Perhaps Edme is the most iconic of Wedgwood’s shapes. It has been in production for over a century and, as I will explain later, it embodies Wedgwood’s history and success. I will briefly explain what Edme is, describe under what circumstances it came about, what it is made of and what to pay attention to when buying it.
The origin of Creamware and a fascination with all things classical
Edme is made of creamware or queensware, the names most commonly used in English for cream coloured earthenware, we will stick with creamware. Creamware was not invented, but certainly perfected and popularised by Josiah Wedgwood, who, by doing so, was looking to compete with European porcelain production. Creamware is not porcelain, the source material and process are very different, as is the final product. It is made of white clay with a white lead glaze. Wedgwood’s first creamware was commercially somewhat successful, but it only became truly popular after Queen Charlotte ordered a tea set in 1765. This commission cemented Wedgwood’s reputation and made creamware the most popular type of pottery in Britain. Queen Charlotte’s service was a form which is also still made. It is called ‘Queens Plain’ and can be found here: link.
In the second half of the 18th century there was a real rage for everything Roman. After the subsequent discoveries of Herculaneum (1738) and Pompeii (1748) and during the slow process of unearthing their treasures in the subsequent decades the whole of Europe fell under a classical hype. This hype was helped by the age of enlightenment, which called for simpler, more rational designs than the opulence of Rococo in the first half of the 18th century. Wedgwood brilliantly managed to invent a few types of pottery that fitted in perfectly, not only Creamware, but also for example Black Basalt and Jasperware. England’s elite built homes in the palladian style and filled them with Wedgwood’s wares.
Scholars of those days mistakenly thought that the unearthed artifacts were of Etruscan origin. Wedgwood named his factory ‘Etruria’, after the Etruscan capital, for that reason.
The need for an ‘Edme’.
Much later, during the late 19th century Wedgwood’s production leaned on opulent Victorian designs that were not only sold in Britain but exported all over the British empire and America. The factory did not have the success and esteem it had in the late 18th century, but Etruria was still an important and well staffed center of ceramic production.
the American-Spanish and the Boer war had a strong negative effect on existing export markets, leaving Wedgwood in a position where new markets needed to be found in order to safeguard its existence. The company decided to focus more on mainland Europe as a result.
M.A. Leger, a French designer, was attracted to Wedgwood in 1898 to ‘rationalise’ the production, meaning simpler wares that were more economic to produce. Names of shapes and patterns were often French and the taste and preferences of mainland Europe were taken into account.
John Goodwin took over the artistic direction from Leger in 1904, he continued the rationalisation by discontinuing many Victorian style wares. Instead he shifted the designs more towards the 18th century successes Wedgwood was still esteemed for.
Goodwin was very good at making timeless designs, not overly reflecting the fashion of the day and modest in expression. Of the many forms and patterns he introduced Edme was to be the largest success. The French market had become very important to Wedgwood, and therefore Goodwin was often commissioned by French retailers to make exclusive designs, a practice that was very common in those days and that I discussed in this earlier blog post: link.
Pannier Frères was such a retailer. The company had gotten acclaim back in 1800 as L’Escalier de Cristal, winning many prizes for it’s opulent crystal and bronze and later also Japonistic designs. In 1908 it was ran by two brothers and, considering it won a gold medal at the 1900 Paris Universal Exhibition, it had lost none of its acclaim. The brothers operated as retailers and interior designers. One of them was called Edme Pannier, he gave its name to the form he commissioned from Wedgwood in 1908.
Goodwin was well aware of Wedgwood’s history and based Edme on neo-classical designs of the late 18th century. He was, however, also very well aware of the taste and needs of the day, which he incorporated into the design. For example, a late 18th century teacup would have been much smaller, as tea in those days was very expensive and drank as a luxury, in the early 20th century tea was a much cheaper commodity, meaning cups were larger and used at different moments in a different manner. Edme was however not just an update of an earlier design. The 18th century was taken solely as an inspiration.
I do not know much about Edme’s reception when it was first made. It seems Edme was successful, but it’s current status is mostly due to post-war sales. We do know that Goodwin was granted a US design patent in 1921, as can be seen here:
So the pattern was certainly successful enough to stay in production and be issued protected legal status.
Edme was made for a long time, Wedgwood actively added items to the original list of items issued in 1908. It comes as no surprise that the list of different items is quite long. There are off course the usual plate and cup sizes, but Wedgwood also produced many different vases, different butter dishes, napkin rings, pitchers, cigarette boxes, clocks, picture frames and much much more.
There are quite a few varieties of Edme that are not plain white but have a decor. These are never called Edme (although on older models Edme is sometime mentioned on the bottom) but always after the decor. The most common are Conway (produced 1929-1997), Stratford (produced 1945-1996) and Moss Rose (produced 1945-1993). But there are many lesser known varieties as well, for example Belmar, Posy, Plymouth, Trentham, Radcliffe and Briar Rose. A lovely detail is that most of these patterns were applied using a combination of printing and hand painting, highly increasing the craftsmanship involved in making them.
The Edme shape was also sometimes used for special editions. There are for example plates with sights of London or items that have extra vine leaves attached in the manner of Jasperware. There is a lot available for the avid collector.
Interpreting Condition Statements
Creamware in general does not have the same properties as porcelain. It is fired at a lower temperature and it will always remain slightly porous. It is however very strong and in daily use a set will last many many decades. There are however some known issues that can appear on used creamware.
As I mentioned creamware remains slightly porous, this means that whenever the glazing is damaged moisture can leak into the body and stain it under the glazing, even when the damage on the glazing is very small. This obviously ruins the piece. We generally avoid selling items with obvious staining, whilst very small stains or stains in invisible locations are allowed, but thoroughly mentioned in the listing, and reflected in the price, off course! Our way of mentioning conditions is very standard but perhaps somewhat confusing to the aspiring collector.
We name everything with no obvious traces of prior use ‘Perfect condition’. If an item is not in a perfect condition and has slight signs of use we name it ‘Excellent condition’ with the nature of the imperfections mentioned clearly. If a piece is worse off we generally avoid selling it, with the exception of very rare or antique pieces. As a result our normal Edme wares will always be in one of the first two categories.
Creamware’s proneness to staining is also the reason why you should generally avoid putting older items in the dishwasher. Below is an image of a small underglaze stain on an Edme plate.
Many Edme pieces have three little matte spots on the bottom. These are there because of the firing process. On some pieces it is necessary to add supports in the firing process. These matte spots is where the supports touch the earthenware. These spots are not prone to staining and are a completely normal part of the production process. You will not find them on mugs or cups, but you will find them on plates for example.
Dating Wedgwood Edme
I am a bit out on a limb here. Dating 20th century Wedgwood is hard. You will find many sources helping you date Wedgwood from earlier centuries but as is often the case there just are not that many sources giving definitive information on more recent backstamps and dates. I will write down what I know and what I assume. However I will update this article if I run into new sources of information. If anyone has information to add I am also very happy to hear about it.
The Edme I have carries the following different backstamps with even further differences amongst them.
The oldest known backstamp (to me) is the following:
This mark was found under an Edme Ashtray. I have four identical ashtrays with three distinct marks, this makes for some consistency, which is very welcome in this puzzle. So what can we tell? At first I should say I am making the assumption that the 55 in the embossed mark refers to the year it was made. I do so because of the following reasons: the dating system that is well known seems to end, according to various sources, in 1929. This dating system consisted of multiple letters and numbers, but would not make much sense in combination with the embossed code on this piece. There is another source mentioning that the two digits indeed refer to a year and that this system started in 1935, it is however in an online discussion forum, so not nearly reliable enough. By the way, the patent mentioned was issued in 1921, so anything mentioning a patent was at least made after that date. Furthermore the numbers on the embossed mark are not always aligned straight. It looks like it was made with a stamp with wheels to change the numbers, making some sense in the context of a changing date mark. I have not found the embossed mark with a date that was not compatible with the other dating clues, strengthening the case. It could be the other numbers refer to dates as well. It could also refer to batch numbers for internal quality control purposes.
The printed Wedgwood logo was printed underglaze in green, so before the final (or only) firing of the piece.
My very careful conclusion is that this ashtray was made somewhere between 1935 and 1963 and most likely in 1955.
This stamp was found on a second ashtray:
The difference in the underglaze Wedgwood logo is immediately clear. So obviously this mark was changed somewhere between 1955 and 1964. Since we do not know if the embossed mark was used consistently or only on a selection of pieces this info might be of some value.
A third mark is found on this candy dish, without embossing. Let us assume that embossing was always consistently done until a certain date. My most recent embossed date mark was from 1967, I’ve checked hundreds of pieces of creamware (also Queens Plain and Willow Weave) in our collection and none have a date after 1967. That would mean that this piece is from between 1968 and 1973. According to several sources in 1974 a ® was added to the logo, as can be seen on the following mark found on a butter dish:
As stated before this mark is found on pieces from 1974 onward. I have pieces with the same stamp in black. I do not know if this change is connected to a date. Here is an example on the bottom of a sugar bowl:
There is a newer mark featuring the Portland Vase (the significance of this vase I will spare you, this article is long enough already) but before I go into that I will have to go into changes that seem to have happened in 1995. In that year (according to a single source) Wedgwood changed the recipe for creamware to be oven, dishwasher and microwave proof. There is a clear distinction between different sizes of cups i’ve had here with the newest ‘Portland Vase’ backstamp. Both the coffee cup, demitasse cup and smaller teacup are slightly larger, a bit more yellow and somewhat heavier in execution than the models carrying green backstamps. In the following picture I’ll try to demonstrate, but the difference can best be appreciated in person.
The cup on the left is the older model whilst the cup on the right is newer. Please note the slight difference in colour and in the depth of the relief. The older cup weighs 250 grams whilst the newer cup weighs 320 grams, so it is much thicker.
For this reason we have separate listings for both items although they can be combined in a single set easily.
The backstamp for the newer cups was possibly also introduced in 1995, although I can’t confirm this. It looks like this:
And, another bold assumption: there’s another mark that seems to be a variety of this mark that was used on larger pieces with enough room:
I would like to request anyone in the possession of further knowledge on the dating subject to contact me. This information can only get better and there’s a lot of room for improvement, however, since there is no online source about 20th century Wedgwood dating available online (or in my library) I felt it was good to start somewhere.
Taking Care of Your Edme
As mentioned before, Edme is high quality, durable dinnerware. Due to the proneness to staining I would not recommend dishwashing older pieces.
Another tip is to use pieces of cloth between stacked items. There are special round plate dividers for this, but any old napkin will do. It avoids areas where the glazing becomes matte from rubbing.
Sometimes items that have seen a lot of use have grey metal staining. This seems impossible to remove, there is a trick though. A chemical called oxalic acid removes such stains with ease. It is naturally found in rhubarb, so it’s not too harmful. A great cleaning product containing oxalic acid is Barkeepers Friend (we are not sponsored by them) which does the trick for us every time.