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Wedgwood and Nature: Nautilus Dessert Service – Sauce Tureen, Cover and Stand

Josiah Wedgwood pursued his amateur hobby of shell collecting, or conchology, with immense enthusiasm and enjoyment. He wrote to his business partner and friend Thomas Bentley in September 1778 that, ‘…firmly believing idleness to be one of the seven-teen deadly sins …I have got my face over a shell drawer and find myself in imminent danger of becoming a connoisseur. You can scarcely conceive the progress I have made in a month or two in the deep & very elaborate science of shell-fancying.’

In the late 18th century, all manner of marine ornaments including shells and sea creatures, whether real or inspired by mythology, were being used as decorative motifs on furniture and ceramics. Shell and seaweed designs feature in Josiah’s early pattern books, and his interest in the subject is shown by the many shell forms he made throughout his working life.

In the late 1780s Wedgwood produced this exquisite Nautilus dessert service. It comprised of dishes, plates and centrepieces modelled after ‘nature’s own artworks’ such as nautilus and scallop shells. The models described by Wedgwood as, ‘…those beautiful mansions’ were made in Queen’s ware, and hand-decorated with border pattern number 341 ‘New brown & blue flower, red dots’.

Later generations of the family also delighted in producing shell forms and patterns. This ongoing interest proved the enduring qualities of shells as a decorative form in ceramic production.