Please note the interesting comment from a blogger who has pointed out the Staffordshire figure of a Lost Sheep figure below, currently for sale on eBay. In contrast to the figure blogged on 4/23, this figure does stand on its original base. This figure was made to stand on a round base, not a square one. The base is itself large enough to support the figure without looking silly. And the base rim is smooth and glazed , with smudges of enamel paint on it.
I would check this figure for possible loss of bocage because the seller mentions ham-handed touchups to the back and the bocage stump terminates rather abruptly--but the base is fine here.
As I have been emailing back and forth with several bloggers about figures that have lost their bases, I thought I would add this to the mix.
This figure of the Lost Sheep is for sale in cyberspace. No mention is made of the fact that this figure was once mounted on another base--probably a square white form with a red line around it. How do I know that the base is missing?
1. Look at the unglazed 'raw' edge at the bottom of this figure. That is unglazed pot. And it escaped being glazed by being attached to another piece of pot. That way, the glaze could not reach this area. Once the primary base was lost, this area was exposed.
2. Look at the figure. The base just is too petite for it.
I suspect this seller made an honest mistake here. The figure is also described as being made between 1760 and 1785. This is incorrect. Circa 1825 would be my guess on this one.
Fascinating Factoid. The figure of the Lost Sheep portrays the Parable of the Lost Sheep in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew. Even non-believers love owning this charming English lad!
Writer's block. I am strangely un-inispired tonight. I have answered lots of emails from collectors in the last two days (thanks so much for keeping them coming), have added to the Believe it or Not page on this site, have updated the Figures page with another Fabulous Figure, have planted more annuals in my garden than I can countarden, have coped with more geriatric issues for both my parents than you could imagine, have tried to keep working on the next book.....so perhaps I am just too brain-dead for creative writing. But let me share with you a figure that has been buzzing around in what's-left-of-my-brain for a few days.
Don't reach for your wallets. This figure of Venus sold on eBay last week. When I saw it, I knew it didn't add up. I am often asked how I know something is amiss. Sometimes, the answer is as simple as looking at the figure. Doesn't this oddly posed lady appear to be interacting with something/someone we cannot see? Other times, the answer lies in knowing how a correct version of the figure looks. And below you see the figure as it should look.
The correct form of the figure shows Venus playing with Cupid. But in the eBay example, Cupid may have been knocked off the base. The eBay description reads "This very charming little Staffordshire pearlware figure is in very good condition. It looks as if the base has been plugged with a resinous substance but otherwise I cannot see any restoration."
Hmm....doesn't add up. The base plugged with resin and no other restoration? Did someone just stick resin up the figure to pass a rainy afternoon? Clearly, something went wrong at some time, and I suspect breakage and loss of Cupid. The seller may well have been totally forthcoming in the description. He/she probably did not realize what had happened. Yes, there are lots of dishonest sellers on eBay, but there are also lots of honest but ignorant individuals. I often email sellers to point out the flaws in their wares, and I my faith in human nature is renewed each time I get a positive response...not that this happens too often! But when it comes to buying on eBay, it is truly Buyer Beware.
My vast pre-Victorian Staffordshire figure photo archive would qualify for the Guinness Book of Records?)...yet it has but one example of a pre-Victorian earthenware Staffordshire figure of Robinson Crusoe. This makes the Robinson Crusoe shown below a very rare figure.
Pearlware figure portraying Robinson Crusoe, circa 1820. H: 6-1/4". From the current stock of Martyn Edgell Antiques, www.edgell.me.uk
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe, published in 1719, is one of the candidates for the title of First Novel. In this fictional autobiography, Crusoe spends 28 years as a castaway on a tropical island. The book remained popular for centuries and was dramatized on the English stage from the eighteenth century onwards. Figures of Robinson Crusoe—and the figure shown here is the earliest form of a Staffordshire figure that was to remain popular into the Victorian era—exhibit the distinctive garb and signature hat that Crusoe wore in the print in the 1719 edition of the book (and probably in staged productions too).
From "The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner." 5th ed. London : Printed for W. Taylor, 1720
Family Factoid. The Schkolne photo archive will never make it into the Guinness Book of Records, but the Schkolne name is already there. This is a story that could only happen in America...or should I say only in LA? My son is an engineer and was frustrated by tangled ethernet cables. For reasons that esape me, he got his friends together to see who could untangle wires fastest. There was a complex set of rules. I think the wires were put in the tumble dryer to ensure a true knotty mess. Before you knew it, the media (yes, even the European media fell for this!) a new 'sport' had been born!
According to its web site 'Speedcabling is performed with short, medium, and long cables. In the United States, where the sport originated, these cables are of length 7, 14, and 21 feet. International speedcabling competitions utilize 2, 3, and 7 meter cables.' I guess someone with nothing better to do with his/her time now holds the record, and the Guinness Book of Records refers to speed cabling as a "sport," invented by IT developer Steven Schkolne. As I said, only in America.....
I clicked this tangle of live wires from my rickshaw in Old Delhi this February. A real need for speed cabling here!
Someone got lucky at auction this week. At Bonhams, New Bond Street, this amazing pair of Staffordshire figures found a new home, and GBP6150 changed hands--at least that is what the buyer paid, to include premium and VAT. The seller, will, of course, get less.
Bonhams catalogue description reads : A good pair of Staffordshire pearlware marriage groups Circa 1825.
Of Gretna Green and The New Marriage Act, the first with a blacksmith standing before an anvil, the couple at his side before a plaque inscribed 'John Macdonald aged 79 a Scotish Esquire run of with a English girl aged 17 to Gratnal Green the Old Blacksmith to be married', the other group with a parson and clerk performing the marriage, below a plaque inscribed 'The New Marriage Act John Frill and Ann Boke aged 21 That is right says the Parson Amen says the Clerk', both before flowering bocages, upon rectangular bases coloured in green and pink, 18.5cm high (blacksmith's hammer chipped, both with some chips to bocage)
So what is so important about this sale?
Firstly, it demonstrates the robustness of the pottery market in these economically trying times. Mediocre wares remain difficult to sell, but when something is special, buyers rush forward. At the same sale, a rare Staffordshire Toby jug, circa 1800, broke all Toby jug records by fetching GBP 36,950. Maybe people are having trouble finding cash for cars, but when it comes to fine pottery, money is seemingly always to be found.
Second, this pair of pearlware figures depict delightful subjects. The right hand example commemorates the New Marriage Act of 1823 (discussed elsewhere on this blog, I think!) so we can date the pair from around that time. The left hand example illustrates a Gretna Green wedding. The humorous reference to 79-year old John MacDonald eloping to Gretna with a 17-year old lady is thought to depict the aged Lord Erskine, who ran off to Gretna Green with his young housekeeper and their illegitimate children. Lord Erskine supposedly traveled disguised as a lady. Why the subterfuge? Apparently Lord Erskine's legitimate children--probably fearing their inheritance would be lost--opposed the marriage.
Third, the New Marriage Act is a relatively well-known figure, but this small version is less common than larger models. Gretna Green marriage groups, on the other hand, are really quite rare.
Fourth, no other paired example of these figures is known. Not even an assembled pair has been recorded. This pair has definitely been together always. Look at the matching dress patterns on both ladies' dresses.
Fifth, the figures are simply fabulous. Great enamels, glazes, and modeling. Crisp and cheerful. Wonderful bocages. It wouldn't matter if the were rarer than hens' teeth if they were not gorgeous.
Sixth, the condition is remarkable. I know American collectors in particular like looking at perfect figures, but I hope no-one restores the bits of honest damage on these figures. Yummy original condition. The older I get, the more tolerant I am of the flaws left by time! Amazing that all those little hands are undamaged. And the plaques--usually vulnerable--are as made.
I am a very happy camper because I know where this figures are going to be living. And later in the year, I shall be seeing them on the other side of the Pond.
I was SO very excited to find this Staffordshire figure of the London Barber the other day. I have seen only one other--in Brighton's Willett Collection and you can see it among the Fabulous Figures included in my book. The figure is 6-1/2" high and portrays a barber standing alongside a wig, which is on a wigstand on a column beside him.
Interestingly, the figure has impressed wording on the column. The Willett Collection's figure is similarly impressed...but the reading of the wording is somewhat open to interpretation in that example. Current wisdom--or lack thereof, and this idiot is guilty here too!--interprets Willett's pearlware figure as reading DEP GOBALD WIG THE LONDON BARBER.
The lettering on the new 'find' is, on the other hand, impressed more clearly. It reads DEP GOBBLE WIG THE LONDON BARBER. What does this mean? Beats me! If you would like to hazard a guess, please post a comment.
Although I know of only two examples of this particular barber, I do know of three examples of a Sherratt-style barber, pictured below.
Clearly, the Sherratt-style figure is quite similar, but it lacks wording.
So now the Barber Count is at five: two with wording, three without. Why so few examples? Well, by the early 1800s wigs had fallen from fashion--in part because of the late 18th century tax imposed on the flour needed to whiten them. People in certain professions continued wearing wigs, but everyone else abandoned this rather uncomfortable fashion accessory. Isn't our London barber a wonderful glimpse of the past?
Below is one of the most dramatic, impressive Staffordshire figures....yet the name of the figure is clouded in uncertainty. Is it symbolic of Eloquence? Is it St. Paul preaching? Or could it represent the Greek orator Demosthenes?
Pearlware figure sometimes described as St. Paul Preaching in Athens, sometimes as Eloquence and sometimes as the Greek orator Demosthenes. Made by Enoch Wood circa 1785. H: 19". From the current stock of Elinor Penna at www.elinorpenna.com.
Although the figure is sometimes dubbed St. Paul Preaching in Athens, there is no basis for this naming. No marble or other design source exists linking this beautiful pearlware figure to St. Paul. And as someone else has pointed out (I think Ms. Manheim in her book on the Hope McCormick Collection), St. Paul was stocky, and our imposing orator is anything but stocky.
Similarly, there is no basis for dubbing this figure Eloquence. Show me a classical representation of Eloquence looking thus and I will recant...but at this point, Eloquence it is not.
So that leaves Demosthenes. Demosthenes (385 - 322 BCE) was ancient Greece's greatest orator. In an attempt to overcome his stuttering, he practiced with pebbles in his mouth. And to improve his vocal projection, he addressed the roaring ocean. Note the relief frieze on the plinth next to Demosthenes. Although not clear in this photo, it definitely shows a figure speaking to the waves--trust me! So who else can this be but Demosthenes? This frieze is the hidden clue to the figure's identity.
BTW, examples of this figure marked E. WOOD are recorded, indicating a date of manufacture of between November 1783 and 1790 (when that great potter Enoch Wood potted solo). Possibly this figure dates from around that time. Or possibly, Enoch Wood took the molds with him into his new partnership with James Caldwell, which lasted from 1791 to 1818. Anyway you look at it, this is an extraordinary and early pearlware figure. Possible design sources (see Julia Poole's Plagiarism Personified, page 25) include a plaster by John Cheere (d. 1787) or a statue by Charles Harris (d. 1795).