Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Bentley’

Intellectual Property Rights

July 31, 2011

The music industry is currently awash in copyright battles.  New technologies force everyone to protect their slice of the pie.  The Grateful Dead was one band that addressed this issue early on.  Their ‘open door’ policy of encouraging a cult of bootlegging and brand recycling broadened their reach and helped propel their success.  Many bands today explore similar paths.

But navigating the maze of intellectual property rights issues has never been simple.  Over two centuries ago new technologies in pottery making changed the Decorative Arts landscape.  The use and abuse of patent laws led to an equally complex slate of responses.  Many potters relied on patents and copyrights to assure recognition and appropriate compensation for their discoveries.  Some avoided patents, feeling the required detailed description of a particular technique would only make that technique easier to steal.  The most far-sighted saw the possibilities of a bigger picture.

This situation offers a rare chance to liken Josiah Wedgwood to the Grateful Dead.

In a 1789 letter to Thomas Bentley, Wedgwood wrote:

“So far from being afraid of other people’s getting our patterns we should Glory in it, throw out all the hints we can and if possible have all the Artists in Europe working after our models… With respect to myself, there is nothing relating to business I so much wish for as being released from these degrading slavish chains, these mean selfish fears of other people copying my works.”

Wedgwood never sought patents for his Queen’s Ware.  His logic was interesting.  “Instead of 100 manufacturers selling to the world, it would have been just one amusing England…”

…But he did sue people for stealing his process information.

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potters.  John Thomas.  Adams & Dart/London.  1971.

Master Potters of the Industrial Revolution: the Turners of Lane End.  Bevis Hillier.  The Born & Hawes Publishing Co./London.  1965.

Staffordshire Pottery and Its History.  Josiah Clement Wedgwood.  S. Low, Marston & Co. Ltd/London.  1913.

A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead.  Dennis McNally.  Broadway/New York.  2002.


The True Story of The Industrial Revolution.

January 30, 2011

Josiah Wedgwood was angry.  He didn’t like how the price of Prussian Blue, one of his colorants, had risen since it first became available.  Potters across Europe had for centuries admired the brilliant blues they originally saw on pots coming from the east – from the tin glazed Iznik wares in Anatolia to the tonnage of Chinese blue and white porcelains that flooded Europe from the 17th century onward.  The cobalt required to achieve these hues was available but expensive.  A cheaper local alternative was highly sought after.

In 1772 someone in Germany got the bright idea of mixing bullock blood with potash.  They calcined the mess and ended up with a prussiate of potash.  When this prussiate was dissolved in water, voila!  Prussian Blue!

Soon thereafter the Davidson and Davenport chemical manufacturing company in Newcastle upon Tyne, Scotland acquired the formula.  (How they pulled that off might make for an interesting story.)  Once word got out that a domestic Prussian Blue was available, a large number of English potteries jumped on the blue band wagon, Wedgwood included.

Business boomed.  So much so that Davidson and Davenport hired Northumbrian potter and tile maker Antony Hilcote to mass produce prussiate of potash.  He set up a “Blood-Works” on the west bank of the Firth of Forth.  Even on a factory scale, demand was such that prices inevitably rose.  So there was Wedgwood, complaining to his partner Thomas Bentley about the three guineas a pound he now had to pay for it…

The neighbors of Hilcote’s Blood-Works had more to complain about.  From local accounts, they were downright disgusted.

Pratt Ware. John and Griselda Lewis.  Antique Collector’s Club/Woodbridge, Suffolk, England.  1984.


A Nice Little Piece of Propaganda

November 7, 2010

The problem, as Josiah Wedgwood described it to his business partner Thomas Bentley in 1765, was this:

“This trade to our colonies we are apprehensive of losing in a few years, as they have set foot on some pottworks there already, and have at this time an agent amongst us hiring a number of our hands for establishing new a pottworks in South Carolina; having got one of our insolvent Master Potters there to conduct them.  They have every material there, equal if not superior to our own, for carrying on that manufacture; and as the necessaries of life, and consequently the price of labor amongst us are daily advancing, it is highly probable that more will follow them…”

Emigration was a thorn in the side of Wedgwood and the other English pottery moguls.  It was hard enough to keep local competitors at bay.  John Bartlem was lured away in 1765.  On October 4, 1770, Bartlem advertised in the South Carolina Gazette that he was about to open a “China manufactory and Pottery” near Charleston.  He urged other Staffordshire potters to join him.  Evidently some did.  The trickle to America eventually became a flood – due in large part to Wedgwood’s labor practices.  Something had to be done.  People had to know what they were really getting into.

So the response, as Wedgwood put it in his 1783 pamphlet entitled “To the Workmen in the Pottery on the subject of entering the service of Foreign Manufacturers,” was this:

“…This adventure being encouraged by the government of that province, the men, being puffed up with expectations of becoming gentlemen soon, wrote to their friends here what a fine way they were in and this encouraged others to follow them.  But change of climate and manner of living accompanied perhaps with a certain disorder of mind…carried them off so fast, that recruits could not be raised from England sufficient to supply the place of the dead men.”

In short, they “…fell sick as they came and all died quickly.”

The Rise of the Staffordshire Potteries. John Thomas.  Augustus Kelly Publishers/New York.  1971.

The Pottery and Porcelain of the United States. Edwin Atlee Barber.  G.P. Putnam’s Sons/New York.  1909.

The Art of the Potter. Diana and J. Garrison Stradling.  Main Street-Universe Books/New York.  1977.