The Wedgwood Collection one of the most important industrial archives in the world and a unique record of over 250 years of British art and history, is at risk of being broken up and sold on the open market unless the final £2.74m tranche of the full £15.75m required to save the Collection is raised by the end of November 2014. Public donations will be matched pound-for-pound, thanks to the generosity of a private charitable trust.
Thanks to major support from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the Art Fund
and a small number of private trusts and foundations, over £13m of the £15.75m needed has already been raised. The Collection is the principal asset of the Wedgwood Museum Trust, which inherited an estimated £134m of pension debt as an unfortunate consequence of the UK subsidiary of Waterford Wedgwood Plc going into administration in 2009. The debt transferred from company to museum because the two had been linked through a shared pension fund.
The Collection contains over 80,000 works of art, ceramics, manuscripts and letters, pattern books and photographs covering the 250-year history of Wedgwood; it is also a unique archive of British politics, society, science and art. Developments in taste and fashion can be traced over three centuries: through the ceramics in the Collection always at the forefront of design; in the documentation of the manufacturing processes for the iconic black basalt, cream-coloured Queens ware and blue-and-white jasperware of the 18th century; and through the potterys commissions to artists ranging from John Flaxman in the 18th century to Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake and Patrick Heron in the 20th. Among the most valuable items in the Collection are the family portraits painted by Stubbs, Josiahs friend and protégé. Josiah I and his wife, Sarah, were also painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, founding president of the Royal Academy.
This exceptional archive represents priceless evidence of one companys contribution and response to a world of fast-paced commercial innovation, scientific discovery, intellectual enlightenment, turbulent social history and global politics.
One of the most complete ceramic manufacturing archives in existence. Unparalleled in its diversity and breadth, [embracing] every imaginable subject from pots to people, transport to trade, society and social conditions. UNESCO
Why the Collection is at risk
When the UK subsidiary of Waterford Wedgwood Plc filed for Administration in January 2009, the Wedgwood Group Pension Plan (WGPP) to which 8,000 current and former UK based employees belonged, held a liability estimated at £134m. The WGPP then approached the Pension Protection Fund (PPF), the industry body set up by the government to compensate individual pensioners in the event of a company insolvency. The PPF discovered that WGPPs members belonged to two companies: the UK subsidiary of Waterford Wedgwood Plc and Wedgwood Museum Trust (of which 5 employees were a part of WGPP). As a Last Man Standing pension scheme, the rules rendered the remaining solvent company associated with it fully liable, making the Wedgwood Museum Trust legally and solely responsible for the entire pension debt.
As a result, the Wedgwood Museum Trust itself went into Administration in April 2010. While the Trust and its lawyers had believed the museums Collection was protected (and that it formed part of the Trusts Permanent Endowment), this was disputed. The Administrator instructed the courts to decide, and on 19 December 2011 the High Court ruled that the Collection was not protected in a trust, and should be sold as an asset of the Wedgwood Museum Trust, in order to repay some of the debt owed. In March 2012 the Attorney General upheld this ruling.
Following negotiation with the Art Fund and other parties including the HLF, PPF and Government the Administrator (Begbies Traynor) agreed to pursue a legal strategy intended to obviate the need for the Collection to be sold. However, after exploring several legal avenues, all parties have now agreed that a sale is inevitable. The Administrator, in negotiation with the creditors, has agreed the Collection can be sold to the nation for £15.75m, provided the sale can be completed by the end of November.
Now that the price of £15.75m has been agreed, we have until 30 November 2014 to raise the necessary funds. The Heritage Lottery Fund (major funders of the Wedgwood Museums refurbishment in 2005 with £5.8m of support) has a charge over the Wedgwood Museum Trusts assets (equivalent to the value of its grant) that takes precedence over the other creditors claims. The HLF has agreed to a transfer of the charge and has also agreed in principle to a further grant of up to £5 million towards the purchase of the Collection if the Art Fund is able to raise the outstanding amount. This, together with a £1m grant from the Art Fund, a further £1m from a private trust and donations of £150,000 from two private foundations, leaves £2.74m still to be raised by 30 November 2014.
Once the Collection has been sold, the Wedgwood Museum Trust will begin the process of winding up. In order to protect the Collection from ever being at risk again, the Art Fund aims to purchase it and gift it in title to the V&A, the national museum of art and design. The V&A has agreed in principle to take on this responsibility for the Collection in order to safeguard it in perpetuity, and would continue to display it in Staffordshire. The V&A is therefore in discussions with Waterford Wedgwood Royal Doulton (WWRD), the company that now owns, manufactures and distributes the Wedgwood brand, regarding a long-term loan agreement to display the Collection at its Barlaston site, where the Wedgwood Museum would lie at the heart of the major new visitor experience due to open in Spring 2015 as part of the £34m redevelopment scheme there.