• A business is after all a business and Josiah I was a great entrepreneur. Find out about how Wedgwood both made and exploited the market.

Made to sell

  • by the Wedgwood Museum team

Caneware Game pie dish

Theme

A deep covered ceramic receptacle, usually made of Caneware, oval or circular in form, made to resemble piecrust. These dishes often had raised bas-relief ornaments of dead game and vine leaves, and the finial was often of a hare or vegetable such as a turnip. Richard Lovell Edgeworth first suggested the production of these items to Josiah I in 1786.  Wedgwood did not react immediately to the suggestion, but a letter from him to Edgeworth dated 24th November 1786 revealed that – ‘I made a clay pye [sic] and showed it to my children, as the best judges, but they not knowing what it was intended for, convinced me at once that it was wrong, & have not yet made another essay…’

Maria Edgeworth introduced the subject of ‘pye’ dishes into her ‘Harry and Lucy Concluded, being the Last Part of Early Lessons’ published in four volumes in 1825. Maria was the oldest daughter of Richard’s 22 offspring and authored educational books for children.  In the book Harry and Lucy travelled to Staffordshire to broaden their knowledge of ceramics, and the book went on to comment how at   – ‘… the first day at dinner, an old gentleman observed, that the pie dishes of Wedgwood’s ware were god contrivances for keeping vegetables hot, and remarked, how very like pie crust one of them looked. Mr Frankland (their host), who had been an intimate friend of the late Mr Wedgwood, said, that he was present the first day when one of these imitations of piecrust appeared at dinner: the children of the family did not mistake it for a real pie, and Mr Wedgwood had new ones made repeatedly, till at last one appeared so perfect, that at a little distance it could not be known from a pie crust. “When I took off the cover” said Mr Frankland, “the child next [to] me was agreeably surprised to hear it jingle on the dish.”’ 

After this reputed meal, Josiah obviously thought that there were commercial possibilities for such utilitarian products, and the first entries in the Oven Book records for such items feature for 28th March 1794 to 4th April 1794 – ‘3 Large Cane piys with tree flowers &c (and) 6 (large) & 10 less (smaller size) ditto (Cane piys) Grape borders &s.’ All came out of the oven in good condition.

In the first twelve months of the oven book records some 4,000 game pie dishes are recorded as having been produced and fired.

Game pie dishes came into their own during the Napoleonic blockades of British ports, which resulted in a flour famine. This is commented on in the biography of Beau Brummell – ‘The scarcity two years after Brummell’s retirement, viz, in July, 1800, was so great, that the consumption of flour for pastry was prohibited in the Royal Household, rice being used instead; the distillers left off malting, hackney-coach fares were raised twenty-five percent, and Wedgwood made dishes to represent pie-crust.’

After the blockades were lifted game pie dishes retained their popularity, and were even produced in Majolica during the latter decades of the nineteenth century.

Catalogue

A deep covered ceramic receptacle, usually made of caneware, oval or circular in form and made to resemble piecrust. These dishes often had raised bas-relief ornaments of dead game and vine leaves, and the finial was often of a hare or vegetable such as a turnip.