- Titles Font (Descriptive)
- Artist Wedgwood and Bentley period, 1769 - 1780 / Wedgwood, England, est. 1759
- Medium stoneware (black basalt)
- Dimensions 14 1/2 x 22 in. Diam. (36.8 x 55.9 cm)
- Credit Line Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; The Buten Wedgwood Collection, gift through the Wedgwood Society of New York , AFI.768.2011
- Work Type font
- Classification Containers
- Signature On the underside an applied Wedgwood & Bentley Etruria wafer mark.
- Marks On the underside an applied Wedgwood & Bentley Etruria wafer mark.
- Inscription None
- Provenance Probably commissioned by the Whitbread family, around 1778-1780 [see note 1]; Emma Whitbread, by 1786; gift to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene, Melchbourne, Bedfordshire, United Kingdom, by 1786 [see note 2]; returned to the St. John family in 1873; auctioned at the Melchbourne Park sale, Robinson & Hall, September 1936, lot 361; private collection, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, UK. Dealer in Beauchamp Place, London; purchased by Harry Buten (1904-1971) and Nettie Buten (1902-1998), Merion, Pennsylvania, September 30, 1959; inherited by their children [see note 3]; gift to the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, 2018
1. Josiah Wedgwood could have produced the font without a commission. Robin Reilly draws attention to a letter from Josiah Wedgwood to his business partner Bentley, dated 1774: “We can make the Font very well as the price you ment[io]n & will set about it.” However, Reilly notes there are no other references to the production of fonts prior 1778, and two members of the Whitbread family commissioned fonts. Reilly, Robin. Wedgwood. The New Illustrated Dictionary. Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors' Club, 1995. 186.
1778 is the earliest date of commission as Emma Whitbread’s sister Mary Whitbread gives a similar font to the Church of St. Mary in Essendon, Herfordshire in 1778.
2. In a letter from Emma Whitbread’s half-sister, Harriet Whitbread, to “Mr Wedgwood Nephew” (meaning Thomas Byerley), dated November, 1786, reads “Lady St. John is now in Town at Mr. Whitbread’s Portman Square, and I beg you will call on her Saturday morning at 10 o’clock with these things if you have them ready, and with the Font you wrote me word of for her to look at and chuse out of. The Font you will please take back to your House to keep till I write for it.” Text from the letter is reproduced in Kelly, Alison. Decorative Wedgwood in Architecture & Furniture. New York: Born-Hawes Publishing Limited, 1965. 107.
However, the letter is not specific to the font, if a purchase was made, or for where the font was intended. Some accounts record that Emma Whitbread gave the font to the Church of St. Mary Magdalene shortly after her marriage in 1780 to Henry St John, 13th Baron St John of Bletso. The gift could have also been in 1780 to celebrate the 1779 competition of the remodeling of the church, funded by Emma’s father, Samuel Whitbread.
3. The font became part of the Buten Museum of Wedgwood (operated by Harry and Nettie Buten 1958-1988), Merion, Pennsylvania, and remained there until 1988 when it was placed on long-term loan with Nassau County Museums, Sands Point, Long Island, New York. In 2008, the collection came from Sands Point to the Birmingham Museum of Art, Alabama, as a loan until accessioned in 2018.