I first saw this figure form in the home of a British collector.
The owner was, justifiably, proud of it. It is impressive, with a good-sized footprint. He especially liked the figure because, he was told, it portrayed, Lord Howe (1726-1799). I hated bursting his bubble, but the more I researched, the less likely it seemed that the figure was that noted 18thC British Admiral. Firstly, I thought the figure dated to post 1805, and I am not sure Lord Howe would have been of sufficient interest some years after his death to warrant a figure form. After all, was not Britain producing plentiful new heros on early 19thC battle fields? I remained uncertain whether this officer was even British. His uniform is continental rather than British in appearance, and where is the garter star that I would expect to see emblazoned on a British military officer’s chest? My suggestion that this might be Napoleon was not well-received by the collector!
In the next few years, I saw other copies of this figure. His identity varied. Napoleon, the Duke of York, the Duke of Wellington, Nelson…take your pick. Comparing the figures to portraits was little use. Decked in military finery, these officers all look rather alike. And then I found this figure in the collection of The London National Maritime Museum.
Early 19thC pearlware figure described as probably intended to be Nelson in the collection of London's National Maritime Museum.
This figure is described by the Maritime Museum as probably intended to be Nelson. I think this association is based solely on the fact that the figure is missing a hand. Because I haven't examined the figure, I am not sure if the amputation occurred prior to or after manufacture!
The Maritime Museum has another figure that it describes as Nelson--and here I don't disagree because the mold is not quite the same. The result mimics the appearance of Nelson's after his partial amputation in 1797.
Pearlware figure in the collection of the London Maritime Museum. The figure is attributed to Wood and Caldwell, but I am uncertain whether it is marked.
All good things come to those who wait, and so it is with pottery. Last month, my visit to The Potteries Museum, Stoke on Trent, rewarded me the identity of my mystery officer. The Potteries Museum owns a model fashioned just like the first example I show. And scratched into the pink luster on its base are the words "The Duke of Wellington." So now we know!
Knowing facts like these doesn't just scratch a mental itch. It really helps date our figures. Arthur Wesley was created Duke of Wellington in 1814--so the Potteries figure definitely dates from after that date. Possibly my collector's untitled figure was made at the same time. Or possibly it was made earlier to represent some other military hero and it was conveniently titled in Wellington's honor after his success on the battlefield in 1814.
Fascinating Factoid. The silver luster figure of Nelson, above, can be dated to between 1805 and 1818. Silver luster was only introduced commercially after 1805, so the figure couldn't have been made earlier. And Wood and Caldwell, who made this figure, dissolved their partnership in 1818, so the figure was not made any later. Why the interest in Nelson so many years after his demise? No surprise really. Interest in Nelson is unabated today.
Last month, I visited the Reserve Collection of The Potteries Museum, Stoke on Trent. What a treat! Words literally do fail me. While there, I was enchanted by a figure I had never seen before.
Enamel-painted earthenware figure of a boy and his squirrel. H: 7-3/8'. Collection of The Potteries Museum.
Lovely, is it not? The squirrel seems to be a trained performing squirrel that lives in its box between 'acts.' Squirrels are so clever--their antics on my birdfeeder never cease to amaze--but I don't believe that anyone in our time has attempted to teach a squirrel tricks.
This week, I lectured in Providence, Rhode Island. I had a few extra minutes in the RISD Museum and it was suggested that I peep at the porcelain figure collection, which, I was given to understand, really didn't have anyone to look after it. It just happened to be there. I am always interested in porcelain figures because I am seeking similarities to earthenware ones, so I was quite excited at the prospect of...who knows what? The figure collection was quite exquisite, and I am no lover of porcelain. It had been given to the museum in 1937. Surprise: there were even a few choice pieces of English pottery in it! And then my eye caught this: (as snapped on my iPhone!)
Boy with squirrel. Collection of RISD Museum.
The figure was described as tin-glazed earthenware, French, made at Saint-Clement, near Luneville, c1775. So there we have it. If the dating is accurate--and I need to verify this--this figure inspired the Staffordshire figure. Why there is only one recorded example of the Staffordshire figure, I don't know. If anyone knows anything more about either of these figures, please share.
And talking about sharing, I want to share with you a picture that popped into my email box as I returned from Providence.
English Cocker Spaniel, Emmy, with her babies just hours after their birth.
Late Wednesday night, our long-awaited puppy was born. Mother Emmy gave birth to 4 girls and 1 boy. Mom and kids are thriving--and I am beaming!
Two centuries ago, something very similar happened--and perhaps a potter's joy inspired him to create this unique figure group of Val and her pups.
Staffordshire figure group C1820 tiltled VAL LAY. Only known example. It pairs with a single spaniel titled ROVER &. Side by side, the wording reads ROVER & VAL LAY. I guess the puppies were the result!
"My bad" as that awful saying goes. I believe I made a mistake and fell into a trap. Months after writing this entry, I have concluded that the boy with squirrel in the Reserve Collection at the Hanley Museum is probably not English. Frankly, I wish I could examine it again, but the more I look at photographs the more certain I become that the figure just is not Staffordshire. I have since found another example of this figure, described as 19thC Passau (German manufacturer). For now, I conclude that the Hanley example originated somewhere in Europe--but not in the Staffordshire Potteries.
Doesn't this flock of sheep, from the stock of John Howard, leave you speechless? An amazing sight, with some rare forms. Look at the pair with blue and green enameling!
As this picture is worth a thousand words, I shan't say much more, except to add that I too have a flock of sheep. I was inspired to assemble a flock of my very own after my first visit to the home of Griselda Lewis, beloved author of A Collectors History of English Pottery and also Pratt Ware. Griselda had her flock across the mantle, and standing in the middle was a shepherd (figure of the Lost Sheep). When I am compelled to entertain formally, I scatter my sheep around our long dining table, and they do help me get through the evening. I have also created tableaux by placing sheep and other figures on a moss-covered silver tray, and I put flowers in the spillholders....but it has to be a pretty dull event for me to set up one of these fairy land creations. Have fun with your figures and see larger pictures on John's site by clicking here.
Rumors of the demise of our economy--and extravagant indulgence--have been greatly exaggerated. This month, this bullbaiting figure group sold at Christies, London, for a whopping GBP10,350 with all charges and VAT.
In dollars, this figure made about $15,500. Similar figures have sold for less from dealers' stock relatively recently, so this price seems outrageous...but is it? If you have the money and you want the figure--and this was a splendid example--you should go ahead and indulge. Clearly two bidders tried to do just that. Unfortunately, only one could win.
Prices held up well at Christies, for the economic peddlers of doom and gloom are not going to deter collectors on the hunt. Two other bull baitings exceeded their estimates.
This small baiting group had significant issues. You can see his raised arm is another color and his stick is about as thick as his arm. Restoration is inevitable at times, but I hated the yucky look to the enamels. Someone else was clearly not bothered. The group more than doubled the top range of the estimate, ending up at just shy of GBP4,000 or $6,000 all in.
The room did not run out of money, and demand for baiting groups was hot that day. The example below, like the smaller one above, is in the "Sherratt" style. The base is pretty, but I do miss the title plaques usually found on big bull baiting groups. And the colors are rather ...well, dreary is the word that comes to mind. The group just doesn't ooze vitality.
But again, someone wanted a bull baiting, so this handsome-but-staid group made around GBP4,500 with charges and VAT--almost $7,000.
Even though I can't enthuse about all these figures, I do think they are worth every penny their new owners paid. Staffordshire figures of this period are now almost two centuries old. They are fragile treasures recalling extraordinary events and ordinary people from a time that has vanished, and the privilege of being their custodian is well worth the price we have to pay.
But if you don't have deep pockets, don't despair! You can buy a wonderful, small figure for less than the price of a modest NY or London hotel room--and it too will captivate and delight forever.
When figures have multiple features in common, I believe they originated from the same manufactory--or, loosely put, I say they belong to the same "family." Yes, I know that potters got their molds from common sources, but decorative elements (such as bocages, floral sprigs etc.) were typically made in-house and these embellishments can help us group figures sharing common origins into "families." Because figure painters presumably moved from potbank to potbank, similar painting is on its own NOT enough evidence of linkage between figures. But it can be a first clue that helps us explore further.
In January, I spotted this figure at the NY Ceramics Fair. The reason I snapped a picture was that the enamels were really quite lovely. The figure is a gardener, probably intended to symbolize Earth in a set representing the Four Elements.
While the quality of the enamels is not apparent from my poor image, look at how beautifully that flower pot is decorated. An unusual flower form is on the base, and the base itself was a pearly gray, again uncommon. All duly noted.
Last month, I was traveling and found these two figure in collections.
The first is our gardener, again. Same gray base with distinctive flower and this time he sports a bocage and just look at the fantastic flower in the fabulous flower pot.
The second figure was a little girl holding a flower. Dazzling enamels and glaze yet again, and once more we have a square gray base. Just as I was pondering these figures and hoping I would find more, a blog reader sent me this:
This figure represents Spring, from a set of figures representing the Four Seasons. Again, great quality with beautiful, carefully fashioned flowers on the base and in the flower basket. And yes, the base is gray.
Then, lastly I got lucky when I found this figure representing Charity.
Again, scrumptious enamels and glaze--and on a gray base. I don't have enough to link these figures into a "family" yet, but I hope to find more examples that help fill in the blanks. Wouldn't it have been nice if all these figures had the same flower on the base that adorns the base of Earth? That would have made it so easy. But the gray bases on the examples I have examined have been formed in the same manner, so that's a beginning. Time will, I hope, reveal more.
The term "Pratt ware" is frequently tossed around incorrectly. Correctly used, "Pratt ware" refers to pottery that is decorated with oxide colors that are applied UNDER the glaze.
The figure would be assembled and fired
The color would be applied and allowed to dry before dipping the figure in glaze and then firing it for the second and final time.
Because the final firing was a glaze firing, it required a very high temperature, and only a limited palette of colors could withstand such temperatures. These colors are all derived from metallic oxides and are yellow, brown, green, orange, blue, black, and puce. And because the colors are UNDER the glaze they retain a brilliant sparkle and an intensity. Quite remarkable to see them looking as fresh today as they did 200+ years ago.
Because Pratt ware utilized a less costly technique--only 2 firings required--we see Pratt colors on many useful wares such as jugs and on relatively few figures. On the whole, Pratt decorated figures are crude....but not always. You can get some splendid examples. One man's 'crude' is another's 'naive'. When this sweet little soldier came up for auction a few years ago, I thought it fell into the latter camp. Fabulously naive with Pratt colors that glowed. Almost looked wet, like a lollipop that had been licked.
The Perfect Man: our Pratt Ware soldier with a fatal flaw.
Yummy is he not? And apparently PERFECT. A friend of mine loved the figure and I dubbed him The Perfect Man. Not a nick on him, standing to attention, and silent. My friend (a man!) bid a very generous price to secure this little fella. But when the parcel arrived from the very reputable auction house, surprise: our Perfect Man was far from perfect. His head had been off and reglued. The auction house refunded the price, but a dream was shattered. There is no perfect man.
Most figures we see are decorated in enamel colors. These are applied ON TOP of the glaze.
The figure would be assembled and fired
The figure would be dipped in glaze and fired again.
Enamel colors that could withstand the highest temperatures would be applied first, and the figure would be fired yet again. The temperature reached would be significantly below that required for the other two firings.
Enamel colors that could only withstand even lower temperatures would be applied and the figure fired again at an even lower temperature.
So why go to all this trouble of at least 3 firings? Well, enamel colors allowed the use of a full color palette, including soft pastel tones and all the shades of green, blue and everything else. Name it and you could use it. It was a more expensive technique and was used for most fine figures because the colors could be painted on with great precision. And if mixed and fired correctly, the colors still retain a shine....sometimes they can rival the brilliance of Pratt Ware. I have seen the same figure decorated in Pratt and enamel colors. Neither is earlier than the other. But Pratt was quicker and cheaper to utilize.
Pratt Ware Cat
Enamel-painted Cat, from the stock of Elinor Penna.
Last posting looked at a classical figure. This time we move to the other end of the Staffordshire figure spectrum and look at a figure that very much reflected its times. While today the term "Jim Crow" has repugnant racial discrimination connotations, in the 1830s Jim Crow was the talk of London.
Rare Staffordshire Figure of Jim Crow from the stock of John Howard
Thomas Dartmouth Rice (1806-1860) is the man who gave us Jim Crow. Born and raised in New York, Rice trained as a woodcarver but he preferred the life of an itinerant entertainer. By 1828, he was earning his keep in the USA as a prop man and small-part actor. Between acts, he performed a shuffling, jiggling dance to the tune of a black American slave work song. The routine cruelly parodied the crippled movements of a slave namedJim Crow, who worked in the stables behind the theatre although his limbs were gnarled with arthritis. Rice performed his Jim Crow routine in blackface, thus creating a stereotype for black minstrelry that was to quickly become wildly popular.
Rice’s debut as Jim Crow at the Adelphi Theatre in London on 7 November 1836 was so successful that other plays were adapted to create a role for Jim Crow. Rice and Jim Crow became an international sensation and people of all classes capered to the ditty and printed images ofJim Crow proliferated.
A hand colored engraving of Jim Crow, circa 1835, sold by Dramatis Personae.
Figures of Jim Crow are very rare. I have known of only one model (and only two copies of it)---until John Howard found his Jam Crow figure, shown here. Misspelling is common on Staffordshire figures because the potters were barely literate, so it is no surprise to find "Jim" endearingly spelled Staffordshire style!
The older I get, the more I like classical figures. When well executed, they have such grace and charm. And, at times, they can be brain teasers.
Staffordshire figure depicting Melpomene, H: 15cm
This figure popped up recently. I had never seen it before. Turns out she is Melpomene, the Muse of Tragedy. Melpomene's attributes were the horn and tragic masks.I have never seen this base form before either.
So how do I know this figure is Melpomene? A clever friend of mine did the work by doing what I should have done: he referred to James Hall's Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art. This is a great reference, and I do use it often. Hall tells that Melpomeme is one of nine muses, each with her own sphere of influence over learning and the arts.
Classical figures compel me to learn about the classics, and this makes them especially intriguing. And now that I know there are nine muses, I shall be watching for figures depicting the remaining eight, not to mention other figures on this same base. I giggle inwardly when I am dubbed an 'expert' on early Staffordshire figures. In reality, I am a student, forever learning. And that's so exciting.