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Postcard of Retort.
© National Museums Scotland


A retort is a vessel in the shape of a pear, with its neck bent downwards, usually used in distillation. This chemical retort was made around 1800 by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95), the well-known pottery proprietor. A friend of the chemist Joseph Priestley, Wedgwood made and presented Priestley with what became standard forms of chemical laboratory porcelain in 1779, as such items were hard to obtain.

The glazed earthenware retort is stamped 'WEDGWOOD 5 / 4'. Wedgwood's interest in scientific methodology brought him into contact with the so-called 'Lunar Society' based near Birmingham, who met when there was a full moon. Wedgwood's business eventually included an extensive line of scientific apparatus.

Despite his formal schooling lasting a mere three years between the age of six and nine, Josiah Wedgwood obtained an international reputation in the world of science, through his publications in the 'Philosophical Transactions'. He sent his son Thomas to Edinburgh for a grounding in chemistry by Joseph Black.

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Online ID: 000-100-104-250-C
Image Rights Holder: National Museums Scotland
Project: 0098: National Museums Scotland
Project description | View all records in project
Ref: National Museums Scotland  T.1974.69
Date: Around 1800
c. 1800
Material: Glazed earthenware. Inscription: WEDGWOOD 5 / 4
Dimensions: 17.00" L x 5.50" D
What: Chemical retort
Subject: 4. CHEMISTRY, Apparatus and instruments, general (Departmental Classification)
Who: Joseph Priestley (chemist)
Josiah Wedgwood
Wedgwood (maker)
Where: England
Description: Glazed earthenware chemical retort by Wedgwood, c. 1800
  • Buten, David, 18th-century Wedgwood: A guide for collectors and connoisseurs. New York:Methuen, 1980 p 171 
  • Josiah Wedgwood: The Arts and Sciences United. London, 1978, especially pp 16-23, and item 22 
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