Is this Staffordshire figure in the 'Sherratt' style? This time the question is an easy one. The distinctive feather base supporting this striking lion is a dead give-away. It is a definite 'Sherratt' pointer. The same base is found on other 'Sherratt' figures, including courtship and christening groups, and Doctor Syntax, shown here--note the lustre used to decorate the feathering in this case.
'Sherratt also made feather bases in an extended size to support longer figures, such as bull baitings and "Prepare to Meet Thy God" groups. Longer versions usually have swirled designs impressed into the elongated area to the left and right of the feathering. Why? To make it pretty, of course!
BTW, the gorgeous lion is 7 inches high and was once in the Woodstock, UK, showroom of John Howard. It quickly found a new home. The enamels on this particular pearlware figure appear to be particularly spiffy, as befits the King of the Beasts.
What of 'Sherratt' lions generally? They come in several shapes and sizes, but the favored pose is that used for many ceramic lions of this period: paw resting atop a ball, mimicking the pose of Florence's famous lions. John Howard's lion can be found astride other 'Sherratt'-style bases. Sometimes he is paired with another lion--but never a lioness. A similar 'Sherratt' royal beast, with more liberal use of lustre, is illustrated below.
Collecting Advice I don't know of any outright reproductions of this 'Sherratt' lion...yet. The most likely damage is to the tail, so expect some restoration there. Above all, buy a lion with an engaging expression. Your relationship will last a lifetime!
This bull baiting group is in the 'Sherratt style." It is just over 13" wide and 11' tall. The plaques read BULL BEATING (could this be a telling mis-spelling of bull baiting?) and NOW CAPTIN LAD (presumably the man's encouraging words to his prize bull). A bull baiting group such as this was the first Staffordshire figure to earn a Sherratt attribution when Herbert Read, writing in 1929, commented on "the excellent bull-baiting groups...attributed to Obediah [sic] Sheratt." Mr. Read did not explain how he reached his conclusion, and almost 80 years later we are no nearer knowing whether Obadiah Sherratt did in fact pot the bull baiting group that catapulted him to fame!
Who was Obadiah Sherratt? To the beginning collector, he seems to be a name seen on price stickers. In reality, Obadiah Sherratt potted in the early 1800s. We do not know for certain that he was a figure potter, for the only wares bearing his name are two frog mugs. Despite this, many figures with a particulary vigorous earthiness are traditionally attributed to Sherratt. While some would apply the Sherratt label wherever possible to boost price, others rightfully claim there is no scientific basis for a Sherratt attribution. However, there is no denying the existence of a group of figures with common distinctive characteristics; they need to be called something, and the label 'Sherratt style' recognizes that credit for this work may go to an unknown potter.
Today, we are fortunate in that distinct criteria for a Sherratt style/'Sherratt' attribution have been established, thanks to Malcolm and Judith Hodkinson's scientific analysis of thousands of figures. In later postings, we will look at some figures and determine whether they meet the criteria for being 'Sherratt style.' Good references that discuss the Sherratt issue and illustrate examples of figures are:
Hodkinson, Malcolm & Judith. Sherratt? A Natural Family of Staffordshire Potters. (This is THE book on Sherratt).
Schkolne, Myrna . People, Passions, Pastimes, and Pleasures: Staffordshire Figures 1810-1835 (available from www.hotlanepress.com)
WARNING: Beware small versions of these bullbaiting groups. The following is from Oliver, Anthony. Staffordshire Pottery: The Tribal Art of England. Page 45. "These bull-baiting groups on both flat and table bases are still much sought after by collectors but do beware of a small one about 5 ¼ inches high and 7 ½ inches wide. It is nicely potted although the glaze and the colours are wrong for Sherratt. It was produced by the William Kent factory and was last quoted in their catalogue for 1960. Some years ago when I was doing some research in the Potteries, I spoke to the man who had reduced it in size and potted it for the Kent factory. He had one of them in a little cabinet in his living room and was very proud of it in his retirement".
Writing in 1981, Anthony Oliver went on to say that he had seen large amounts paid for these small groups by ignorant buyers. Sadly, the same remains true today!
The bull baiting group shown here is small and does, in fact, correspond to the measurements Anthony Oliver gives. Note the difference in its modelling compared to The Real Thing.
I have a part-time career writing to sellers who advertise figures like the little one above as The Real Thing. You would be amazed to know that I have written to eBay hopefulls as well as prominent auction houses and dealers. Some of the Kent reproductions are quite nicely done, but cruder versions have since been churned out in Asia....and they make my skin crawl.
I am on Twitter. Look for MyrnaSchkolne (that's right, NO space between first and last names and watch the tricky spelling of Schkolne). If you follow me on Twitter, you will be able to see when I have updated the blog, added an event, a showcase item, or anything else of interest. I hope this will give you an easy mechanism for keeping up to date quickly, and as of tonight I promise to do my bit and tweet (I think that's what it's called) dutifully. And from an era when 'tweet' had a different connotation, I bring you this Staffordshire pearlware bird whistle, c.1820.
Have you noticed how very many Staffordshire figure groups have a little dog tucked somewhere on the base? Dogs are commonplace in early 19th century Staffordshire figure groups. Stand-alone models in all shapes and sizes abound. But the same can't be said of cats. Ever wondered why?
In the early 1800s, distinct dog breeds were recognized, but cats were just cats. Because the cat roams at night and man had not yet learned to control its breeding, cats lacked the status of other pedigreed animals. In parts of the country, cats were still associated with superstitious folklore that linked them to the netherworld and made them the target of sadistic school yard games. All this made cats distasteful subjects for upwardly mobile middle class decor. And our potters were savvy entrepreneurs....hence the relative rarity of cat figures.
This cute cat currently graces the stock of John Howard, Woodstock, UK. Width: 3"
To give our cat story a happy ending, let me add that in the Victorian era cats were increasingly considered hearth side companions and small family members. In 1871, England's first cat show gave legitimacy to these long overlooked companions...but the potter who fashioned John Howard's cat must have known this time would come.
Thought I'd share this happy photo, which dealer Elinor Penna sent me yesterday. These Staffordshire figures looked so happy basking in the sunshine that Elinor HAD to reach for her camera (or was it her cell phone?).
Almost like looking at the past, isn't it? And aren't the colors just dazzling in the sunshine?
Talking of figures in the sunshine, reminds me of a glorious set of figures I encountered while photographing a few years ago. The collector/owner confessed he was thinking of leaving them to a museum some day. Immediately, that museum's gloomy, morgue-like storage room popped to mind... and my heart sank because I knew those figures would literally never see the light of day ever again. Sentenced to prison for an eternity, entombed, never again to glow in daylight. For months, I was haunted at the thought of those fine pearlware figures escaping from the loving touch of collectors for ever. I wanted to rescue them...but at the same time, I was reluctant to take advantage of the collector's generosity in sharing his collection with me.
A year or so later, I broached the subject with a tentative "If ever you would consider selling." The collector didn't want to sell, but he definitely wanted to trade...for a Staffordshire figure that was fairly difficult to procure. It took me 6 months, but I did it! We were both extremely happy with the trade. Best of all, when my time is up those figures will go back onto the market, to a home that will love them as much as I have.
When we collectors die, our collections die with us. They become merely an array of objects needing new homes. But we can all keep collecting alive by ensuring that our figures go back onto the market, and ultimately to collectors who will love them as we have. Museums are fantastic resources, but they are so well stocked. And if everything is diverted to museums, what would be left for collectors?
Today, two cow groups on the shelf in my office set this city girl pondering about the color of a cow's tail. Googling revealed that most cows do indeed have tails that match their bodies. Yet these two Staffordshire cows have pink tails!
I suspect you've noticed that both cow groups have identical bocage leaves and flowers. They, along with other pearlware figures that share these and other attributes, belong to a group believed to have originated from the same small potbank. We may never know the name of the mystery potter who produced these Staffordshire figures, but contemplating the characteristics they share is part of the fun of collecting.
Until today, I had not thought of the color of cows' tails as being of any significance. As the painting was done by a person who may have been employed by many potbanks over time, it really doesn't prove much. But I searched through my large cow picture archive--and I can find only a handful of cows with pink tails. And yes, all have bocage structures confirming they came from the same potbank. So we deduce that for a while someone who thought cows had pink tails worked in our mystery potbank.
BTW, cows with milkmaids are quite rare and I believe standing milkmaids are even less common than seated milkmaids. There is a seated milkmaid in Brighton Museum's Willett collection (cow has pink tail and same bocage as the cows above). It is pictured in my book People, Passions, Pastimes, and Pleasures: Staffordshire Figures 1810-1835.
If you have a cow with a pink tail, please share it with us!
I love Staffordshire figures of sheep. I own a flock that grazes away the day on its own shelf. And on occasion, the same flock is scattered across our dining table when we entertain. Candlelight on pearlware bodies....divine! But Staffordshire cows on the other hand, usually leave me cold. Their bulky forms, frequently posed looking down as they graze, is generally unexciting. Athere is an exception to every rule, and wonderful examples do exist. It just takes some hunting to find them.
Pair of pearlware Staffordshire figures of cows. H: 7-1/2". From the stock of Elinor Penna.
Recently, I was tickled to find this spiffy pairs of cows among Elinor Penna's stock. These are quite uncommon models, and well sized at about 7-1/2" each. Certainly not the run-of-the-mill bored bovines-with-calves that our potters produced in abundance. I found a single (the cow facing to the left) in Saffron Walden Museum when I visited in 2005, but this is the first pair I have encountered. Again, finding the rarities is what makes collecting fun.
I found this unusual little figure for sale at the Staffordshire Figure Association meeting last September. The dealer/collector sale is great fun each year--more figures than you'll see at any other venue-- and you never know what you will find. (BTW, now is the time to register for the 2009 meeting. See details on the Events tab.)
Enamel-painted pearlware Staffordshire figure of a man on barrel. C1820. H: ~4".
I have no idea as to this figure's potbank of origin, but he is a jovial fella, great enamels, and I have never seen another like him.
Talking of special buying opportunities, did you check out Andrew Dando's Exhibition? The SOLD signs seemingly flew up. That being said, some of the nicest items remain, so do have a look. And mentioning Andrew reminds me of the only other figure in my photo archive of a man on a barrel. That one was in Andrew's stock a while ago, but with his kind permission we can glimpse it again now.
Enamel painted pearlware figure of a man on a barrel. Made in Staffordshire, circa 1820. Photograph courtesy of Andrew Dando Antiques.
Not knowing what will turn up next is what makes collecting fun!
My knowledge of American history is pathetically sparse because I came to this wonderful country as an adult. But even I have heard of Benjamin Franklin! And I am particulary interested in him because of two rare Staffordshire figure of this Founding Father. The first is in in Brighton's Willett Collection.
Staffordshire figure of Benjamin Franklin in the Willett Collection, Brighton
Appropriately, there is an even more gorgeous example in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and it is titled Ben Franklin. I glimpsed it two years ago at a distance across a roped-off room--sadly, the only English pottery figure on display in that museum on that day.
Staffordshire figure of Ben Franklin in the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
As I work on my next book, I am trying to tie Staffordshire figures to their design sources. I have been able to find quite obscure sources for some figures, so I assumed Ben Franklin would be easy. Think again!
These pearlware figures of Franklin were made by Ralph Wood probably circa 1790...but I simply cannot find their design source. Despite their resemblance to statues across America, I remain stumped. All these statues postdate the figures by many years. Does anyone know of an eighteenth century source for this figure? Help please! firstname.lastname@example.org
This statue of Franklin in Washington DC looks just like our Staffordshire figure. The figure's design source? No. The statue was erected in 1889, designed by Ernst Plassman (1823-1877) and sculpted by Jacques Jouvenal (1829-?) . Clearly, it could not be the design source for our figure, but I sure wish I knew what Plassman's source was!
Fascinating Factoids Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) was a great American statesman, scientist, author, printer, diplomat, inventor, and mathematician. Jack of all trades, and Master of All. He considered himself an Englishman...until he became an American Revolutionary! He lived in England for much of his adult life--conveniently leaving behind his his wife because she refused to travel by sea. From 1724-1728, Franklin was in the employ of two famous British printers; from 1757-1762 he was the London agent of the Pennsylvania Assembly, and again from 1764-1775.
Franklin was honored with the British Royal Society's prestigious Copley Medal, was inducted into the Royal Society of Arts, received honorary degrees from Cambridge, Oxford, and the University of Edinburgh, and was honored by both the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society and the Medical Society of London. A hero? That wife back home still bothers me!