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Jane Austen’s China and the Steventon Archaeological Dig

This view of the Steventon Rectory seems to be the correct one.
This view of the Steventon Rectory seems to be the correct one.

From the Desk of Jane Odiwe
I was very excited to read about some of the discoveries made during the dig at Jane Austen’s childhood home in the village of Steventon, Hampshire, which took place in November 2011. The rectory was pulled down in the 1820s and what is known of its appearance is only recorded on old maps and drawings or writings made from the memories of Austen descendants. It seems that the actual foundations of the rectory have now been located as a result of the dig – formerly, the only clue to its situation was the presence of an iron pump.

Jane was born in Steventon Rectory and lived happily for the first twenty five years of her life until her father decided to retire and move the family to Bath. It was here that she drafted her first three novels, Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey, all between the ages of 19 and 23.

Anna Lefroy, niece of Jane, wrote about her memories of the house:
“The dining room or common sitting-room looked to the front and was lighted by two casement windows. On the same side the front door opened into a smaller parlour, and visitors, who were few and rare, were not a bit less welcome to my grandmother because they found her sitting there busily engaged with her needle, making and mending.

A vintage map showing the area surrounding the farm.
A  map showing the area surrounding the farm.

Continue reading Jane Austen’s China and the Steventon Archaeological Dig

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Host a Regency Tea Party

Regency Tea

Hosting a Regency Tea Party

Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, is credited with creating the ritual of afternoon tea sometime in the early to mid 1800’s as a remedy against the “sinking feeling” she felt between luncheon and the late hour of Court dinners. The practice soon caught on among her friends in the upper class circles and the rest is history.


Taking tea during Jane Austen’s day was nothing like what the term implied a few decades later with the advent of Afternoon Tea. During the Regency, Tea was produced about an hour after dinner, signaling the end of the port and cigars in the dining room and gossip and embroidery in the drawing room. The lady of the house, or her daughters, if she wished to show them off to advantage, would make and pour the tea and coffee, seeing to it that all guests were served. After tea, the family and any guests might remain in the drawing room to read aloud, sew or play games together until supper (if served) or bedtime.

Sir John never came to the Dashwood’s without either inviting them to dine at the Park the next day, or to drink tea with them that evening.
Sense and Sensibility

If dinner had been late, supper might be replaced by light refreshments served with the tea, such as toast, muffins, or cake. Tea or wine and refreshment of some sort or other would be offered to visitors who stopped by throughout the day. During the Regency, tea was also served at Breakfast and could be found throughout the day at any of the popular Tea Gardens or Tea Shops, which served tea and light refreshments for a small fee.

A formal invitation to tea always implied an after dinner gathering with some sort of entertainment whether games or music or conversation. An evening such as this might end in an informal dance if there were enough partners and a willing accompanist.


When having friends to Tea, the most important part is, of course, the tea. Brew fresh tea of the highest quality and serve it with coffee or cocoa if you prefer. Provide an assortment of breads, rolls, cakes, cookies and sweet treats. Use your best china and entertain with a variety of period games and music. Read aloud from the works of Jane Austen and her contemporaries or have each guest read her own favorite passage.

As Anne Elliot says, “My idea of good company… is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.”


If you liked this article about Regency tea parties, and would like to have your own Regency afternoon tea, you might like to have a look at our Netherfield Collection of exclusive teaware.

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The Elegance of the Breakfast Set

The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table… He was enchanted by her approbation of his taste, confessed it to be neat and simple, thought it right to encourage the manufacture of his country; and for his part, to his uncritical palate, the tea was as well flavoured from the clay of Staffordshire, as from that of Dresden [Germany] or Save [France].
Northanger Abbey

Surprisingly, many of the recognizable names in china and dinnerware were already established by Jane Austen’s Day. Sèvres (France, 1740), Villeroy & Boch (Germany, 1748), Royal Worcester (1751), Wedgwood (England, 1759), Spode (England, 1770), Minton (England, 1793) and others trace their roots back to the china making heyday of the mid seventeen hundreds (Royal Doulton was a bit late to the [tea]party, being founded in England, in 1815, the same year Emma was published)

A French Silver Dinner Service 1819-1838

Chinese porcelain had long been a staple import of the East India Companies and manufacturers in Europe were wild to discover just how it was made. Experiments abounded, some more successful than others, and for centuries it simply could not be replicated. Those who could not afford porcelain services imported from the East ate from silver, pewter, tin or wooden dishes.

A Delftware Urn

Finally, during the 1600’s, artisans in Europe began producing passable imitations of Chinese porcelain. With an interruption in Asian exports, due to the death the Wanli Emperor in 1620, the Dutch had the opportunity they needed to take a foothold in the market, with their Chinese inspired Delftware. These earthenware pieces at first featured the blue and white patterns so popular in the Chinese imports, though later pieces incorporated other colors as well. The patterns were created by drawing sketches on the shaped pottery, and then coating it with a white enamel finish, before hand painting the final design and firing the piece to preserve the paint and give the piece it’s glassy finish.

The first earthenware (also known as Stoneware) pieces were certainly crude compared to later innovations and each successive generation refined the process. The goal was a white porcelain base on which to add colors and patterns. Earthenware tended to be darker, creamy…earthy. The Dutch fought this with a lead based white enamel coating until 1707, when a German, Johann Friedrich Böttger, discovered the secret to hard paste porcelain, like that used by the Chinese. Known as Meissen China, it was characterized by an extremely high firing temperature, something earlier innovators could not duplicate with the resources available to them. The high temperatures made the porcelain glossy and water resistant without the addition of glaze, and this process continues to be used today by companies such as Hummel and Royal Worcester.

Meissen China dominated western markets until the mid 1750’s when Josiah Wedgwood (grandfather of naturalist Charles Darwin) broke on the scene, changing the face of “China” forever. His experiments with porcelain, carried out in his factory in Staffordshire (hence General Tilney’s famous quote) led to cleaner, whiter earthenware, in particular Creamware, a line of which became known as ‘Queen’s Ware’ when Queen Charlotte ordered  ‘A complete sett of tea things’ in 1765. This “sett” included a dozen cups for coffee, six fruit baskets and stands, six melon preserve pots and six hand candlesticks.

Part of Wedgwood's Creamware (Queen's Ware) Green Frog Service, on display at the Hermitage.

In 1766, a notice, run in the Aris Birmingham Gazette announced: “Mr Josiah Wedgwood, of Burslem, has had the honour of being appointed Potter to Her Majesty.”  This notoriety brought an onslaught of orders for his creamware, and later his pearlware (earthenware whitened further by the addition of a cobalt overglaze) Empress Catherine the Great, of Russia, ordered a complete set of Queen’s Ware (the Green Frog Service, now on display at the Hermitage) and by the turn of the century, Mrs Papendiek, Assistant Keeper to the Wardrobe of Queen Charlotte, was able to write “Our tea and coffee set were of common India China (known today as Chinese Export Porcelain), our dinner service of earthenware, to which, for our rank, there is nothing superior. Chelsea porcelain and fine India China being only for the wealthy. Pewter and Delft ware could be had, but they were inferior.”  In fact, creamware was so widely used that it became known as ‘Common Wedgwood’.

A Wedgwood imitation of the Portland Vase, now on display at the V&A

Wedgwood, by now the most famous name in porcelain, was not satisfied in having transformed English dining, and making prized porcelain available to the burgeoning middle class. He also developed Jasperware, the famous “Wedgwood Blue” porcelain consisting of a colored (most often blue or sage green) base with a raised, white motif, often of a scene or portrait. Later in life, Wedgwood dedicated himself to reproducing the Portland Vase (one of the earliest known examples of porcelain, dating from the first century, BC) Wedgwood labored for year, recreating the vase, finally perfecting it in 1790. This marked his last major achievement in porcelain production.

By this time, a newcomer, Josiah Spode, had improved Wedgwood’s creamware recipe, creating what is known today as Bone China (a soft paste porcelain), by literally adding bone ash to the clay mixture. In 1783, Spode perfected transferware—this method of decoration involved stamping an engraved design onto tissue paper and applying the still damp tissue to the porcelain dish, literally “transferring” the pattern from the paper to the dish. The tissue was washed off in water and the piece was then given a coating of clear glaze and fired. While allowing for “mass production” in place of previously hand painted designs, it was nonetheless a tricky business, as each piece of tissue had to be meticulously hand cut and applied to the curves and contours of each piece of porcelain. Color choices in transferware were limited to shades that could withstand the heat of the furnace, with cobalt blue being the most commonly used (you can also find red or pink, green and brown transferware from this period.)

Clockwise from the Top: Creamware by Wedgwood, Blue Willow by Thomas Minton , Blue Onion by MeissenBlue Italian by Josiah Spode

Blue and white transferware became a hallmark of the Staffordshire potteries (Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and others all set up factories in this county) and many of the patterns they created, from Blue Willow (created by Thomas Minton in 1790) to Blue Italian (by Josiah Spode II, introduced in 1812) evoke exotic locals and hearken back to the original Chinese patterns imported centuries before. Even the Blue Onion pattern, first created by the German Meissen factory in 1740, was based on extant Chinese pieces, with the unknown Asian flowers being replaced by more recognizable European Peonies and Asters (some experts believe that the “onions” depicted were mutations of the Chinese representations of peaches and pomegranates.)

Regardless, by 1797, English pottery was so well established as superior to any other kind that a visting Frenchman remarked , “Its excellent workmanship, its solidarity, the advantage which it possesses of standing the action of the fire, its fine glaze, impervious to acid, the beauty, convenience and variety of its forms and its moderate price have created a commerce so active and so universal, that in travelling from Paris to St Petersburg, from Amsterdam to the furthest points of Sweden, from Dunkirk to the southern extremity of France, one is served at every inn from English earthenware. The same fine articles adorn the tables of Spain, Portugal, & Italy, and it provides the cargoes of ships to the East Indies, the West Indies and America.” (Voyage en Angleterre by Faujas de Saint Fond)

If one wished to purchase ‘English Earthenware’, you had only to visit the showrooms, like those set up by Josiah Spode and Josiah Wedgwood. Here you might peruse a selection of ready made articles, and see displays of porcelain artistry, such as a Portland Vase reproduction, which was on display in Wedgwood’s London showroom.

The Austens were loyal Wedgwood patrons and owned many sets of china, some ordered by Jane herself, who wrote to her sister after one visit, On Monday I had the pleasure of receiving, unpacking, and approving our Wedgwood ware. It all came very safely, and upon the whole is a good match…There was no bill with the goods, but that shall not screen them from being paid. I mean to ask Martha to settle the account. It will be quite in her way, for she is just now sending my mother a breakfast set from the same place. I hope it will come by the Waggon tomorrow; it is certainly what we want and I long to know what it is like: and as I am sure Martha has great pleasure in making the present, I will not have any regrets.
(Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, June 6, 1811)

Wedgwood & Byerley showrooms, York Street, London, taken from Ackermann's Repository of Arts, 1809

On visiting one of the China show rooms, you might be greeted by a manager (in 1771, Wedgwood’s Bath shop was managed by the father of Ann Radcliffe, Austen’s contemporary in women’s literature and author of The Mysteries of Udolpho) If you could not be tempted by the wares on display, you could always search the catalog of available patterns (Spode offered close to 2000 assorted pieces and patterns at the time) and create your own special set of dinner ware, as Edward Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, did, in 1813. Jane described the purchase of this china, which was, until recently on display at the Jane Austen Chawton House Museum: “We then went to Wedgwoods where my Brother and Fanny chose a Dinner Set. I believe the pattern is a small Lozenge in purple, between Lines of narrow Gold, and it is to have the Crest.” (Jane Austen to Cassandra Austen, September 16, 1813)

The Austen-Knight China, which was recently on display at Chawton cottage, until being sent up for auction.

Wedgwood and Spode, and to a lesser extent, their contemporaries remain highly collectible, and easily obtainable—‘Fine China for the Masses’. Many of the patterns available to Jane Austen on her visits to the London showrooms are still manufactured today and used by households around the globe, including mine. Most of the dishes used in Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, were from my personal collection of Spode dinnerware, added to by friends and family over the years; many are reproductions of pieces available during Austen’s lifetime. It fascinates me to think that she might have eaten off these same patterns, or have seen them on display as original works of art during her time in London. Eating foods made from their own recipes on what might have been her dishes feels about as close to dining with the Austens and their friends as you can get.



Laura Boyle runs Austentation: Regency Accessories. Her book, Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends, is available from the Jane Austen Centre Giftshop.
Visit Austentation for a large range of custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and Jane Austen related items.

Historical information from Wikipedia and The Wedgwood Museum.

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The Regency Rose Garden

I sat three-quarters of an hour in the flower-garden, while Fanny cut the roses; and very pleasant it was, I assure you.

Mansfield Park

Fanny Cut the RosesThe Rose garden as we know it today is quite different to how a rose garden would have appeared two hundred years ago. The modern hybrid shrub rose is the result of intensive interbreeding of roses by Rosarians.

It was the discovery of new ‘China’ roses in the early nineteenth century that was the catalyst to breeding our modern rose bush which can be identified by five main features – its upright spare branches, bright coloured flowers, large blooms, shiny leaves and perpetual flowering.

The regency era rose bush was indeed more of a bush some of them up to six feet tall and shrubby in nature. Their flowering season, typical in all old roses, was a short summer flowering when the entire bush would be covered in hundreds of blooms. In fact there is a very ancient French suspicion that early flowering of roses denotes bad luck – It was commonly believed up until 50 years ago. But no doubt along with the decline in popularity of the old roses there was also a decline in the popularity of this suspicion!

Roses at Chawton   CottageThe history of the rose itself is fascinating and if you are interested in pursuing this further there is a short bibliography at the base of this page. I am going to skip straight into the seventeenth century where there is a jump in the status of the rose. Around this time its status switched focus from being a predominantly medicinal plant – listed in most herbals, to being a predominantly decorative garden plant, and the object of breeding experiments to find new types.

Sometime around the beginning of the eighteenth century a new type of rose had been found as ‘sport’ (a branch or off-shoot of a parent plant) on a cabbage rose. It was called the moss rose because of the mossy nature of the sepals (covering of the bud) and stalks. It became so popular that in 1824 a contemporary writer notes that he got most of his Moss Roses from England.

The Duchess of BeaufortWe know that the eighteenth century was the explosion of rose breeding because in 1724 we hear that notable gardener, the Duchess of Beaufort, was only able to assemble sixteen types of roses for her collection, by 1828 there were 2,500 varieties – these were old rose varieties as this pre-dated the introduction of the China rose. By 1902 the rise in Hybrid tea-roses had been so complete that a catalogue listing roses had only 36 old roses out of the approximately 1,900 listed .

The empress Josephine had a great interest in rose growing and breeding and her gardens were a haven for rosarians from 1803-1814 with many new types being breed there.

Duchess of PortlandOne mention should be made here of the British rose enthusiast the Duchess of Portland, whose name graces a little remembered rose type, the “Portland” rose. This was one of the first fore-runners of the perpetual flowering rose. It found its way to Britain in the late eighteenth century, probably from Italy. It was commonly known as Rosa Paestana. In the early nineteenth century it crossed back to France where leading rosarian du Pont successfully breed from it to create other roses of its type, and honoured the duchess by calling the genus ‘Portland Roses’ in 1816. It was damask rose crossed possibly with a crimson China.

The following this is a list of the main types of roses available in Britain in the Regency era. Where possible I have given the date of introduction to Britain and a photo of the type. For many Roses there is no date of introduction, or no photo. I have, therefore given a short description of what the particular rose type looks like. I would just like to note that while the seeds for the Bourbon Rose were discovered on Mauritius in 1817, they were not available in Britain or Europe for some years, and Noisettes were developed after the period of this article as well.

As I final note I would just like to add, that this is in no way a comprehensive list. It is to describe what the types are like and show, where possible some examples. In some cases I have just named particular roses and their dates of introduction. With over 2,000 old roses at this point I cannot possibly hope to name even 10% of them.

Roses at the Georgian Garden

For those in England, or traveling there, there is a wonderful Georgian Garden in Bath – to be found just off the Gravel Walk leading to Brook Street in Bath. A correspondent has told me “it is very beautiful but small and may be of interest to fellow “historical gardeners.”

Finally – for a good Web site on Garden History try The Garden History Society.

Another for those keen on early roses you could try the French organisation named Rosa Gallica – their aim is to promote the study and rediscover’ the old gallicas.

It is thought that this white rose was so prevalent in Britain when the Roman’s arrived that it was why they called the country ‘Albion’ after this white rose. Often it has pale pink flowers. It has grey-green foliage, a sweet scent, but its bushy foliage make it a hedge plant. The Jeanne d’arc (1818) is a good medium sized bush of double cream flowers with good fragrance.

Alba, Semi Plena – known as the ‘Rose of the Yorks’. A luxuriant shrub which can be grown in the shade. It is very fragrant and grows to around 6 feet. It is used for making attar of roses.

Maiden’s Blush (Cuisse de Nymph)- fifteenth century – the name of this rose was changed to ‘Maiden’s Blush’ in Victorian times as the ‘Thigh of Nymph’ was considered a little risque.

Queen of Denmark – first sold 1826, although the first seeds seen in 1816 and developed by du Pont in France. It is the offspring of Maiden’s Blush.

The Banksia roses come in three colours, white, yellow and pink. The white was introduced to Britain in 1807, the yellow in 1825. They are vigorous climbers with virtually no thorns and shiny green leaves typical of their Chinese origins. They have virtually no smell, although some claim a faint scent of violets on them.

The last rose in summer, these were the basis for the perpetual hybrid roses of today. Because of Chinese restrictions quantities of these bushes were very limited at first.

Old Blush – introduced to Britain around 1789. Dusty pink clusters with a silvery reverse on the petals. It can grow as a bush of about 6 feet, or trained as a vigorous climber. It has sported the mutabalis.

Mutabalis – early 1800’s, this rose was painted by Redoute and has the same growth habits as its parent ‘Old Blush’ but is a five petal single with the marvellous characteristic that the flowers change in colour from yellow to pink over time.

This is also known as the cabbage rose, but is called centofolia for its hundred petals. Most centofolia’s have a loose arching habit. Usually pale pinks with drooping heads. Provence rose – cultivated before 1600, long arching habit, pink flowers. Petite de Hollande, is a small tidy bush of pale pink clusters of smallish blooms, 1800.

Centofolia – also known as ‘The Old Cabbage Rose’, to most herbalists it was ‘The queen of Roses’. It has a heavy fragrance, nodding blooms an arching growth of up to five feet. It was known prior to 1600.

Has some of the largest blooms of old roses, they are bright pink that tend towards mauve as they age and are best known for the intensity of their fragrance amongst the damasks is the ‘Apothecary’s’ rose.

Marie Louise (1813)- a lax shrub or about 4 feet high, good to train over a wall.

These are extremely hardy vigorous roses, it is a red rose and can often be distinguished by its green button eye. One of the most popular and oldest types of gallica is the beautiful Rosa Mundi – or R. gallica Versicolour

Rosa Mundi – One of the oldest of the Gallica’s, this multicolored rose can be found in the Georgian Garden in Bath.

Charles de Mills – date unknown but a typical pattern of gallicas, the dark scarlet, short petals green button eye. It has a slight fragrance and grows to around 4 feet but is a rather sloppy shrub needing some support.

‘Old Velvet Rose’ is now better known as ‘Tuscany’ but is mentioned as far back as 1597 in an apothecaries book (as Velvet Rose). It is 4 foot shrub very similar to the Gallica Officianalis, or the original Gallica.

Moss Roses
The sport of Centofolia or cabbage roses, they tend to be very short, not growing more than two feet. The original mutation is a type called ‘old pink moss’ . These bushes are highly susceptible to rain damage. Old Pink Moss, circa 1700 is a warm pink rose and very aromatic.

Shailers White Moss, 1788. I was unable to find a good picture of Old Pink Moss, but this white moss as a sport from Old Pink Moss, so the form is the same although the colour differs. It is also known as White Bath and or Clifton Rose. The flowers have a blush at the centre on opening. It is a fragrant 4 foot shrub.

As said these lost popularity as the hybrid perpetuals were bred, but the first of the perpetuals and used to help breed the first of the Hybrid perpetuals. A very exciting finding by Rosarians of the time. The roses tend to be look like Damasks but have shorter growth – around 4 foot height in shrubs. The stems of the roses are short so the leaves form a rosette at the base of each bloom.

Rose du Roi – 1815, big round buds of rich royal crimson and double flowers mottled with purple and highly scented.

Growing Old-Fashioned Roses in NZ, by Barbara Taylor, 1996
Roses for a French Garden: Roses of Old Akaroa, by Jessie Mould
The Charm of Old Roses, Nancy Steen, 1966
The Complete Rosarian, Norman Young, 1971
Roses, P J Redoute, reproduction, 1986
The Ultimate Rose Book, Peter McHoy, 1997
The Rose, Jack Harkness, 1979
Old Roses and English Roses, David Austin, 1992
The Old Shrub Roses of, Graham Thomas, 1955.

The Ladies of Reeneacting Regency Roses was written by Anne Woodley, hostess of The Regency Collection. It is reprinted here by kind permission of The Ladies of Reeneacting. A website providing historical and re-enacting information, along with recipes, fashion tips and more!

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Josiah Wedgewood and the Birth of English Pottery


The elegance of the breakfast set forced itself on Catherine’s notice when they were seated at table; and, luckily, it had been the general’s choice. He was enchanted by her approbation of his taste, confessed it to be neat and simple, thought it right to encourage the manufacture of his country; and for his part, to his uncritical palate, the tea was as well flavoured from the clay of Staffordshire, as from that of Dresden or Sêvre. But this was quite an old set, purchased two years ago. The manufacture was much improved since that time; he had seen some beautiful specimens when last in town, and had he not been perfectly without vanity of that kind, might have been tempted to order a new set. He trusted, however, that an opportunity might ere long occur of selecting one — though not for himself. Catherine was probably the only one of the party who did not understand him.
Northanger Abbey

It is often remarked that Jane Austen made no reference to current events in her work; and yet, it seems that the quote above must refer to the many improvements in English pottery introduced by Josiah Wedgwood and his descendants. Let us examine the many advances Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) brought to English pottery in Staffordshire.

Wedgwood introduced a superior inexpensive clear-glazed creamware pottery in 1764. The excellence of his product soon attracted a wide market for Wedgwood pottery. When George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, ordered a tea set Wedgwood rechristened creamware as Queen’s ware in the first celebrity marketing campaign.

The next improvement introduced by Wedgwood was a canal passing by his pottery which connected the Trent and Mersey Rivers. This Grand Trunk Canal facilitated inexpensive and low breakage shipment of his pottery from Staffordshire, with its clay deposits, to the London market. With the help of Wedgwood’s friend Thomas Bentley, the bill authorizing the canal passed Parliament in 1766. The canal reached completion in 1777.

A London Wedgwood showroom was first opened in early 1768 at the corner of Great Newport Street and Saint Martin’s Lane, which stood near the Thames docks to allow easy transfer of the pottery. The suave Bentley was soon placed in charge of the showroom. Mrs. Byerley, the wife of Wedgwood’s nephew, wrote that Newport Street was so crowded that there was “no getting to the door [of the Wedgwood shop] for coaches.” The Wedgwood London showrooms were a huge success. By 1773, the stock Wedgwood offered had reached such diversity of style and forms that a catalog was offered. The showroom moved to York Street in Saint James’s Square in Westminster in 1774, to follow the westward expansion of fashionable Mayfair.

Wedgwood developed yet another new ceramic by 1768 know as black basalt. The pieces were decorated with matte fired colors to resemble the height of current taste embodied in the engravings of Sir William Hamilton’s collection of red-figure Greek vases that had been depicted in the 1766-7 publication Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities from the Cabinet of the Honourable Wm. Hamilton. Wedgwood basaltware would soon grace the Neo-classical library designed by Robert Adam for Bowood House, and Neo-classical rooms in Kenwood House and Derby House.

Wedgwood also worked with manufacturer and engineer Matthew Boulton to bring automation to his factories to increase production. The innovative Boulton had bankrolled James Watt’s development of the steam engine.

After 5,000 attempts, Wedgwood developed his greatest creation—Jasperware–in 1775. A cameo patterned pottery with the translucence and tonal qualities of porcelain that was inspired by a fine example of Roman cameo glass owned by Sir William Hamilton. The vase would subsequently be purchased by the Duchess of Portland, a famous collector, and become known as the Portland Vase.

Artists employed by Wedgwood Potteries produced many famous design motifs. John Flaxman produced his most famous Wedgwood design “Dancing Hours” in 1778. In 1780, artist George Stubbs, known for his remarkable renderings of horses, created the “Fall of Phaeton.” Lady Elizabeth Templeton designed a jasperware coffee service for the Wedgwood Potteries in 1787. Lady Diana Beauclerk designed many cupid motifs for Wedgwood. General Tilney refers to Dresden teacups in the quote that began this article. It was under the commission of Augustus the Strong in the city of Dresden that the secret of hard paste porcelain, previously only know to Chinese and Japanese craftsmen, was actually discovered in Europe. The first European porcelain-producing factory, however, was actually begun fifteen miles away in the city of Meissen, in 1710. The clay deposits in the Meissen area were one of the keys to the successful production of the porcelain. But by the mid-1700’s, the new technique was being copied in England and France.

The Sevres Porcelain Factory, originally founded in 1738 at Chateau de Vincennes, became a royal monopoly under the regime of Louis XV around 1759. Sevres Porcelain was known for its gilding over a colored body. The company foundered during the French Revolution. The factory came under the management of the French Revolutionary government in 1798. Under Napoleon, a new administrator was appointed to head the Sevres Porcelain Factory in 1800–Alexander Brongniart, a scientist skilled in chemistry, botany, zoology, and geology. Though he had no experience in the making of porcelain, Brongniar brought strong leadership and new direction to the factory. The Sevres Porcelain Factory became even more successful.

Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795 just before Jane Austen wrote her first draft of Northanger Abbey. The numerous innovations and new developments in his field make Josiah Wedgwood the most important potter of any day, little lone Jane Austen’s lifetime. His showrooms on York Street continued to be successful after his death. The London print maker Ackermann produced a print of the popular showroom in 1809; and ladies often rendezvoused at the Wedgwood showrooms throughout the Regency. Jane Austen advised her niece not to write of anything of which she did not have personal knowledge; so we can assume Jane Austen found Wedgwood pottery “neat and simple.”

Sharon Wagoner is Curator of The Georgian Index. Visit this site for a historical tour through Regency London!

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Meissen’s White Gold

Many of the object d’art familiar to Jane Austen (and used extensively as set pieces in the many adaptations of her works) are based on the pieces produced by the famous Meissen Porcelain factory in the mid 1700’s. The company became known for their exquisite china patterns, including the Blue Onion pattern, still in production today, clocks, vases, figurines and just about any other decorative item which could be made of porcelain. Among the first to discover the secret of China’s “White Gold”, craftsmen in the artist town of Meissen protected and improved the recipe long before Josiah Wedgewood or Josiah Spode set up their showrooms in London or artisans in Sevres could create their first vase.

The Chinese had mastered the production of porcelain long before the west became aware of it, and by the seventeenth century oriental porcelain had become a valuable export commodity in the China trade. Mostly provided by the Dutch East India Company, porcelain from China and Japan represented wealth, importance, and refined taste in Europe, while local attempts to produce porcelain, such as the brief experiment that produced “Medici porcelain” had met with failure.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century Johann Friedrich Böttger pretended he had solved the dream of the alchemists, to produce gold from worthless materials. When the Elector of Saxony Augustus the Strong heard of it, he kept him in protective custody and requested him to produce gold. For years Johann Friedrich Böttger was unsuccessful in this effort. At the same time, Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus, a mathematician and scientist, experimented with the manufacture of glass, trying to make porcelain as well. Tschirnhaus supervised Böttger and by 1707 Böttger reluctantly started to help in the experiments by Tschirnhaus. When Tschirnhaus suddenly died, the recipe apparently was handed over to Böttger, who within one week announced to the Elector that he could make porcelain. Böttger refined the formula and with some Dutch co-workers, experienced in firing and painting tiles, the stage was set for the manufacturing of porcelain. In 1709, the Elector established the first Meissen manufactory, placed Böttger’s laboratory at Albrechtsburg castle in Meissen and production started officially in 1710.

The first type of porcelain produced by Böttger was a refined and extremely hard red stoneware known in Germany as Böttgersteinzeug. It retained very crisp definition in its mold-cast applied details, on bodies that could be polished to a gloss before firing. Models were derived from Baroque silver shapes and Chinese ceramic examples. Meissen’s production of a hard paste white porcelain that could be glazed and painted soon followed, and wares were put on the market in 1713.

An example of Böttgersteinzeug pottery

Böttger’s experimental wares rapidly gained quality but never achieved successful painted and fired decor. The first successful ornaments were gold decorations applied upon the fired body and finely engraved before they received a second firing at a lower temperature. Multicolor enamelled painting was introduced by Johann Gregorius Höroldt in 1723, with an increasingly broad palette of colors that marked the beginning of the classic phase of Meissen porcelain. His enamel paints are still the basis for ceramic paints today. Initially paintings often imitated oriental patterns. The signature underglaze “Meissen Blue” was introduced by Friedrich August Köttig. Soon minutely detailed landscapes and port scenes, animals, flowers, galante courtly scenes and chinoiseries— fanciful Chinese-inspired decorations— were to be found on Meissen porcelain. The Kakiemon vases and tea wares of kilns in Arita, Japan were imitated as Indianische Blume (“Flowers of the Indies”). Paintings by Watteau were copied. Wares were also sold in solid glazed colors, to be enamelled in private workshops (Hausmalerei) and independently retailed. The support of Augustus’ patronage attracted to Meissen some of the finest painters and modelers of Europe as staff artists.

The Albrechtsburg was utilized to protect the secrets of the manufacture of the white gold. As a further precaution, very few workers knew the special secret (arcanum) of how to make porcelain, and then perhaps only part of the process. Thus, for a few years, Meissen retained its monopoly on the production of hard-paste porcelain in Europe. By 1717, however, a competing production was set up at Vienna, as Samuel Stöltzel sold the secret recipe, which involved the use of kaolin, also known as china clay. By 1760 about thirty porcelain manufacturers were operating in Europe, most of them, however, producing frit based soft-paste porcelain.

In order to identify the original Meissen products, Meissen developed markings that initially were painted on, but were soon fired in underglaze blue. Early markings such as AR (Augustus Rex, the monogram of the King), K.P.M. (Königliche Porzellan-Manufaktur), M.P.M. (Meissener Porzellan-Manufaktur), and K.P.F. (“Königliche Porzellan-Fabrik) were eventually replaced by the crossed swords logo. Introduced in 1720, it was used consistently after 1731 by official decree. Variations in the “crossed swords” logo allow approximate dating of the wares.

Augustus II charged first Johann Jakob Irminger with the design of new vessels. In 1720 Johann Gregorius Höroldt became the director and introduced brilliant colors which made Meissen porcelain famous. The next sculptor, Johann Jakob Kirchner, was the first to make large-scale statues and figurines, especially of Baroque saints. His assistant was Johann Joachim Kaendler; in 1733 Kirchner resigned, and Kaendler took over as chief “modelmaster”. He became the most famous of the Meissen sculptors. Under his direction Meissen produced the series of small figurines, often depicting scenes of gallantry, which brought out the best of the new material. His menagerie of large-scale animals, left in the white, are some of the high points of European porcelain manufacture. His work resulted in the production of exquisite figurines in the rococo style that influenced porcelain making in all of Europe. Supported by assistants like Johann Friedrich Eberlein and Peter Reinecke, he worked until his death in 1775.

In 1756, during the Seven Years’ War, Prussian troops occupied Meissen, giving Frederick II of Prussia the opportunity to relocate some of the artisans to establish the Königliche Porzellan Manufaktur Berlin. With the changing tastes of the neoclassical period and the rise of Sèvres porcelain in the 1760s, Meissen had to readjust its production, and in the reorganization from 1763, C.W.E. Dietrich of the Dresden Academy became artistic director and Michel- Victor Acier from France became the modelmaster. The practice of impressing numerals that correspond to moulds in the inventory books began in 1763. Sèvres styles and ventures into Neoclassicism, such as matte bisque wares that had the effect of white marble, marked the manufactory’s output under Count Camillo Marcolini, from 1774.

In the nineteenth century Ernst August Leuteritz modernized many of the rococo figurines, and reissued them, creating a “Second Rococo” characterized by lacework details (made from actual lace dipped in slip and fired) and applied flowers; English collectors used the term Dresden porcelain to describe these wares, especially the somewhat simpering and coy figurines. Under Erich Hösel, who became head of the modelling department in 1903, old styles were revived and reinterpreted. Hösel also restored eighteenth century models. Some appealing work in the Art Nouveau style was produced, but Meissen’s mainstay continued to be the constant production of revived eighteenth-century models.

After 1933, the artistic freedom of the artists became restricted by the State of Saxony in accordance with the contemporary indoctrination process in Germany. Some artists (i.e. Ernst Barlach) who had contributed to progressive Meissen during the Weimar period were banned.

After World War II and under Communist rule, the manufactory that had always catered to the rich and wealthy had some difficulty finding its way. The danger was that Meissen would become a factory merely producing for the masses. It was not until 1969, when Karl Petermann became the director, that Meissen went back to focus on its old traditions and was also allowed a freer artistic expression. Production continues to this day. Meissen products can be found online, in antique stores world wide (look for the crossed swords logo) and at

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