The Art Fund has until November 30 to save the entire Wedgwood collection

The race is on to prevent one of the most important legacies of the Industrial Revolution from being split up and sold on the open market. The Art Fund has until November 30 to raise £2.74 million to secure the entire Wedgwood Collection, a priceless archive of more than 80,000 items representing one man’s and his company’s contribution to art, the economy and social history.

Once the money is raised, the Art Fund plans to transfer responsibility for the collection to the V&A, which will supervise its display at Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton’s visitor centre at Barlaston, Staffordshire, which is scheduled to open
in 2015.

Tristram Hunt, the historian and MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, describes Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95) as ‘a defining figure within modern history’. He says: ‘There is his role in the English Enlightenment alongside Priestley and Darwin, his campaign to abolish slavery with Wilberforce, his support for the American Revolution and his brilliance as a designer, scientist, artist and businessman. And it [the collection] has to be saved, in Staffordshire, for the world to see.’

‘For a potter, Josiah Wedgwood is inescapable,’ comments the ceramicist and author Edmund de Waal. ‘Think about clay, its plasticity and texture, and he is there with his thousands of tests, his inexhaustible compulsion to find out more. Think about colour and he is there, thinking of how a white hand would look holding a piece of his black basalt ware. Think of the threshold between workshop and collector and Josiah is there, creating desire out of porcelain.’

The crisis started when the UK subsidiary of Waterford Wedgwood plc filed for administration in 2009 and it was discovered that its employees belonged to two different pension schemes; the system had been set up so that the Wedgwood Museum Trust, which itself went into administration a year later, was liable for the entire pension debt and would have to sell the collection to repay it.

‘The only comparable example of a great ceramic factory’s collections and archives having been preserved together for public access is at Sèvres,’ comments Country Life’s Visual Arts Editor Michael Hall. ‘It is not difficult to imagine the national outrage in France that would greet any threat to the world-famous museum there.’

More than £13 million of the £15.75 million needed to save the collection has already been raised, thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and private trusts. Public donations will be matched pound for pound by a private charitable trust. To contribute, visit www.savewedgwood.org, telephone 0844 415 4100 or text WEDGWOOD to 70800 and donate £10.

This article was first published in Country Life magazine on September 10 2014