Wedgwood that Stands the Test of (Telling) Time
The present clock possibly combines the decorative talents of gifted 18th century artisans, namely Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton. Collaboration of this type occurred often; jasperware was mounted with cut-steel to make toys (the 18th century term for small, personal items) and furniture and decorative objects were mounted with jasperware. The neoclassic movement of the 18th and 19th centuries bore patrons of the arts with a taste dictated by antiquity, and the mounts of the clock, its shape and finial, uphold this neoclassical ideal.
Though Wedgwood produced large medallions, he set upon the market with smaller and more ornamental jasperware. His cameos and buttons, as they were called, were supplied for mounting to firms in Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Woodstock, the chief centers of cut-steel production. One Birmingham manufacturer of steel toys was the industrialist Matthew Boulton. Boulton was both friend and business rival of Josiah Wedgwood and he framed Wedgwood cameos in steel for sword-hilts, buckles, and jewelry at his Soho factory. Dr. Anthony North, former Assistant Curator for the Metalwork, Silver and Jewellery Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, has said of the present clock that “the mounts are clearly Wedgwood and Boulton – compelling factor in attributing the actual clock to Soho is the Neoclassical form and the curious steel feet, which are obviously Soho work.”
In the late 1700s, Wedgwood’s pottery was adapted for the purpose of creating interesting furnishings; he produced a number of urns and vases with clock faces, as the fashion at the time was for fancy clocks of all forms, and “Wedgwood jasper decorations were used on some clocks in other media during the late eighteenth century.” Benjamin Vullimay, a Swiss watch and clock maker working in Britain, fitted several of his clocks with Wedgwood cameos. Vuillamy’s clocks did not utilize the same cut-steel frames, but could nevertheless employ up to a dozen craftsmen with different areas of specialization. It is interesting to note that one clock, while it lacks a Wedgwood plaque, maintains a similarly austere shape and is topped with a related urn finial (Figure 1). It is probable that the maker of the present clock moved in the same production circles as Wedgwood, Boulton, and Vulliamy.
Another related clock belongs to the Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery Joseph Collection (Figure 2). This table clock is decorated with cut-steel and blue Wedgwood medallions. The reliefs of the jasper medallions on the front of the Nottingham clock are also“ classical in subject and the medallions on the side are of the same design as those at the bottom front corner of the [present] clock.” Similarities also extend to a strongly comparable clock face, urn-form finals and a plinth base resting on four cut-steel feet.