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Museum Feature

Museum Feature – "Egyptian Collection" Wedgwood Jasperware

This month’s museum feature includes items from Wedgwood’s Jasperware “Egyptian Collection,” produced from 1978 to 1979. The collection in our museum consists of decorative plates, cups, a plaque, a trophy medallion, and a vase (based on an original design that dates back to the eighteenth century). Each piece is adorned with Egyptian-themed designs in terra-cotta-on-black or terra-cotta-on-primrose color motifs. Jasperware, non-glazed porcelain featuring classical figures in bas-relief, is virtually synonymous with the Wedgwood name. The descriptive name “jasper” (which originated with the Greek word “iaspis”) comes from name of an opaque type of quartz usually found in brown, red, green, and yellow.

Many of the pieces in the collection feature Egyptian king Tutankhamun, whose tomb was uncovered by British archeologist Howard Carter in 1922. King Tutankhamun was the youngest Pharaoh to ever rule Egypt. His name Tutankhamun, often shortened to King Tut, means “living image of Amun” after Amun-Ra, the Egyptian god of creation. The 1922 discovery of King Tut’s nearly intact tomb sparked an obsession with ancient Egyptian artifacts and culture, although certainly not for the first time.

Interest in Egyptian culture first surfaced in ancient Rome during the Roman rule of Egypt from 30 BC to 395 AD. During this period, Roman decorations began to incorporate Egyptian motifs. The best known example from this period is Hadrian’s Villa, which included various Egyptian design elements and statues of Egyptian gods. After the Roman Empire fell, interest in Egyptian culture declined. But “Egyptomania” resurfaced again during the Italian Renaissance, when ancient Roman artifacts reflecting an interest in Egyptian culture along with actual Egyptian artifacts were discovered and exhibited. Italian artists of the time began to incorporate these Egyptian elements in their works. In the eighteenth century, travelers from England witnessed the Egyptian elements in Italian art and design. When these travelers returned home, they created Egyptian-themed gardens and home interiors. Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign at the end of the eighteenth century also renewed the European fervor for Egyptian design. The interest in all things Egyptian fell out of style in Britain in the 1830s, but was again revived in the 1860s, and then once again with publicity surrounding Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

Wedgwood China has been recognized for centuries as a leader in inspired dinnerware design and innovative production processes. In 1759, Josiah Wedgwood established himself as an independent potter at the “Ivy House Works” in Burslem, England. During his first ten years of business, Josiah made many advances in the refining of porcelain. One of Wedgwood’s most important creations is black basalt, a fine-grained stoneware superior to any that had been previously produced. Another creation of Wedgwood’s is that of creamware. Until that point in the evolution of tableware production, the best pieces available were made as earthenware, pottery made from clay fired at low temperatures which was porous and permeable by moisture. Wedgwood’s creamware was revolutionary in that it introduced true fine china which was fired at higher temperatures and thus became vitrified, or non-porous, making the pieces much more beautiful and usable. Creamware was easy to produce, relatively inexpensive to make, easily decorated, and desired by royalty and commoner alike. In 1765, King George III’s wife, Queen Charlotte, solicited Wedgwood to be “Potter to His and Her Majesty.” As a result of his new title, Wedgwood changed the official name of his creamware to “Queen’s Ware.”

When Josiah Wedgwood died in 1795, none of his children wanted to leave their place in English society to return and manage Etruria, the name given to Wedgwood’s factory and village. Over the next few years, the company began to decline; in order for Wedgwood to survive, the factory would have to undergo a restructuring process. To accomplish this, Josiah’s oldest son, John, returned to the factory in 1800. In 1805, he requested the presence of his younger brother, Josiah II, and the two worked to restore the quality and manufacturing standards held by their father. Under their leadership (and the leadership of future generations of Josiah Wedgwood’s descendants), Wedgwood eventually regained the reputation for quality and craftsmanship that it maintains today.

While the Wedgwood “Egyptian Collection” pieces in our museum are not for sale, Replacements, Ltd. carries a great selection of Wedgwood pieces that are available for purchase. Be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our 500,000-square-foot facilities hold more than 12 million individual pieces in more than 425,000 patterns! Our showroom and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The showroom and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!

Click here to view our Featured Museum Pieces Archive!

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