It’s your last chance to acquire the Sydney Cove Medallion 1oz Silver Proof Coin and Wedgwood Plate Set, which is being withdrawn from sale by The Perth Mint on Friday 28 June 2013.
Issued in 2010, the magnificent high relief coin pays tribute to one of Australia’s most famous artefacts – the Sydney Cove Medallion – produced by the world-famous potter Josiah Wedgwood in clay from Sydney Cove in 1789.
Soon after the First Fleet disembarked at Sydney Cove in January 1788, Arthur Phillip, the Governor of the new convict settlement, learned that white clay had been “found in great plenty, a few feet below the surface”.
Samples were dispatched to England aboard Fishburn, which returned home in May 1789. Phillip intended the samples for Sir Joseph Banks, botanist aboard James Cook’s 1st voyage, which named Botany Bay in 1770. As the President of the Royal Society, Banks knew Josiah Wedgwood, who had been elected a Fellow of the Society in 1783.
Wedgwood received the samples from his friend, undertaking trials and experiments that confirmed the clay to be “an excellent material for pottery”. As a result, Wedgwood decided to create a limited number of Medallions commemorating the settlement at Sydney Cove.
Born in 1730 into a family of Staffordshire potters, Josiah Wedgwood has been described as the most influential figure in the history of Western ceramics.
An innovative designer, Wedgwood experimented with pottery techniques from an early point in his career. After entering into a number of business partnerships, he founded his own company in 1759. Vastly improving the standard of everyday tableware, he began manufacturing many elegant items featuring rich and brilliant glazes.
In 1765 he received an order for a tea and coffee service from Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. As a result of providing this set in his new earthenware body, Wedgwood became ‘Potter to Her Majesty’, and was allowed to name his ware ‘Queen’s Ware’.
In 1768, Wedgwood developed a stoneware body which he called Black Basalt. Inspired by the discovery in Italy of black porcelain dating from pre-Roman Etruscan times, it was another commercial success which he used to produce a more diverse range, including sought-after vases and fashionable ornamental items.
Wedgwood’s most famous innovation, however, was Jasperware. Introduced in the 1770s, the unglazed vitreous stoneware was often coloured blue (although it was also made in several other colours) and decorated with white classical reliefs. Like all Wedgwood’s creations, Jasperware was renowned for its extraordinary quality.
When the ‘Father of English Potters’ died in January 1795, his business was thriving. Among those who benefitted from his considerable fortune was his famous grandson, the naturalist Charles Darwin.
The Sydney Cove Medallion’s allegorical design anticipated a positive future for the colony of New South Wales. In full it was entitled Hope encouraging Art and Labour under the influence of Peace to pursue the employments necessary to give security and happiness to the infant colony.
Prepared by Wedgwood’s resident sculptor, Henry Webber, it depicts four classical figures on the shores of a bay, on which there is a sailing ship. To the left, the female figure Hope stands on a rock before an anchor. She extends her right hand to the female figure of Peace, who has a horn of plenty at her feet and an olive branch in her hand; Art, also a female, who is holding an artist’s palette; and Labour, a male figure, who has a sledgehammer over his shoulder.
Below the figures in raised lettering is the legend ETRURIA 1789. Etruria was the main Wedgwood factory from 1769 to 1950. Named in honour of the ancient Etruscans, whose ceramic art Josiah found so inspirational, its motto read Artes Etruriae Renascuntur – The Arts of Etruria are reborn.
Measuring up to 60mm in diameter, the Sydney Cove Medallion was produced in three distinct colours – pale cream, dark brown and black. Distinguishing the original Medallions from later issues and copies, each one was impressed with the words MADE BY IOSIAH WEDGWOOD OF CLAY FROM SYDNEY COVE. Thus they are the only items made by Wedgwood to bear his name in full.
Wedgwood asked his friend Erasmus Darwin (also grandfather of Charles) to write a poem to accompany the Medallion. Expressing similar hopes for the future of New South Wales, the Visit of Hope to Sydney Cove began:
Where Sydney Cove her lucid Bosom swell,
Courts her young navies, and the storm repels;
High on a rock amid the troubled air
Hope stood sublime, and wav’d her golden hair.
– published in 1789 in The Voyage of Governor Phillip To Botany Bay.
The notorious Second Fleet, on which many convicts died, delivered its sick and starving complement into Governor Phillip’s care in June 1790. Brighter news arrived in the form of Wedgwood’s first batch of Sydney Cove Medallions. Delighted, Phillip wrote a letter of thanks to Sir Joseph Banks proclaiming: “Wedgwood has showed the world that our (New South) Welsh clay is capable of receiving an elegant impression.”
Although the exact number of Medallions manufactured in 1789 is unknown, it is unlikely to be more than two dozen. A number of examples have survived in private and museum collections, including the Museum of Sydney, and the Mitchell Library, part of the State Library of New South Wales.
Significantly, the Medallion influenced the design of the first Great Seal of New South Wales. Approved by King George III in August 1790, it showed four similarly arranged figures representing convicts being received by the personification of Industry sitting on a bale of goods. The composition included the motto Sic fortis etruria crevit – So, I think, this is how brave Etruria grew.
Continuing fascination in the Medallion has been reflected in many subsequent re-issues. Notable examples include reproductions for Australia’s 1938 sesquicentenary and 1988 bicentennial. Another special version marking the opening of the Sydney Opera House was made in 1972.
Artistically and historically, the Sydney Cove Medallion of 1789 is one of the most important Wedgwood commemorative pieces.