I notice this little pearlware figure for sale in cyberspace. The seller advertises it as at fault, noting that there is restoration to the neck and chips on the base. I am certain this seller tried to disclose all damage to the best of his/her knowledge, but can you notice an even bigger flaw in this figure?
When I look at a figure, I turn it upside down almost immediately it reaches my hand. Often I think the owner imagines I am looking for a price sticker, but not so. The base reveals so much, and in this case it reveals everything.
Once upon a time, this figure was mounted on another piece of earthenware. It has broken away from the original base. That's why the edge of the remaining base is unglazed. The figure should look like the one below.
Because so many Staffordshire figures are mounted on bases, you will on other occasions see figures that have lost the original base. The wrinkle is that sometimes potters made figures with a base; and sometimes they made the same figure without the additional base. So how do you know the difference? The way to tell if the base is correct is to look at the edges of the base. If the edge is glazed, all is well. If the edge is unglazed, it is so because the base has broken away. (Beware a dealer who has had the raw edge painted over to conceal the damage. Collecting can be a mine field!)
What of the mark CERES below the figure? Well, it is her name, of course. This little lady represents Ceres, the goddess of agriculture.
This particular version of Ceres was first made by James Neale & Co--a potbank based in Hanley, owned by James Neale and sundry other partners, and managed by Robert Wilson. It operated thus from around 1781 to 1792. Figures made in that period can occur with the additional mark NEALE & CO.
From 1792, Robert Wilson potted on his own, and he was joined in 1798 by David Wilson. Robert died in 1801, but David continued to run the potbank with his son. The business continued thus until 1820, by which time the son had run it into the ground. Our figure of Ceres continued to be made, but in the Wilson period, the factory mark was the letter G with a crown above.
So if there is a factory mark, we know roughly when CERES was made. But very often there is no makers' mark. Just the word CERES. So was such a figure made on Neale's watch, on Robert Wilson's watch, on David Wilson's watch, or by some other potter entirely? I do believe that we can rule out the last option. The figures are all so similar in many ways that it is difficult to explain an origin other than Neale-Wilson.
The moral of the story, I guess, is to be aware that CERES (and other similar Neale-type figures) are NOT all Neale, dating from 1785, as most sellers would have you believe. That claim is baseless. A figure without a factory mark may well have been made by Wilson as late as 1820. But if the figure is lovely, it doesn't matter a jot. Just please be sure it is all there!
I search endlessly for figures and by now I have seen very, very many. So when I find something unusual, my heart skips a little beat. Nowadays, that doesn't happen often (fortunately for my heart and finances, if not my collection!)...but when I saw this set of Staffordshire figures, I felt that tell-tale flutter.
Pearlware figures depicting Faith, Hope, and Charity, available at time of writing from madelena.com, Madelena Antiques. Heights 7-1/4" to 8-3/4".
So what makes these figures special? Firstly, they are a set. It is really not that easy to find all three ladies together. Secondly, the figures are attributable to that master potter, Ralph Wood. And Ralph Wood made some fabulous figures--great modeling and yummy enameling over silky glaze. Just delicious all the way around.
How do I know these are Ralph Wood figures without examining them? Well, there are several clues detectable from this photograph.
1. The titling is in a font format associated with RW figures.
2. The rainbow coloring on the mound bases is found on other RW figures.
3. The line on the bases goes around only three sides of each base--Jo at Madelena confirmed this fact for me. Important because this is another RW decorative feature.
Any one of these features alone might not be enough to assure me of a Wood attribution--but put them together and I am certain. No wonder my heart skipped that beat when I saw these Staffordshire figures!
Fascinating Factoids about Faith, Hope, and Charity: These Christian theological virtues have traditionally been portrayed in art in female form, each accompanied by an appropriate attribute. Faith holds a book representing the Scriptures. Hope gazes heavenward; the anchor at her side originates from St Paul, which describes hope as “an achor of the soul.” (Heb. 6:19). Charity is believed to be the greatest of the virtues, embodying both love of God and others. Appropriately, the figure of Charity portrays these dual aspects. She nurtures children, and in some models one child sometimes holds a crucifix.
Each to his own, but I find busts rather grotesque.....yes, there are one or two that I covet, but the rest are not for me. That being said, I am wow-ed by the quality of the pearlware bust of the Rev. John Wesley that was sold at Northeast Auctions this weekend.
Photographs of bust of the Rev. John Wesley from web site of Northeast Auctions.
The gentleman in question is the Rev. John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement. Many of Staffordshire's potters were Methodists--the mainstream Church of England in that day was less accommodating of the needs of the lower classes--and Wesley visited the Potteries on many occasions. The men and women who made the Staffordshire figures we collect clearly loved Wesley, because there are more busts of Wesley than any other person. Every potter seems to have had his 'version'. But the bust above is the Daddy of them all. Modeled with exquisite attention to detail, it is the work of that master modeller and potter, Enoch Wood. And a medallion on the back attests to this.
The medallion molded on the socle reverse reads "THE REV.D JOHN WESLEY M.A., DIED MAR 2, 1791, AGED 88. ENOCH WOOD SCULP., BURSLEM." The bust is pearlware, height is12 ¼ inches.
Factoid: The Methodist movement remained part of the Church of England throughout Wesley's life. He refused to separate from his beloved church. Only after his death did Methodists become independent of the national church.
Notice two weird features on the leopard below? Firstly, the beast has a cloven hoof. This I cannot explain! Secondly, it wears a harness of sorts--hardly routine on a jungle beast. To compound the mystery, lions and leopard, facing both left and right, can all be found wearing harnesses. This I can explain...
The three felines above all wear harnesses...and all can also be found as part of large chariot groups. Sometimes the chariot is pulled by two leopards, sometimes by two lions.
Chariot photographed from the stock of Elinor Penna.
As you can see, the lions pulling Elinor Penna's chariot are wearing harnesses. And leopards pulling chariots also wear harnesses. Apparently our potters used the molds for those chariot-pulling felines to also create freestanding leopards and lions. So now we know why those incongruous harnesses are in place.
Interestingly, all the harnessed leopard and lion models can be attributed to a single potbank, even though they vary in the bases and bocages used--in fact the bases and the bocages are the very features that enable us to link these figures into a 'family' of figures. Not surprisingly, the impressive chariot groups are also attributable to that very same potbank. Chariots must have been costly items to manufacture, and the molds for them were valuable commodities. Clearly, our mystery potbank put those leopard and lion molds to good use by creating free standing versions of these animals...even if they do appear rather oddly posed!
For the record, a lion model without a harness was also made by this potbank. That figure stands in a traditional pose, foot upon a ball.
When my book was published, I received a phone call. The lady at the other end was polite, but she wanted me to know she was annoyed. I had photographed some figures in her small collection for possible inclusion in my book, and I was a little embarrassed at having been able to include just one....so I held my breath! No, it was not the fact a mere lone figure had made it into the book. What had her really ticked was that I had not included her Roger Giles.
Well, you could have bowled me over with a feather. Firstly, I had not photographed her Roger Giles. Secondly, she had not even shown it to me. So I drew a deep breath and told her the truth: I had not included a Roger Giles because the cut-off date for my book was 1835 and I was not sure of the earliest possible date for a Roger Giles figure.
Well, since that time, I have come across three pearlware figures of Roger Giles that I believe date c1835, so perhaps Roger would have made it into the book, if I had seen him. As you can see below, the figure is small--about 4 inches high--and serves as a pepper pot (the hat is pierced and the opening beneath can be closed with a cork).
Staffordshire figure depicting Roger Giles. Picture courtesy of Andrew Dando Antiques.
'Sherratt' style Staffordshire figure depicting Roger Giles.
So why is Roger Giles squatting immodestly with his trousers pulled down? He is laying eggs of course! Roger Giles was a Devonshire jack-of-all-trades who supposedly advertised on a signboard to sell his fresh eggs, newly laid by him every day. I have found several versions of this rambling grammatical disaster, some claiming to be copied from a handbill, others claiming to be copied from a signboard. I am frustrated at not being able to pin a date to Roger Giles's attempt at marketing--not yet, anyway.
For a long time I did not want to own a Roger Giles because I thought the figure unattractively crude. Then I found my little Roger Giles, above, and I was smitten. Like the example in Andrew Dando's photograph, my figure is colorful and charming. A good early Roger Giles is difficult to find, but then the fun is in the search--and the reward is life-long. Happy hunting!
Today I write hoping someone will be able to help me. The pearlware figure below has me stumped.
The figure--if you can call it that--is totally flat on the undecorated reverse. The form is mounted on the base so that the result almost resembles a miniature book end. But at just 3 3/8" high this is clearly no bookend! Quite gorgeous. Note the rich enamels and the touches of old gilding in her hair. I am clueless as to what its purpose once was.
Such Staffordshire figure forms must have had a use. I have recorded about 8 varying designs. One, known to me only from an old Christies' catalogue, is shaped as a male harvester....and here is the exciting part: it is marked WALTON.
To add to the dark cloud of ignorance swirling over me, look at this money box
Even though I don't do 'cute', I will admit to finding this money box adorable. Two coin slots, two little spaniels....and there is our passionate couple yet again. Not as finely painted this time, but the form is the same. I know naught about Blue and White, so perhaps someone can enlighten me. The pattern is Spode's Indian Sports, but the circular transfer printed marked beneath, "Indian Sports 38", leads me to think that the box may have been made by someone other than Spode. BTW, enameling has been applied over the transfer design in places. The box really is pretty. Please let me hear from you if you even think you know anything. firstname.lastname@example.org
Oops! Was cleaning up my camera cards and I found these shots that I neglected to share. All taken at that not-to-be-missed show, the NY Ceramics Fair, this January.
The stand of James Labaugh Antiques
From Elinor Penna's stand.
From the stand of Peter and Maria Warren.
From John Howard's stand
From the stand of Sampson & Horne.
From the stand of Paul Vandekar
From Simon Westman Antiques.
The best things are timeless...so I hope you have enjoyed these photos.
Recently, the Neale figure on my Wish List arrived--see photo in blog posting of Jan 24 below. Words still fail me. The figure surpasses all expectations. It simply is the finest figure I have ever seen. It keeps dancing through my mind as I work at my desk. It is past midnight yet I want to share my excitement with you--but, as I said, words literally do fail me. I have held this phenomenal figure in my hands for ages, contemplating its stunning modeling and enameling. The impressed Neale & Co mark beneath tells me that this Staffordshire figure was made between 1780 and 1789. That's right: over 220 years ago, and it is as good as the day it left the factory.
As I pondered my figure's perfection, I asked myself why I don't collect porcelain. If the fineness of this figure is so appealing, shouldn't I love porcelain? The answer is a resounding NO. Pottery is warm; porcelain is harsh and brittle. The creamy white of an early pottery body is so much more appealing. Pottery is comfort food for the eyes. Pottery warms my blood--like curling up on the carpet with my dog when I am cold.
On a less happy note, I had my first breakage the other week. I was about to get a very perfect figure from a dealer. I had seen it, loved it...the glaze glowed like it was still wet. The figure looked good enough to eat--and not the tiniest chip on it anywhere. Perfection, after 190 or so years on this earth. I loved it so. And then disaster struck. The dealer, a dear friend, knocked my precious baby over. The figure didn't just get a chip or two. It broke into 4 distinct pieces. When my friend told me, I thought he was teasing. But as the truth became apparent, I found tears welling in my eyes. Is this ridiculous? No-one was dead. I eat nails for breakfast and have zero tolerance for people who can't suck it up when little things go wrong. And yet there I stood tearing up over a figure! Please don't ask me to explain. Weeks later, I am still sad--not at my loss, nor my friend's loss, but at the death of a perfect figure. Yes, it will be restored but it can never be fabulous...after all, how many perfect things are there in our oh-so-imperfect world?
So, in memory of a once-perfect figure, I show you another rather lovely figure. This 'Sherratt' style pearlware figure depicts the angel Gabriel. The base is impressed with the words PREPARE TO MEET THY GOD. These words are more commonly found on early 19th century plaques or emblazoned across the back plates of large 'Sherratt' style figure groups. The prophetic words from Amos 4:12 do, I guess, apply to pots as well as people!