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Made to sell

  • by the Wedgwood Museum team

Black Basalt Tripod pastille burner supported by Dolphins


Made of black basalt this spectacular ornament was used for the purpose of burning pastilles, to purify the air. The large lidded bowl is held aloft by triple dolphin supports, while the lid itself has been hand pierced to allow the fumes to disperse. The pastille burner is featured in the Shape Number One Book as entry number 496, but was inspired by an earlier model, shape number 290 that was of much smaller dimensions, though it exhibited similar ornaments and dolphin supports. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries pastille burning for the purpose of purifying air was in fashion – and a necessity as personal hygiene was very questionable, and the drainage systems unreliable!

In April 1807 Thomas Byerley wrote in a memoranda – ‘I have just been attending the Bishop of Winchester, who has laid out some guineas in ornaments, and wants a vase for perfuming large halls, of the form 290 Dolphin Tripod, about 5 times as large as what we now make, that 3 or 4 pastiles [sic] may be burnt at once. I have promised him that one shall be made, and that he shall not be charged for the model, as it is a thing very likely to sell, and these things are coming more and more into use…It is to be in black, ornamented as the small ones are.’

A few days later Byerley noted – ‘The good bishop may then take his choice, and we shall be prepared for an extensive sale of them. You have nothing to model but the Dolphins, and I think you may already have many sizes of them…Some may be made in Jasper, but I don’t think they will sell so well in anything as black, on account of discolouring.’


Pastille, or incense, burners were not only ornaments in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, they also served the purpose of disguising unwanted smells from unwashed bodies, and foul drains. This particular Black Basalt model with its dolphin supports was popular in the early years of the nineteenth century.