I'll be in the UK for just over a week, so my Blog--and this site--will have no updates. But I will come back having seen wonderful figures at the NEC (John Howard, Ivan Mears & David Boyer, Juno Antiques, John Shepherd) and in London at Sampson Horne. Till then...happy hunting, and I will be doing the same!
I note an auction listing for what is claimed to be a Wood & Caldwell figure of Britannia, c.1810. (See the Believe It? tab at the top of this page for full details.) I am posting a genuine Wood and Caldwell Britannia to set the record straight.
This figure is marked Wood & Caldwell, Burslem...so there is no doubt who made it. Also, we know that it was made between 1805 and 1818. The technique of silver lustering, seen here on Britannia's helmet, shield, and bodice, was done using platinum and it was only introduced commercially in 1805--so the figure couldn't have been made before 1805. And Wood & Caldwell disolved their partnership in 1818--so the figure couldn't have been made after 1818.
Britannia has symbolized Britain since Roman times; the lovely lion at her side symbolizes England. The war years, culminating in 1815, were years of active and conspicuous patriotism. Britannia appeared frequently in engravings of the period, and one no doubt inspired her replication in clay.
I love this figure! She looks magnificent standing next to the Wood and Caldwell St. George. Creates a very patriotic setting.
As for the two bidders who are currently competing for the figure incorrectly listed as Wood & Caldwell...I hope you know what you are really buying.
This is not a Wood and Caldwell figure, nor is it an early 19th century figure, despite claims made in an auction listing. Interestingly, the figure is listed as porcelain, and Wood and Caldwell did not make porcelain. Buyer beware!
We all love dandies, so here is a tiny pair to brighten the day. Bet they make you smile:)
When I bought these a LONG time ago, I winced at the price. After all, they are tiny, only about 4 inches tall. But with hindsight, what a bargain! They have held their appeal and their value. They are wonderfully tactile, so I love curling my fingers around them and feeling the pot warm to my touch. And they are perfect.
Collectors, please tell me why so many of us pursue known figure forms, to the neglect of the unusual. Seems that if it is yet another Teetotal, stand in line to write a check and count the zeros as you write. But why do we overlook so many modestly priced, less conspicuous figures? Yes, I admit little figures can be crude or boring (same applies to big figures!)....but there are SO many rare, colorful little figures that make collecting fun. The secret is identifying the figure form as unusual and then waiting patiently for the finest example you can find.
A few years ago, I visited a fabulous private collection in the UK, and the collector pointed to a small figure he had just acquired. "It's a very rare figure," he said. I looked at the crudely decorated, poorly modeled Pratt figure depicting a man clutching something in his hands. Revealing my blatant ignorance, I had to ask what it was. "A press ganger," he replied.
Before you rush to the web, let me fill you in: Press-gangers forced (or pressed) men to serve in the British Navy from 1664 until 1814. This ensured that war ships were crewed to defend the realm. New recruits were given a shilling, and acceptance meant a man had agreed to serve as a sailor. Wily recruiters pressed the shilling on an unsuspecting victim by slipping it into his drink! Over the next couple of years, I watched out for figures of the same from as the Pratt ware press ganger I had seen in the English collection. Was it really rare, I wondered. And were enamel examples made?
The first few similar figures I found were rather hideous, decorated in heavy underglaze Pratt colors. A 'press ganger'?? I thought each time After all, there was nothing much to link these crude little figures to the navy. And then along came an enamel version, pale in decoration. Still nothing to write home about, but I now knew that the figure form was rare and someone did indeed decorate it in enamels. But apress ganger? Hmm...I still was not convinced.
At last, I got my answer. I found the perfect press ganger! And I know he is a press ganger because he is so beautifully painted. His trousers are striped in navy and white (as befits a navy man), and he clutches a well defined money pouch in one hand and a stick in the other. The enamels are vibrant, the glaze delicious, and the figure is a joy to behold.
It never rains but it pours! After all this time searching, I found not one but two press gangers. They were both in the stock of Martyn Edgell Antiques and Martyn had bought them together. Seems they had lived as perfect twins for centuries--no repairs or restoration on either. I bought one. The other is equally lovely and can be viewed in Martyn's stock or on my Showcase. And despite its rarity, the figure is very modestly priced.
Martyn is another one of the very few dealers I buy from at a distance, on the basis of a photograph and his word. His stock is wonderfully eclectic, and I will admit it has tempted me beyond ceramics. I have always loved my purchases. Happy shopping!
Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (1797-1856), better known as Madame Vestris, was an English actress whose appearance and voice had brought her acclaim on the English stage by 1820. She is best known to Staffordshire figure collectors as "The Broom Girl" because in 1826 she popularized the song “Buy a Broom” and sang it on the London stage it attired as a Bavarian broom seller.
Two figures of Madame Vestris, c1830, attired as The Broom Seller. The figure on the left is in the Sherratt style and occurs on other bases attributed to "Sherratt." The figure on the right is unattributed.
The role of Broom Girl was humorously entertaining, as can be seen from this lithograph, c1826.
Madame Vestris was gorgeous, funny, and endowed with exquisite legs! One of various engravings of her in as the Broom Girls role inspired Staffordshire look alikes. In later years, Madame Vestris became an innovative producer and director.
Collectors, don't buy a broom; instead buy your own broom seller. It's a fun little figure and you can accumulate several versions of the model. Makes collecting interesting, at an affordable price. Happy hunting!
In March 1999, my husband and I bought our "Death of Munrow". Of course, this was a major purchase, and the next day the Dow Jones Industrial Average soared above 10,000 for the first time. While global markets were celebrating, my inner voice questioned whether my purchase had been foolish. Each dollar spent on Munrow would double in a few years if left in the stock market, and then double again.......suddenly the real cost of Munrow seemed enormous. What an impact those funds would have on our retirement account, if only I didn't have this addiction to pot!
Fast forward 9+ years to this week, when the Dow again crossed 10,000....on the way down this time, with no end yet in sight. As I write, it sits at 8380! Amidst the financial turmoil, the commanding tiger holding Munrow in his jaws is a constant pleasure. His value has increased significantly, but, more importantly, he has given us a decade of pleasure. And he reminds me that when we buy figures we are not spending money, just transferring our assets.
"The Death of Munrow" (W: 14") commemorates the savaging of Lt. Hugh Munro, while hunting in India in 1792. The figure is modeled after a life size automaton, today in the V&A. The automaton is known as Tippoo's Tiger because it once belonged to the Indian Sultan, Tipu. Tipu probably had the automaton made to celebrate the death of Lt. Munro, because Tipu believed that the British officer's "death by tiger" (the tiger was Tipu's personal symbol) foretold Tipu's conquest of the British army. But alas for Tipu, he got it wrong! In 1799 he fell to the British; the automaton was shipped back to England and it went on display from 1808, thereby inspiring earthenware Death of Munrows. Read the full story in Schkolne, Myrna: People, Passions, Pastimes & Pleasures: Staffordshire Figures 1810-1835".
Bacchus and Ariadne. H: 24".
Courtesy Elinor Penna Antiques. www.elinorpenna.com
Why is this stunning figure of Bacchus and Ariadne sometimes referred to as Priapos and a Maenad? Some have suggested that the figure really is Priapos and a Maenad, but along the way sensitivities to the name Priapos (a fertility god with an obscenely huge penis) resulted in renaming the figure. Last week I went to Philadelphia for a few days and, as always, could not wait to hole up in the Free Library on Vine Street, a great spot for research. So here's the skinny on this figure.
Around 1770, a Greco-Roman marble was bought in Rome and shipped back to Cheshire by it's proud owner. The marble essentially comprised two torsos--both heads had been lost, as had most of the limbs. It was decided to restore it (we are still in the 18th century) but no-one really knew how it should be done. So the marble was retored to resemble Dionysos (also known and Bacchus) and Ariadne. I think that a 4th century BCE bronze relief in the British Museum guided the restorer. The marble, complete with new heads and limbs, was imitated as a smaller plaster and a bronze....which in turn were copied as the figure we call Bacchus and Ariadne.
Of course, today, we are much smarter and we can confirm the marble's true identity as Priapos and a Maenad. How? Well, a similar Greco-Roman marble in Athens has Priapos's head intact, and yet another similar marble in Berlin preserves the maenad's head. BTW, these marbles were apparently all copies of an earlier Hellenistic work.
Where is our marble today? Complete with incorrectly restored body parts, it resides in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
And now that you know more than you ever wanted to know, LOOK at the figure and be wow-ed by the skills required to make it. Remember, it is 24" high and I can barely lift it!
Vermeule, Cornelius. “Recent Museum Acquisitions: Priapos and Maenad (Boston Museum of Fine Arts”; Vol. 111, No. 795, (June 1969), p381-382.
Poole, Julia. "Plagiarism Personified." p64.
A dealer friend has just told me this story: She left a bid of GBP 750 at an auction house in the UK. She "won" the item and received an invoice for GBP 550 (plus buyers' premium, for a total of around GBP 660). So far so good. But then her credit card statement arrived, and the dollar charge was around $1700. Clearly something had gone wrong. So she called the auction house....and guess what? They had made a mistake.
Are you thinking they had made a mistake in charging her credit card? No, that's not it. Instead, her bid was, they stated, actually GBP 750.....but they had mistakenly invoiced her for only GBP 550. So they charged her credit card for GBP 750 (plus premium.) What a coincidence that my friend ended up paying her top bid!
The trouble with leaving absentee bids is that you are never quite sure if the item will be knocked down to you for the full amount of your bid. There is no way of checking. Many auction houses are indeed honest, but many are not. When you acquire an item for the full bid you left, the auction may well have been above-board....or was your only competition you? There is always a nagging doubt in your mind, and there is no way of knowing.
When I buy a serious purchase at auction, I pay a dealer to view, assess condition, and bid for me in person. That way I have a reliable condition report and an honest bid. To all you honest auction houses out there: I am sorry I have had to write this, but please clean up your trade. On top of our bids, we buyers pay a hefty buyer's premium, and we deserve honest reliable service.
Imagine calling a retailer in another state to purchase an item you can't obtain locally. At the end of the conversation the salesperson tells you that in addition to the purchase price you must pay:
25% for her "services"
3% for paying with a credit card
She cautions that the merchandise is not returnable and anything she has told you about its appearance and condition cannot be relied on, as you should have looked at it yourself. Buyer beware, or as the Romans said, caveat emptor.
My guess is you wouldn't complete the transaction... but let's assume you suck this up and proceed. You will ask the salesperson what the shipping charge is. She then tells you that the retailer does not handle shipping but she can refer you to MailBoxes or something similar. She reminds you that if your merchandise is not collected within a few days, storage charges per item per day will be added to your account.
By now, I am sure your enthusiasm for the item has evaporated and you don't want to know. You share your opinion with the salesperson, and hang up--words cannot describe your outrage.
But when we buy at auction, we commit to just such transactions. First, we have to struggle, beg, and plead for condition reports and photos that often arrive only hours before the sale begins. Admittedly, some auction houses are great about this, but most are not. On top of it, condition reports are increasingly unreliable. Often, the person writing the condition report is a generalist and does not know how to look at a ceramic figure for repair and restoration--even some "specialists" have a lot to learn. At major auction houses, major errors can be made---and at the end of the day, it is the buyer's "fault" when he buys a dud, because he was cautioned NOT to rely on the condition report! Now remember that this is the "service" we pay up to 25% for in the form of buyer's premium. This almost makes me wish that Eliot Spitzer had not been caught with his pants down (literally!) because we need someone with a bulldog mentality to look into this.
In addition to all this, UK auction houses must charge VAT on the buyer's premium, which makes a 25% buyer's premium soar to 29%. They also routinely charge an additional 3% for credit card payments--I am not sure if this is legal in the US, but it does seem to be a UK "issue." So expect to pay another 3% on the full 129%....putting us at almost 133% of the hammer price if you bid in person. If you use a credit card that charges a foreign transaction fee, expect another charge on your monthly bill!
All this math does not even factor in that you may have decided to bid online, for another 3% added to the buyer's premium.
I shan't even get into the high costs and problems of shipping. Read my blog to see a Sherratt style COURTSHIP group shipped by MailBoxes, now in shards, no insurance! But even if your auction purchase arrives intact, you can only pray you got what you hoped for. If the auction house goofed on the condition report, you are on your own. After all, they warned you before you bid.
Fine print: Some auction houses charge less than 25% for buyer's premium, but most rates are around 20%. I have known one auction house that did accept a return of a mis-described item.
To cheer you up, here is a beautiful figure pair bought NOT at auction, but from Elinor Penna. http://elinorpenna.com Maybe Elinor went through Auction Hell to procure them, but I am pleased to have acquired them so painlessly. Elinor is a long way away from me, but when I buy from Elinor I know the figures will arrive intact, and I know that if I am disappointed for any reason, however frivolous on my part, Elinor will want me to send them back!
A few days ago, I blogged about Andrew Dando's little deer...and it has since sold. We in the US have spent the last few days chewing our nails about the economic crisis and wondering if we will revert to the moneyless Stone Age. Interestingly, a London pottery dealer told me today that business was super-busy, as people chose to put their funds into something that would last....and that made me look again at one of my favorite sites, John Howard's http://www.antiquepottery.co.uk/. How can this fabulous bear be unsold, when so many collectors should be seeking solace in purchasing pots?
John Keats's "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" comes to mind every time I look at my own performing bear group. I bought it a long time ago. An elderly married gentleman in the north of England parted with it when he urgently needed money for his girlfriend. My figure group has given me nothing but joy over the years....I doubt the gentleman has had as much pleasure from his girlfriend. If I didn't already own a savoyard and bear, John would be swiping my credit card for this one!
I just LOVE John's figure group. The base and bocage are particularly lovely and just look at that lion's face. Makes you grin too, doesn't it? There is a lovely crisp quality to the whole figure, and only the rope is restored--to be expected in this figure group. Best of all, you can buy from John at a distance with total trust. I might have said "you can bank on his word'...but banks aren't what they used to be! Anyway, you get the point: John is one of those dealers I buy from long-distance because he always discloses repair and restoration, and I have never been disappointed.
On the subject of repair: notice that this savoyard is missing his arm. I LOVE this feature. This is not damage. Instead, the arm was lost in the first firing, but rather than toss a valuable figure, the potter completed it, just painting over the stump. Super touch, and so nice to see. Obviously, John recognized this for what it is and has left it in original condition. A dumb dealer might have taken it to the restorer to add an arm....what an awful thought.
Last but not least, you may have noticed that the price on this group is commensurate with its rarity and quality. If you like it, don't let money stop you. Remember that "A thing of beauty is a joy forever"....and, as I tell my husband, we should spend our money while it still exists.