Marketing and commercialisation

The great economic and social changes and innovations of the second half of the 18th and early 19th centuries resulted in a new middle class of society enjoying new comfort and wealth. There were more opportunities for them to enjoy the daily round. New achievements created an atmosphere of excited anticipation and an optimistic confidence tempered with apprehension for the future. Such people lived longer due to the advances in agriculture and the better transport, which facilitated the production, and transport of foodstuffs. The birth of the Industrial Revolution expanded the boundaries of the world adding to that spirit of optimism and offering seemingly infinite possibilities. Newly discovered materials, improved tools and techniques encouraged unprecedented specialisation of artists and craftsmen both in the function and creation of the objects they made.

During this period England saw some of the most important changes in its lifestyle. Marketing became as important as production to the major manufacturers in industries, which were rapidly developing the ability to supply more than a simple regional demand. Diversification of work and the division of labour within a factory brought about a dramatic reduction in production costs. Pottery began to find markets in all parts of Britain and for every room in the house, not just utilitarian items such as the butter pots which had previously been used to carry the wares to market, or jugs and mugs for containing essential liquids.

Many potters, Josiah Wedgwood included, were quick to realise that at the annual fairs and markets fine prices could never be realised. Given the technology in the 18th century ceramic industry the manufacturers, who did not enjoy State or Ducal patronage, had to be especially entrepreneurial and actively encouraged many different methods of getting their wares into the newly constructed homes to be enjoyed by this new society. Wedgwood actively encouraged the 'Shoals of Ladies' as he called them to visit his shop, both by invitation only as with the exhibitions of the 'Frog' Service for Empress Catherine II of Russia, and the display of Josiah's copy in jasper of the celebrated Portland Vase, or to come during their season in town to meet with friends and to enjoy the wares he had created in the hope and expectation that they would leave the shop to tell their husbands what they wanted purchasing and their friends what was new and readily available

Josiah I established the role of traveling salesmen in the late 18th C. Three travelling salesmen journeyed nation-wide gathering orders during the early 19th century gathering orders. They carried hand annotated catalogues and unusual half-samples to show to prospective customers, along with earthenware tiles displaying border designs. The role of the travelling salesmen to Wedgwood remained vital 200 years later. They promoted Wedgwood's wares world-wide and provided direct feedback from retailer to designer on market trends and on which patterns would benefit from amendment. Travellers assembled their own books and samples, resulting in a bulging suitcase to haul on and off public transport.

Josiah was exporting throughout Europe and further afield: the West Indies and North America, China, India and South Africa. Some wares were tailored to specific markets: herring dishes for the Dutch (Wedgwood had a retailer on the Amsterdam quayside) and commemorative cameos for the Germans. Other individual commissions were for the armorial trade, with the client's coat of arms or crest being painted or printed onto useful ware. Initially, Josiah was reluctant to take these special orders, however he changed his mind, anxious of losing potentially important customers.

After Josiah’s death, the York Street showrooms in St James, London struggled. Wedgwood, without the guiding hand of the founder, became a follower rather than a leader of fashion. Wide-ranging Regency taste and new social habits required the company to create new styles, bodies and patterns. The York Street showrooms were far from ideal. They were located in a large house with adjoining chapel, and the interior view of the 'Wedgwood & Byerley Showrooms' recorded in Ackermann's 'The Repository of Arts' in February 1809, hints at lofty colonnaded rooms. However, cramped living conditions caused Thomas Byerley to protest against 'living over the shop'. When Thomas Byerley died his son, another Josiah, became London manager, but was soon dismissed as untrustworthy. A severe decline in trade, resulting from unfavourable domestic and continental market conditions, and outstanding debts owed to the business, led to a near-collapse of the firm. Finally, Josiah II decided to close the showrooms, and the clearance sales of 1829 disposed of stock, as well as models and moulds.

From 1829, Wedgwood was represented in London by a salesman who would show pattern books to customers at appointed times. Then, after almost 50 years in relative shadows, Wedgwood celebrated its return to the heart of the ceramic retail business, opening a showroom off Holborn Circus. The showrooms were primarily for the wholesale trade, with orders taken from samples. Retail customers shopped in specialist ceramic shops: Phillips of Oxford Street, Mortlock, or Thomas Goode, or in the expanding department stores springing up in Regent and Oxford Streets. When the company moved to Barlaston in the 20th century, post-war production at Wedgwood signalled the beginning of a new era of economic and artistic optimism. The first of many Wedgwood rooms, shops-within-shops, opened. The brainchild of Josiah V, there were more than 30 rooms nationwide within a decade.

The marketing and commercial entrepreneurship shown by the founder Josiah I had finally turned full circle, with the company once again at the forefront of commercial success.

In Depth


The London showrooms, © Wedgwood Museum

The London showrooms
© Wedgwood Museum