In 1786, Josiah Wedgwood developed Black Basalt. This was the ebony stoneware that was created in order to mimic ancient bronze which was extremely coveted. Through the process of firing reddish-brown clay at high temperatures, the pieces were completed with an inky matte finish.
Black Basalt became very successful commercially. After it was initially introduced, the factory had a very hard time keeping up with the high demand. In particular, 18th-century high society ladies loved the Black Basalt pieces that features their white hands.
The collection included cameos, seals, gems, and intaglios. The black salt strengthened the material and thus, the manufacturer was able to have more versatility. With the addition of this element, it was possible to produce library busts, candlesticks, and vases.
Similar to Wedgwood’s regular porcelain pieces, hand-painting was another great innovation and encaustic enamels were used to copy classic Etruscan pottery designs.
Prior to Wedgwood’s innovation, creative English potters used material that was found in the ground around local coal deposits to make “Egyptian Black”. Josiah Wedgwood transformed the Staffordshire stoneware by adding manganese to obtain a richer black.
The Black Basalt pieces were based on Roman, Greek, and Etruscan originals which fit perfectly with the neo-classical style that was “all the rage” for interior design in the 1770s. For decoration, enamel colors were burnt into the body by using a technique based upon an old method of painting in melted wax.
The success of this collection intrigued other Staffordshire potters to produce wares; partially tea sets. Not able to be moulded and unnecessary to paint, these pieces were relatively cheap to produce.
Still in production today, Wedgwood said of his Black Basalt body, “Black is Sterling and will last forever”.