Did you notice this beautiful bovine grazing on Madelena's site?
The cow is definitely "Sherratt." The distinctive bocage alone is enough to confirm a "Sherratt" attribution, and bases of this sort occur on other "Sherratt" figures. But what about that odd title? I think it was meant to be CUP TODAY and the letters were impressed in the wrong order. And why CUP TODAY? Remember, that in that era there was no refrigeration. Milk was hawked on the streets, and it was sold by the cup. So "Cup Today" seems like an appropriate street vendor's call.
Below you have the same cow, but this time she is titled CUP LADY. I remember how my children would tell me that the "ice cream man" was on our road in bygone days. I suspect it was much the same when the milk vendor arrived with her cow, ready to sell milk straight from the cow by the cup. The Cup Lady had arrived--and hence the title on this beautiful bovine.
On the subject of milk in bygone days, how about this figure group of the milk maid going about her daily chores?
This unique figure is in the collection of the Fitwilliam Museum. It is quite unlike any other earthenware figure. It is after a figure of the same form made by the Imperial Porcelain Factory of St. Petersburg, circa 1817, and the porcelain figure is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Weirdly interesting, but not to my taste.
Far more to my taste is this sweet cow, formerly in the stock of Andrew Dando.
The bocage supports a Dale attribution, but of course you noticed the unusual bocage first. Bocages that fit into sockets are uncommon, and every figure that I have seen with a bocage of this type (with the exception of one) has exhibited other features that support a Dale attribution. Why bother to make the bocage separately from the rest of the figure? Well, if the bocage got broken in one of the two firings that occured before painting began, the potter could replace just the bocage. Clearly John Dale was tired of kiln damage to bocages costing him money, so he came up with this innovative technique.
Below, you see another figure attributable to Dale. It too has a bocage that fits into a socket.
In this case, the bocage is stuck firmly in the socket. It was clearly made separately, but I suspect it was put in place for the final enamel firing and the heat of the muffle kiln melded the glazes. That big bocage is splendid, is it not?
The bocage flowers on both the Dale figures you see here are formed identically. Each flower has twelve petals, alternating between long and short. These flowers occur on Dale figures. They also occur on marked Titttensor bocage figures. Only three Tittensor enamel figures with bocages are recorded....and all three have these very same flowers. Nothing is ever cut-and-dried when it comes to attributions. If only these flowers were exclusive to either Dale or Tittensor, how simple life would be. Fortunately, Dale figures usually exhibit other features that aid in attribution. Here is the little Tittensor deer in the Potteries Museum.
Deer marked TITTENSOR. The Potteries Museum.
How did I get here? We started with a splendid cow...and end looking at flowers. The details in our figures are endlessly fascinating, and they tell us so much. Look at your figures closely and you will be amazed at what you can learn.
Last week, I traveled to a major US city to lecture to a ceramics circle. Afterwards, one of the ladies thanked me for talking about "Stratford-shire." I cringed. Had she dozed through my lecture? Clearly, I had failed to deliver the message! Ah well. Ignorance is no crime....but surely to a point only?
Recently, a collector asked me about a New Marriage Act group, and, although we have explored the topic before and it is thoroughly covered in my book, let's take a quick look at it again. The story behind the group is like this: Prior to 1823, England's marriage law was very demanding and difficult. To get around it, people tended to lie to get married--even though they were then marrying in violation of the law. This usually suited both parties perfectly well--but many years later, either the husband or wife could decide to use the violation to get their marriage anulled. Given that divorce was impossible, an anulment was a convenient way to end the marriage, and it often suited both parties quite well. Sounds OK? Well, it was, but it caused problems for children. When a marriage was anulled, children became illegitimate, and this had disastrous consequences on inheritances.
So what was the solution? Well, the New Marriage Act of 1823 made it no longer possible to anul a marriage because of a petty violation of the law that had occured at the time of marriage. Staffordshire figure potters were quick to see the humor in these situations and they potted various groups commemorating the 1823 legislation.
This gorgeous group is, I think, currently in the stock of Roger de Ville. The plaque on the back reads The New Marriage Act John Frill and Ann Boke aged 21 thats right says the parson amen says the clerk. This garbled message is telling us that once the couple declared themselves to be 21 and of marrying age, AMEN--there was no going back! Marriage was intended to last for life, and the New Marriage Act ended easy anulments.
Below is another example of a New Marriage Act group within an arbor. Notice that the arbor is decorated quite differently--but I think Roger's is prettier. Both these examples were made shortly after 1823. Beware later groups in arbors portraying the same theme. And if you have one, please send me a picture to include in the Reproductions chapter of my new book.
Groups such as the two above are becoming quite impossible to find. What is happening to all the good pottery? Where has it gone? Dealers have noticed that the supply is drying up--and I notice the best (and costliest) items flying out of stock the quickest. A long-time dealer recently told me that he believes more people than ever are collecting pottery. Yay! Great to know that in in the midst of a severe economic down turn, the pottery market thrives.
Several of you said nice things about my my much-publicized elephant
. The Antiques Road Trip episode aired in the UK this week, and I have been reminded that there are unanswered questions. So here goes. First, why does the elephant have a castle on its back? Well, I wish I knew for certain! The sight was probably somewhat familiar to Londoners, because London was a Mecca for entertainers with exotic animals. In 1679, the scientist Robert Hook noted seeing an elephant carrying a castle and man on its back on London’s streets. Also, a similar motif had been used for centuries in the arms of Coventry and as the emblem of London’s Cutlers’ Company (remember elephant tusks supplied ivory for the handles of knives--hence the appropriateness of the motif for cutlers.)
But elephants were very much in the news in the 1820s. Chunnee, a famous elephant in London's Exeter Change menagerie, was killed horrifically in 1825, and there was much outrage. Chunnee was a much-loved London attraction, but after years of captivity within a menagerie cage, he had had enough. And as he matured sexually, he became more difficult to control. Each year, his keepers administered increasingly powerful laxatives, which were thought to control his libido! In 1826, Chunee, then about twenty-two years old, was so enraged by his seclusion (and the laxatives, no doubt) that it was feared he would reduce his prison to rubble and liberate his ferocious fellow inmates. It was decided that Chunee had to be killed. This was easier said than done, and it took three agonizing days. Poison failed, as did a blundering firing squad. Finally, within an hour a single cannon fired 152 musket balls; Chunee fell and was dispatched with a sword-thrust. But even dead, Chunee remained a huge problem: what was to be done with a five-ton, rapidly decomposing cadaver? The menagerie’s carnivorous animals could make but a small dent in Chunee’s remains, and so the body was removed piecemeal, with much mess, difficulty, and publicity. The Mirror
reported that two large steaks from Chunee’s rump were broiled and eaten by those dismantling his corpse. Noting that stewed elephant’s foot was a delicacy, the magazine provided its readers with a recipe!
Perhaps Chunnee’s fame or his horrific death in 1825 created a demand for my figure. Or possibly the elephant act at Astley’s Circus in 1828, or the elephant celebrity starring on the London stage in The Elephant of Siam
from 1829 made the model popular. And it is possible that the castellated elephant on menagerie show cloths possibly inspired my figure. Will we ever really know?
Above you see my elephant and the elephant from the Willett Collection. This brings me to the next question asked about the elephant: Why is there a watch on the tower on its back? I think the Willett elephant provides a clue to the answer. Notice that the Willett's elephant has an opening cut in the tower. This accommodates a watch, and the elephant thus serves as a watch stand. It would then makes sense to decorate the opposite side of the tower with a watch too. And the next logical step would be to decorate both sides of the tower with a watch, thereby allowing the elephant to look pretty all the time. After all, the castle served as a spill holder, and it would look nicer without an opening cut in it.
And as a last image, I thought you might like a close-up of the little man astride my elephant. He seems to have been forgotten amidst the discussion of all else. But is he not too adorable? I am surprised the molds were not used to make him as a separate figure also.....but perhaps they were. Let's keep looking!
Elephant and Castle is the name of an area in the south of London. I think the name originally applied to a major traffic circle, which was named for an inn (The Elephant and Castle) that had stood on that very site. I thought you might like a glimpse of the tube station.
What do normal people think about when they can’t sleep at night? Last night, I tossed and turned thinking about figures made by the Sunderland Pottery and marked “Dixon, Austin, & Co.” Conveniently for collectors, this partnership has always been dated to the 1820-1826 period, meaning that we can date figures with that mark to just those dates. My friend Stephen Smith published a great blog piece on Feb 29 on his oh-so-fantastic site, www.matesoundthepump.com
. As you can read, we can now date the partnership to December 1818.
But what about when the partnership ended? That remains a little fuzzy...and that's what kept me awake. I did a little more digging this morning and came up with an entry in The London Gazette
of January 7 1840, announcing the dissolution of “the firm of Dixon, Austin, and Company,” effective December 31, 1839. The partners signing the notice are Robert Dixon, William Austin, and Alexander Phillips. So I think we can comfortably declare 1839 as the final year of operation.
In summary, revise your thinking. A "Dixon, Austin, & Co." mark no longer means 1820-1826. Instead, think December 1818 to December 1839. This leaves me much more comfortable, as I did think that some of the figures of the Seasons made by the partnership appeared to be circa 1830. The watch stand below bears a Dixon, Austin, & Co. mark...how can we have this important piece of news without a picture?
And what do you DO when you should be sleeping? A couple of weeks ago, I landed in South Africa. This was a 34 hour door-to-door trip endurance test that included three flights, an 18 hour transcontinental flight, and sorting out everything from connections to rental cars and accommodation along the way. I was exhausted, my eyes were burning….but worst of all, I had been without the Internet for far too long. Before I could collapse at the end of my marathon trek, I just HAD to see what might have floated into cyberspace while I was floating in the clouds. I was rewarded by finding this little pair.
Nice, are they not? She carries a parrot and he has a cockerel. Oddly enough, just the day before setting out on my trip I had noticed a similar assembled pair in an old catalog. I made a mental note that I had not seen the male figure before…and then I got about the business of going away. Is it not amazing that this pair was the very first thing I should find at the other end of my trip? Is it not enough to make you believe in a Pottery God?
I caught this listing on the web this week, and I recognized it because the very nice explanation of the group has been lifted straight out of my book.
STAFFORDSHIRE POTTERY DR SYNTAX FIGURE GROUP CIRCA 1825 Sherratt type, the figures seated at a table, engaged in a game of cards 16cm high, 23cm wide Note:Doctor Syntax was one of the early nineteenth century`s most popular literary characters. He was the brainchild of Thomas Rowlandson, the eminent caricaturist and watercolorist. Traditionally, a book`s text inspires its illustrations, but in the case of Doctor Syntax, the text was written by William Combe in verse form to accompany Rowlandson`s artwork. Doctor Syntax appealed to the English love of the absurd, and Staffordshire`s figure potters capitalized on the comic theme by producing their own interpretations of the eccentric clergyman. Doctor Syntax does indeed play cards in the book published in 1821, but that illustration differs markedly from this figure group. It seems that the story alone inspired the creation of the group.
Yes, on occasion I recognize my own writing! This example is interesting because it seems to have had a bocage that spanned the figure in an arc. The piece on the right is original, but the piece on the left is restored. Also, the little table and all that are on it are totally restored. “Sherratt” rectangular tables are always painted to simulate wood grain, so restorations simply jump out at you. The example below is unrestored.
If you are contemplating buying a group like this, check the table. Also, check the figures' heads. Their positioning leaves them quite vulnerable to damage, and I have seen several examples with one or other of the heads restored. If you want to buy it that way, that's fine. But know what you are buying. As always, buyer beware!
When a group of figures share many common features, it makes sense to give that Group a name. The name of the pot bank of origin would be nice….if only we knew it! But alas, life is demanding, and so I need to come up with a name that at least in some way relates to the Groups features. Faced with this dilemma, I recently dubbed a large Group of figures “the Leather Leaf Group.” The reason? Figures routinely have bocage leaves that are rather thick and even curled, like the corner of a well-worn piece of leather. You can see what I mean here.
This rather splendid Dancing Bear in the current stock of John Howard is attributable to the Leather Leaf Group. Notice the thick, curled bocage leaves that give the Group its name. Also, look at the leaves on the base. They are long and have serrated edges, as if they had been scissored out of a piece of leather. These leaves are only found on Leather Leaf Group examples, so the Group is really aptly named (I think!). John's Dancing Bear Group is quite yummy. Most examples of this subject have a little lion in the foreground. Leather Leaf Group examples, however, are unique in that they have a monkey and a cat. Is this not eye-candy?
Leather Leaf figures have so very many features that make them easy to spot. Their eye-catching bocage flowers provide a quick clue to attribution, and the bases are frequently decorated in just the style of John’s Dancing Bear. Other features abound. Splotchy painting of the bases, dabs of yellow on bases, large starfish-like flowers on the base, heavy blue scrolling, and a raised frieze around the base are just a few of the features that suggest the attribution. On their own, some of these features might not be enough to support an attribution, but when several of them occur on one figure, you can bet that the figure was made by the Leather Leaf pot bank. Here are a few more examples.
The splendid spill vase with equestrians is in the Willett Collection, Brighton. Literally to die for, is it not?
Attribution is as much an art as a science. There are many subtle nuances that the brain can identify, but they are hard to articulate, even hard to explain with photographs. But the Leather Leaf Group is one that evokes instant recognition, even for those new to the attribution game. A Leather Leaf Group example with a religious bent is currently on eBay. Would you be able to attribute it?
The curled bocage leaves, the starfish-like flower on the base, and the bocage flowers all suppor a Leather Leaf Group attribution for this figure, which portrays Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.
While on the topic of eBay, a defense of eBay sellers who persist with incorrect listings irked me this past Sunday. The defense was posted as a comment to my 2/28 posting below. Maybe I am just getting cranky--or perhaps I have always been cranky! But why did I bother when the writer didn’t give his/her name? I don’t think “Silky” is a real name….do you?
The story about my now-famous elephant was in the Daily Mail two weekends ago. If you missed it, you can read it here
. The story neglected to say that the proceeds of the auction went to charity. I do hope it was an animal cause!