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Waterford Wedgwood Goes Bankrupt

 

Many genealogists are familiar with Waterford Wedgwood, the maker of fine crystal and luxury ceramics. Queen Elizabeth and the White House are prominent customers. Waterford Wedgwood objects also figure prominently in many families’ heirlooms.

Waterford Wedgwood has been in financial difficulty for years and the current economic slowdown only worsened the situation. The company’s British and Irish subsidiaries have been placed in bankruptcy protection, while its remaining units in the US, Germany and Canada have (so far) remained unaffected. The company had been trying to sell itself for some time, but simply ran out of cash before finding a buyer.

Critics point out the company has never come to terms with the lifestyle changes of its customer base. In particular, people have been moving away from fine crystal and luxury ceramics as traditional wedding presents. Most couples today prefer a more relaxed lifestyle and favour big-ticket electronic items, such as a television, for a wedding present. As well, anyone interested in buying fine crystal or ceramics can find a ready supply of product on the internet, sometimes at reduced prices.

Waterford Wedgwood has a long and prestigious pedigree. Waterford (the crystal maker) was founded in 1783 by William and George Penrose, who named the company after Waterford, Ireland, the small coastal town where they lived. Waterford has faced financial difficulty in the past. It closed in 1851 only to reopen almost 100 years later in 1947 when the business was revived by Miroslav Howel from Czechoslovakia, another country known for making fine crystal. In 1986, Waterford acquired Wedgwood and the merged company changed its name to Waterford Wedgwood.

Wedgwood (the ceramics maker) also has an extensive history. It was founded 250 years ago in 1759 by Josiah Wedgwood in Stoke-on-Trent England, where the company continued to have major operations to the present. Wedgwood developed a reputation for the finest quality ceramics, and eventually the company became the official “Potter to Her Majesty”. Of interest to genealogists, Charles Darwin, the famous evolutionary biologist, married a member of the Wedgwood family, who was his cousin. Much of his research was funded by the family fortune made in luxury ceramics.

A combination of changing tastes, high production costs, unfavorable exchange rates, the current economic slowdown, lack of innovative new product and the ready availability of alternate product on the internet all contributed to the eventual downfall of the company. For genealogists who have some Waterford Wedgwood heirlooms, perhaps it is time to hold onto these items. They don’t make them anymore.

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