • Body: Black Basalt
  • Material: ceramic
  • Decoration: encaustic painted
  • Accession number: 73
  • Dimensions: 260 mm (height), 140 mm (diameter)

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Related people

  • William Hopkins Craft Decorator

    William Hopkins Craft - Decorator

    William Hopkins Craft was one of the most-skilled painters to be employed by Wedgwood and Bentley in London.

  • David Rhodes Decorator

    David Rhodes - Decorator

    Rhodes was an eighteenth century master decorator. Initially he acquired Wedgwood wares for decoration and then resale. Later Josiah Wedgwood acquired his services as manager of his Great Newport Street premises. Wedgwood's manuscripts record the following comment on Rhodes, "already agreed with one very usefull Tennant, A Master Enameller, & China Piecer... I have long had connections with this Man, who is sober & steady... he paints flowers & landskeps very prettily, prepares pretty good powder gold, & has a tolerable notion of colours".

  • Thomas Bentley Maker

    Thomas Bentley - Maker (1731 - 1780)

    Thomas Bentley was born in Scropton in Derbyshire, and was the son of a well-to-do country gentleman. He was educated at the Presbyterian Academy at Findern, and then indentured to a wholesale merchant in Manchester. He moved to Liverpool, and was introduced to Josiah I by Wedgwood’s surgeon, Matthew Turner. From this chance meeting grew a lifelong correspondence, friendship, and later business partnership. From August 1769 to Bentley’s death in 1780 the ornamental ware partnership with Josiah grew to huge proportions and was highly successful. After Bentley died, having lost his greatest friend and confidante, Wedgwood was inconsolable.

  • Josiah Wedgwood I Maker

    Josiah Wedgwood I - Maker (1730 - 1795)

    Josiah was born in 1730, the youngest of twelve children born to Mary Wedgwood and her husband, Thomas. His father was a potter who lived and worked at the Churchyard Works, Burslem. This town was still connected by rough roads to the other five towns which made up the area of North Staffordshire known as the Potteries. By the time of his death, Josiah Wedgwood I not only improved the variety and quality of pottery produced, but he also opened up the area as an important centre of commerce with the rest of the world through his involvement in the development of canal and road networks. He went on to become one of the most influential ceramic manufacturers in the world, and earned the title 'The Father of English Potters'. His direct descendants are still involved in the factory which bears his name today.Much of Josiah's development as a successful businessman, philanthropist and potter can be accounted for by the ill fortunes he suffered. At the age of 9 when his father died and he had to abandon his formal school education in order to work in the family business. Then at around eleven years old he contracted smallpox and was left with a knee-infection which constricted his use of the kick-wheel on which the pottery shapes were formed. From that time onwards he focused on affecting the perfection and marketing of Burslem's main product.Another spur to Wedgwood’s success was his growing affection for his distant cousin, Sarah whom he had met at the home of his wealthy uncles, John and Thomas. Whereas Josiah came from a poor background, Richard, his future father-in-law, was a prosperous cheese-merchant from Cheshire who apparently insisted that the young potter achieved a certain level of wealth before he could marry his daughter. Wedgwood entered partnerships with other potters, most notably Thomas Whieldon, and established himself as an independent potter in 1759. He moved to superior premises at the Ivy House Works where he perfected his Queen’s ware body and then to the Brick House Works. His reputation was rapidly spreading farther afield and finally, Richard was convinced of his suitability as a husband for his daughter, Sarah.There is no doubt as to Josiah’s love for Sarah when, on the eve of their wedding in 1764 he wrote to his partner, Thomas Bentley: 'I yesterday prevailed upon my dear Girl to name the day, the blissful day! When she will reward all my faithfull services and take me to her Arms!'.


  • Black Basalt

    Black Basalt

    A fine-grained black stoneware body, composed of ball clay, calcined ochre and manganese oxide. Josiah Wedgwood developed Black Basalt in 1768 to replace the earlier ‘black Egyptian’ ware produced in Staffordshire in the mid-eighteenth century. 


    Basalt was described by Josiah Wedgwood as ‘A fine black Porcelain, having nearly the same properties as the Basaltes i.e., the mineral rock', resisting the Attack of Acids; being a Touch-stone to Copper, Silver and Gold, and equal in Hardness to Agate or Porphyry'. It was the result of his experiments to perfect fine-grained stoneware suitable for the production of ornamental pieces, one that would complement the neo-classical styles then coming into vogue. It is probable that Wedgwood was experimenting with a basalt body in September 1767. He wrote to Bentley, ‘I am still going on with my tryals, & want much to shew you some of them'. Certainly within 12 months Basalt was generally available. From 1773 Wedgwood's plain-black body became universally known as ‘basaltes'. Both ornamental and useful wares were produced in this versatile body and it was used to make virtually anything the public required. Wedgwood placed great confidence in his material, predicting that ‘Black is Sterling and will last for ever'.

    Black clay was derived from ‘Carr', an oxide of iron suspended in the water that had flowed through coal seams and mines. This was drained and dried and then sold by the cartload to potters for use in the production of basalt pottery. Wedgwood made no secret of his recipe for Basalt, which he recorded on page 236 of ‘Common Place Book I. The entry is dated 1777, and reads:

    ‘Our Black Basalt Body. 80 of ball clay sifted 80 of Carr [ochre] calcined & ground 9 of manganese. The above is one Blending.'

    When these ingredients were fired together at a high temperature they vitrified into a fine-textured black body. The distinctive colour of Wedgwood's Basalt, which has a deep purplish-black hue, is due to the high proportion of manganese included in the formula.