At a recent university workshop, ‘Whose Business is Heritage?’, the word “authenticity” reared its ugly head. I say this because of the reactions it drew from the panel of speakers – exasperation and weariness. It is one of those terms that has been batted back and forth between academics of late and is now thrown into conversations like a comfortable elephant in the room, or at least one whose presence is grudgingly accepted.
I’ll take a simplified view, that the desire for “authenticity” is made up by a myriad of motives (be it quality, monetary value, or nostalgia), and of course depends of each person. That aside, I’d like to bring forth the wonderful case of the Wedgwood pottery backstamp.
A grafter and firm believer in experiments (a good white glaze!), the first Josiah Wedgwood was dismayed to hear that his nephew had once confused a rival’s work for a piece of his own company’s pottery. To avoid such mistakes, and ever the astute business man, Jos devised the system of stamping the backs of products with his mark. A modern man, I wonder what he would have made of the collectors, centuries later, relying on these marks, a safe and sure sign of “authenticity”.
How this is crashed and muddled by the Made in England mosaic project for the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (pictured above). The project received pottery donations from members of the public, the backstamps of these were then used to create a mosaic to decorate the museum’s entrance. Minton with Burleigh with Aynsley with Spode. From the mud to the stars. Watch a short interview with creator Emma Biggs here.