In 1765, Jean-Paul Marat (1743-1793), a Frenchman of Swiss birth, set up as a physician in London, despite lack of formal qualifications. In 1770, he became a vet in Newcastle upon Tyne and while there wrote his first political work, Chains of Slavery, which was inspired by the work of the political reformer John Wilkes. In 1775, Marat's essay on curing a friend’s gonorrhea helped him secure an honorary medical degree from St Andrews University.Marat was to spend about 20 years in Britain. While there, he taught French at Warrington Academy and served as an assistant to Joseph Priestly. But Marat had problems along the way. He incurred heavy debt and was sentenced to 5 years of hard labor for stealing very valuable gold coins and medallions from Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum in 1776. So the 1780s found Marat in Paris, where he initially secured an appointment as a court doctor. He continued publishing scientific papers, and in 1789 began his own political paper.
Marat quickly blossomed into a radical journalist. Known for his fiery oratory and writing, he emerged as an architect and leader of the bloody Reign of Terror that swept France from June 1793.On July 13th 1793, a young girl named Charlotte Corday, blaming Marat for the mass misery and the steady stream of guillotine victims, visited Marat’s home armed with a 6-inch kitchen knife. Marat was conducting business from his bathtub, where he customarily languished for hours to treat a terrible skin disease he had contracted years earlier while hiding in Paris’s sewers. Charlotte stabbed Marat and he died in his tub. Just four days later, on 17 July 1793, Charlotte Corday, aged 24,went to the guillotine for her crime. During her trial, she stated “I killed one man to save 100,000.”
That same year, supporters of the Revolution commissioned Jacques-Louis David—Marat’s friend and fellow revolutionary-- to paint Marat’s portrait as a piece of revolutionary propaganda. The resulting portrait, The Death of Marat, shows Marat dead in his bathtub. Charlotte Corday is not in the painting, nor is there evidence of Marat’s nasty skin disease and massive facial tumor. The painting’s initial fame was short-lived because political sentiment changed. In 1795, The Death of Marat was returned to David and it was largely forgotten until the mid 19thC.
So why do we have an English earthenware figure of this French drama? This lovely Staffordshire figure, made by Lakin & Poole, is titled The Assassination of MARAT by CHARLOTTE CORDE of Caen, in Normandy. 1793.
'The Assassination of MARAT, by CHARLOTTE.CORDE of Caen, in Normandy. 1793.' Impressed LAKIN & POOLE. Courtesy Bonhams.
Of course the French revolution was a hot topic in England. Charlotte Corday must have become a hero among Britain’s better classes when she silenced one of the Revolution’s most prominent mouthpieces.British depictions of Marat’s murder quickly appeared in print shop windows. They were very different to David’s tribute to Marat because they included images of Charlotte Corday. The earliest print was probably this one by Isaac Cruickshank. Published in the month of the event, it is titled A Second Jean D'Arc or the Assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corde of Caen in Normandy on Sunday July 14 1793. A second Joan of Arc? From Cruikshank's perspective, Charlotte was a martyr.
'A Second Jean D'Arc or the Assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corde of Caen in Normandy on Sunday July 14 1793.' Isaac Cruickshank. Published July 14, 1793.
Yes, Charlotte Corday was a hero in Britain. Look how lovely she looks before a dour revolutionary tribunal in James Gillray’s etching of her trial. The heroic Charlotte la Cordé, upon her trial, at the bar of the revolutionary tribunal of Paris, July 17, 1793, by James Gillray, ublished 19 July 1793.
But I think the print that inspired our figure group was published a year later, in 1794.
'The Death of Marat, Late Member of the National Convention, at Paris, on the 13th of July 1793.' Published 12. May. 1794, by Laurie & Whittle, 53, Fleet Street, London.
This print bears the strongest resemblance and clearly inspired Lakin and Poole's lovely pearlware figure group.
Marat's murder was hot news in its day, and Staffordshire potters have forever captured the moment in clay. Lakin and Poole's figure group is a time capsule, reminding us of an event that might otherwise be forgotten.
"A fool and his money are soon parted" goes the saying, and nothing could be truer when it comes to collecting Staffordshire figures. If you overpay, wave much of that money goodbye. Knowledge is everything, so you MUST know whether the price you are about to pay reflects the condition (or lack thereof!) of the figure that has taken your fancy.
Currently, there are two attractive early pearlware figure on eBay. Well photographed, both look good. The descriptions says "there may be some professional restorations." Therein lies the rub. Any restoration will impact value greatly, so a buyer MUST have full knowledge, and the eBay listing tells nothing other than "Buyer Beware." Actually, given that the eBay figures sold in a lot of 3 at Skinner Saturday a week ago for very little, I suspect there are 'issues'! My trained eye can see restoration, and I suspect one of the groups may be missing a major component--but a novice wouldn't detect these problems.
EBay doesn't have a monopoly on non-disclosure. In truth, many dealers don't disclose restoration, and the buyer only finds out later that he bought a problem. The resale value on modern paint and restoration material is, understandably, not great. Look at this rare performing animal troupe.
If this group were in good original condition with minor restoration (for example bocage tips, the end of the bear's stick) expect to pay lots of money, for it would be a rare little thing. But this group has, I suspect, issues. In truth, over time many things may go wrong with figures such as our performing animal group. Any one of the characters could have been knocked off the base and lost. A restorer can replace it and the figure group will look great. A dealer can ask what he wants to for a restored figure, but if you pay for it the higher price of a perfect figure, expect problems if you need to sell.
The secret is that figures in sound condition do not cost a multiple of a problem figures. They cost a little more and they are harder to find---but they are much easier to sell if you need to part with them because there is always a market for the best in class. Remember, figures in fine condition do exist, and they are worth a price premium because they are a good investment--in money and pleasure. That's why you should be happy to may more for them.
Most collectors have trouble detecting restoration. They can't tell a perfect figure from a restored one. To the untrained eye, they can all look the same. Dealers can and should be able to tell you the difference--but alas, this is not the case. I am often shocked at figures offered for sale. I have seen outright reproductions and significantly restored figures offered as The Real Thing, with no disclosure and a ridiculously steep price tag. What do you do to ensure the dealer is fully forthcoming? What do you do to protect your money and the quality of your collection?
The answer: buy from a reputable dealer who volunteers information and address all questions about restorations. His price will usually reflect the figure's condition. Don't buy from a dealer who treats you as stupid because you ask about restoration. Don't buy from a dealer who can't detect restoration or dismisses it as irrelevant. In the UK, buying from a member of BADA or LAPADA which will give you a measure of confidence, and buying at a vetted show protects you from the most egregious rip-offs. Wherever you buy, always get a receipt detailing repairs and restorations. If a dealer claims a figure is perfect, ask him to write "no repairs and restorations" on the receipt. Please be careful. If you work with a good dealer, you get what you pay for. There are superb dealers in the trade. Please find them.
Some higher power made me a pottery collector as a punishment. My eternal torment arises from the fact that pottery is inevitably damaged and I am a perfectionist. I don't like damage, and I hate restoration, so I have to decide what I will tolerate before I part with my money.
Think I am bad? Recently, a lady contacted me because she was interested in buying a figure but it had a few tiny paint splatters where the original paint had missed the mark. This, I explained, was the norm...she should check for bigger issues. In talking to her, I realized I need to establish guidelines for what I personally find acceptable. This should help me resolve my torrment at buying time!
Rule #1: Of course, perfect is best. Yes, there are perfect figures. Don't fall for the sales pitch "you won't find a perfect figure because these things are 200 years old." Figures without any (or any significant) damage exist. Admittedly there are not too many and they demand a price premium. For perfect, score 10. By perfect, I mean good enamels and glaze too. Having the form intact but the enamels yucky just doesn't cut it.
Rule #2: If it is ALL THERE, score 9. In other words, if a figure has been off the base and restuck, that's fine because I am looking at hardly any restored material. If a head has been off (drastic to the mind!) and restuck, that's fine too. Strictly speaking, replacement of original material is a 'repair' rather than a 'restoration.' My friends Nick Burton and John Howard have often tried to help me out of my confusion when faced with a damaged figure by saying "Myrna, its all there." Each time, those words have snapped things into perspective. Now they have become my Guiding Light:)
Rule #3: For minor restoration, score up to 9. In other words, minor enamel touch up, a restored ear, horn, a bocage tip or three on an otherwise perfect figure....these things happen and if you can't live with the damage, a sympathetic restoration is OK.
Rule #4: Deduct points liberally for major restored parts. The larger and more focal the restored part, the more points you deduct. Of course, the rare the figure, the more tolerable the restoration. I find a totally restored bocage entirely unacceptable, however rare the figure. Who wants to look at all that modern material. Similarly, a restored head just kills the figure for me.
Rule #5: Significant overpainting is a no-no. Score below 5--i.e. a reject. We tend to dismiss overpainting as "just touch ups of flaking to the enamels." When it is just touch-ups to visually distracting flaking, that is fine on an otherwise desirable piece. But when the repainting starts to cover much of the figure, you are looking at a sizable amount of modern material, albeit over an old form. Not attractive, not what I want.
At this point, I almost need a computer model to weigh rarity, restoration, repair, overall quality......but thinking about these issues each time I buy makes me use my head, rather than just my heart. And it helps me maintain a consistent standard for my collection.
Small pearlware dog, courtesy John Howard
John Howard's rare pearlware pooch is ALL THERE. Restuck when it was knocked off the base. As uncommon as this figure is, I have an example too.
Another example of this rare dog. H3-1/2'
My dog has not been off the base, but he does have a restored ear. Restoration to ears is almost inevitable and not too distracting. Obviously, I would rather both these figures were perfect, but given the great quality (typical of this pot bank), both deserve perfect 9's.
When I was in the UK last, television informed me that America is inflicting yet another wrong on the world: the American gray squirrel is displacing Britain’s cherished red squirrel. Apparently, red squirrels, believed to have been in Britain since the Ice Age, are now almost extinct. Initially the US gray squirrel was thought to be to blame because it bred for longer and more frequently than its British counterpart, but the truth is now out: deadly squirrel pox spread by the American squirrel is causing the demise of its British cousin. Should Americans have one more item on their Guilt List? I feel no great American Shame. Rather, the Englishman who enslaved poor gray squirrels in 1876 and shipped them across the Atlantic to his Cheshire estate should be tossing in his grave.
Apparently the plight of the red squirrel coupled with a plethora of grays, has prompted a change in British cuisine. The NY Times reports that squirrel is now gracing British dining tables. In the austere era following WW2, attempts to promote squirrel as the new red meat failed. But now political correctness has achieved what a call to patriotic duty could not. People are chomping on squirrel—I must remind you that it is, after all, a rodent--because they feel good about helping the environment.
The English red squirrel alongside its grey cousin.
So what does this have to do with Staffordshire figures? Well, of course we see early 19th century figures fashioned as squirrels. Such Staffordshire figures are quite rare. Significantly, they always portray the red squirrel, because that is the only squirrel England knew prior to 1876.
The squirrel model I most commonly see touted as "early" is a look-alike of the Derby porcelain squirrel. Frankly, I am seldom confident that this little beast is indeed pre-Victorian. The body is always just a little too white for my taste.
Currently in John Howard’s stock is a pair of early squirrels—trust John to find not one, but a pair!—that is indeed early. I have never seen another example of this model. At only 4” high, they are lovely little things, with an unusual bocage form. And, the squirrels are definitely red.
Rare pair of pearlware squirrels from the stock of John Howard.
John also has a single early squirrel in stock, again red of course, and again I have never seen another like it.
Rare pearlware squirrel from the stock of John Howard.
So enjoy looking at John's squirrels while they last, and if you like squirrels buy these…but please don’t think of the squirrel at your bird feeder as a culinary delicacy.
The impressed numbers on Ralph Wood figures are a bit of a mystery. David Tulk of Madelena has offered his insight, and his comment has been added to our RW pages. David suggests the numbers are introduction sequence numbers. He writes: David Tulk of Madelena suggests they are introduction sequence numbers.
“Mold numbers they are not. One number appears on several different molds. Palette numbers they are not, nor artist numbers. The apparent progression in style however - jerky, but a progression nonetheless - doubtless mirroring developments in the tastes and fashions of the period - might support the notion that the sequence of numbers is chronological. Starting out with traditional style figures (1,2,9), it would seem the range was periodically enlivened with the introduction of new subjects (20 onwards) to maintain appeal. A more homely style becomes apparent in the choice of some subjects introduced later (50, 89, 90, 133, 134, 153, 154). Towards the end of the sequence are some that could be described as true to life naturalistic figures (150, 153, 154, 164, 166). My suggestion is that they are introduction sequence numbers. Most likely used when production first started it is anyone’s guess as to why they were abandoned in later years.”
August 31 is a Big Day for me. It marks both the second anniversary of this blog and the 27th anniversary of the date we moved into our home. We built our house--and "Build it and they will come" certainly applies to this site. It was born out of my innate need to research, write, and learn....and along the way I have made friendships that have spanned the globe. Many of you have bought and enjoyed my book, and I am so appreciative of all the kind emails I get. I am especially touched when you come back for a second copy to give to someone you know. Best story: a daughter who bought a second copy for her 94 year old mother. How lucky they both are.
If this site has helped you, have you bought my book? If you have a book already, why not buy one as a gift for your local library? Or give one to a friend. Help me share the beauty of some of the finest figures in the world by sharing their pictures and stories with others.
You can buy a book from Amazon, Reference Works in the UK, or from one of the many specialist ceramics dealers. If you buy a copy from this site (click BOOK or go to the top menu bar), global postage is free and you will get a signed copy . If you hate e-commerce and would rather purchase by mailing a check, simply email email@example.com, and you will be assisted every step of the way.
I have admired this little pearlware figure on John Howard's site. I resisted buying him because social history is at the heart of my collection, so this man eating his slab of beef and drinking his pint seemed too random.
From the stock of John Howard.
This rare little figure stayed in my brain. Who does it portray? What message does this time capsule from the past carry? And then I found another example. Not in quite as good condition as John's, I think, but for this collector there was more-than-offsetting compensation.
If you look at the front of the base, I. BULL is impressed into the figure. Why I. BULL? Well, our figure represents John Bull (An 'I' was sometimes used for uppercase J in that period).
John Bull is the national personification of the Englishman---he fills the same role that Uncle Sam does in America. Whereas Uncle Sam is lean, John Bull is usually portrayed with a pot belly, which can be blamed on hearty meals of beef and many mugs of ale.
I have recorded only four examples of this figure. Each time John Bull's face has red dots. Warts? Acne? Pock marks? I haven't a clue. But determining this Staffordshire figure's identity earned it a spot in my collection.
My feelings are dented! I am an idiot. On June 1, I blogged a figure of St. Sebastian. Read about it by clicking here. The figure was on a website, and it purported to be made by Enoch Wood. After some emailing, the seller wrote me "This piece will go in the junk auction pile, and I'll take my lumps like a good boy. I appreciate your helpfulness on this figure even though the news is not what I would have liked to hear." Innocent that I am, I declared the seller a Prince of a Man. Unfortunately, this Kent figure (1890-1962) remains on the web described as The Real Thing. You can read more about it on the BELIEVE IT menu at the top of this page. Or go to the figure by clicking here.
Those of you following the Ralph Wood figures (under MAKERS on the menu bar) will want to know that I located a Rural Pastimes group impressed 166. So now we have one more figure in the fast-growing group of enamel-painted Staffordshire figures attributed to Ralph Wood. We have grown the list by 4 since 'going public' with it just a few weeks ago.
Titled 'Rural Pastimes' and impressed 166.
We had previously noted a couple of similar figures that we had attributed to Ralph Wood based on characteristics we believe are unique to Ralph Wood. Finding an example with an impressed number strengthens the attribution.
And for a smile, catch the latest posting under BELIEVE IT on the top menu bar:)
My blog postings go up every four days. I pride myself on sticking to that schedule. So what went wrong this week? I traveled with an iPad and iPhone, neither of which would support Adobe Flash, a prerequisite for publishing to my site. To make matters worse, the AT&T signal on the west coast was problematic to put it kindly. Talk about frustration! Anyway, I apologize for the break in communication. Henceforth I promise to travel with a PC.
You may see this odd little figure from time to time. Know who she is? Not very obvious, I will admit, but she represents Thalia, the Muse of Comedy.
Thalia's counterpart is Melopome, the Muse of Tragedy, and she usually holds at tragic mask. You can see her thus in my March 1 2010 blog posting by clicking here.
But what did Staffordshire potters know of tragic theatrical masks? Seemed to them that nothing was more tragic than a funeral, so the counterpart to our little figure of Comedy is a uniquely Staffordshire-inspired version of Tragedy...standing beside a tombstone.
And, to prove I am not making this up, here is a similar figure, in the Fitzwilliam Museum, titled TRAGEDY. Perhaps her maker knew she would reside in a museum case for much of her life, never again to have the sun warm her form?
Figures such as these can be found with a modest price tag, but they add immeasurable interest to our collections. Happy hunting!