Even with the help of a guidebook, it can be difficult to recognize authentic antique Wedgwood. With antique Wedgwood selling in the five-figure range, imitations abound. Steve Birks from The Potteries explains, "It is impossible to convey [antique Wedgwood] quality in either words or photographs. The only way to gain an appreciation of the character of Old Wedgwood is to examine it, with the eye and with the finger tips." He recommends handling Wedgwood as often as possible to develop a feel for real Wedgwood. Numerous authentic Wedgwood marks further complicate the identification process.
Look for the Wedgwood name. Josiah Wedgwood was the first potter to use his name rather than a symbol to mark his china, on the premise that his name would be harder to copy. From 1759 to 1769 Wedgwood, china was marked with the single word "Wedgwood" in different forms. The Wedgwood mark could be all capital letters or have only the first "W" capitalized, and appear in a straight line or a circle. All of these marks are legitimate mid-eighteenth century Wedgwood marks.
Look for other Wedgwood marks. Five distinct Wedgwood marks were used from 1769 to 1780, including "Wedgwood," "Wedgwood and Bentley" and "W&B." "Wedgwood & Sons" (in all capitals) was used briefly in 1790, and "Josiah Wedgwood Feb. 2nd 1805" was used in 1805, 10 years after Josiah Wedgwood's death. The years 1812 to 1860 saw the return of the word "Wedgwood" in a straight line of all capital letters. In 1840 only, the "Wedgwood Etruria" mark was used in three different type sets. A picture of a vase was added to the Wedgwood mark in 1878 and used through 1900.
Note the time period of the mark. By definition, an antique is more than 100 years old, so some marks indicate that a Wedgwood piece is not an antique. For example, pattern names were added to the Wedgwood mark in 1962, and the single "W" as a Wedgwood mark came into use in 1998.
Note the factory of origin. Burslem, Etruria, and Barlaston are marks on Wedgwood that indicate the factory. The Wedgwood family started Churchyard Works pottery factory in 1656 in Burslem, England. Josiah Wedgwood moved to Ivy House Works in 1759, also located in Burslem. He stayed at Ivy House Works until 1762 or 1763, and then moved to Brick House Works. In 1769, Etruria Works was opened and continued to operate until 1950. Barlaston Works opened in 1940 and is still in operation. In 2009, KPS Capital bought Josiah Wedgwood & Sons Ltd. and began using the name Waterford Wedgwood.
A complicated three letter code is associated with some Wedgwood pottery. It's best to compare the code with its listing in a reputable guidebook, taking into consideration the style and quality of the piece.