Twenty-six flat rectangular white pieces of Wedgwood ware
These items are part of the contents of the workshop that Scottish engineer James Watt developed at his home, Heathfield, at Handsworth, Birmingham, from c.1795 through to his death in 1819. Although Watt is best known for his work on the steam engine, his workshop contains a wide variety of objects from many different projects, from chemistry to sculpture-copying.
The description of the item was written by Edward Collins, the land agent responsible for Heathfield when the workshop was given to the Science Museum in 1924. Collins could not always identify what he was looking at, but always described what he saw clearly. This has allowed his descriptions to form the basis of subsequent research.
In February 1768, James Watt bought a share in the Delftfield Pottery, Scotland’s first industrial pottery. He hoped that science and experiment would make wares that were stronger and more beautiful than before. In 1773 he announced a new form of ceramic creamware. Watt wrote privately that ‘Our pottery does very well tho’ we make damned bad ware.’ It made money but he gradually gave it up as work on the steam engine brought it to fruition. These test pieces are some of a set of 35 in total present in Watt's workshop, and all kept in the same drawer for storage. They are labelled in Watt's hand as having been fired to different temperatures 'of Wedgwood's thermometer', and although it is not possible to be completely certain may have been made by Watt himself as part of his trials at the pottery into new ceramic bodies.