Matthew Boulton (1728–1809)

Matthew Boulton was the chief producer of decorative metalwork in 18th century Britain and was described by Josiah as ‘the first Manufacturer in England'. He inherited his ‘toymaking' business, which at that time meant producing both useful and decorative products in polished iron and steel, brass, copper and silver, from his father. By 1766 his factory at the Soho Works in Birmingham, with up to 600 employees in more than 60 workshops, was one of the most famous in Britain. It inspired Josiah when he was planning Etruria.

Boulton, like Wedgwood, was interested in producing vases and decorative items to fit the neo-classical interiors being designed by architects such as Adam, Chambers and Stuart. He wanted to ‘supplant France in the gilt business' and made clock cases and vases in the French style. He and Wedgwood discussed co-operating in mounting black basalt and stoneware vases in metal settings, but nothing came of it. Instead they worked in parallel to satisfy the neo-classical market, Wedgwood making vases in ceramic, Boulton in metals. Both were enthusiastic and successful exporters of ornamental goods.

Wedgwood and Boulton had much in common and collaborated to produce small decorative items - buckles, jewellery and personal accessories. Wedgwood's jasper cameos, depicting either classical subjects or more modern romantic scenes designed in the antique style, were made in a wide variety of sizes. The were used for mounting in brooches, buckles and buttons, and on all manner of small ornamental and useful objects. Large numbers were supplied to the Birmingham metal trade and Matthew Boulton, like many others, used Josiah's products in both ormolu and cut-steel decorative mounts. Ormolu is a gold-coloured alloy - gilded brass, bronze or copper - intended to resemble a precious metal; cut steel is created by cutting, chiselling and filing the metal into facets which, when polished, reflect the light to give the sparkle of a precious stone.

Boulton, like Wedgwood and other Midlands industrialists, was a member of the Lunar Society and despite commercial rivalry, the two men were firm friends. Josiah wrote to Thomas Bentley in September 1769: ‘It doubles my courage to have the first Manufacturer in England to encounter with - The match likes me well - I like the Man, I like his spirit'. 




Wedgwood's Etruria factory, inspired by Boulton's Soho works, © Wedgwood Museum

Wedgwood's Etruria factory, inspired by Boulton's Soho works
© Wedgwood Museum