Wedgwood's famous Frog Service made for Catherine the Great brought him enormous publicity and international prestige, but he made only a very small profit on this commission. Making the 952 pieces of plain creamware cost £51. 8s. 4d., but all these hand-painted views of Britain cost £2239 4s. 0d.
Wedgwood creamware platter, hand painted 1773-4, showing Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire
© Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, photographer Sean Pathasema
Fifty years ago, Peter Laslett pushed historians to study not just famous Empresses and entrepreneurs, but ordinary people's lives, as revealed in Parish Records statistics for example, providing a more accurate picture of 'the World we have Lost', bringing closer these unsung people of the past.
The Wedgwood Collection Archives do this for Nathaniel Cooper (painter of the Frog service borders), for Miss Pars (paid 10s. 6d. per week for painting of ruins), for James Bakewell, (a week and a half painting views of Fingal's Cave on a compotier) or the kiln firemaster who worked 98 hours in one week, to complete the service. These are just a tiny few of all Wedgwood's skilled workers whose names are carefully recorded in the factory books, which will be lost if the Collection is broken up.
See The World We have Lost Peter Laslett 1965
and The London Decorating Studio and Josiah Wedgwood's Trade with Russia, G. Blake Roberts
© Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd, in The Genius of Wedgwood ed. H. Young, © Victoria & Albert Museum