No pretty picture today. Instead I pose a question that has been gnawing at me for weeks. If you take an early 19th century figure that is totally intact, except the enamels are poor—perhaps the figure was fired badly originally—and you overpaint completely to restore some shine, what do you have? Or if you break a fine figure into umpteen pieces, and it is restored and over painted to look like ‘new’, what do you have? Are you looking at a 19th century figure, or a 21st century make-over? I know my answer, but the market doesn't always agree with me. I guess Michael Jackson was still Michael Jackson after his face was changed….but this is not a good analogy. In Michael’s case, we weren’t buying the look. Far from it. Of course, we can take the pottery question further and contemplate restoration of many missing parts. The opportunities are endless because early 19th century figures have many vulnerable ‘bits.’ But I think you get the gist of my concern. Restoration is inevitable, but when does restoration destroy all value? When is a figure SO tarted up that it is no longer an early figure? When does it become an object of no merit? Where do you draw the line on restoration? And just where you draw that line will determine the caliber of your collection.
I know most figures have restoration, but I want full disclosure so we can all make informed decisions. Do you think this unreasonable?
I have been around enough to have seen plenty of atrocious things priced for perfection and foisted on the unsuspecting public. I have seen more than one figure with a beautiful bocage….except the bocage was not original to the figure. Instead, it had been ‘transplanted’ from one broken figure to another, so two halves made a whole. I have seen a restorer chop off a damaged bocage because it was easier to make a brand new replacement bocage rather than restore the broken pieces on the old bocage. And I have seen and heard of more over painting than you could imagine. Want that cow black rather than red so it pairs with a black cow you already own? No problem for a restorer. Repaint elements of two odd figures to make them appear a pair? No problem for a restorer. Don’t like the gritty, degraded enamels on a figure? No problem for a restorer. Anything at all missing on your figure? No problem for a restorer. Just about anything is no problem for a restorer! But the restorer is merely doing what the dealer wants. So we must question the motivation of the dealer in having this work done.
Nearly all dealers are charming, but who’s looking for a date? We want honest wares, and I am increasingly shocked by the lack of ‘transparency’ in the antiques pottery trade. Yes, figures get restored and I can show you all types of restoration in my collection--but I know about that restoration, and if you buy a restored figure I believe you should be told about it too. We have three types of dealers:
1.A few fabulous dealers who are both savvy and honest. They buy the best merchandise to start with, they disclose the often-inevitable restoration on the price ticket, AND they note it on the receipt.
2.Dealers who are not dishonest, but they are also not savvy enough to detect restoration. (If restorers can be so clever, how can some dealers be so frigging stupid?!)
3.Dealers who are quite savvy about the restoration on their figures….but they prefer keeping that info to themselves.
Of course, dealers in Group 1 pay the price. The novice collector judges our Group 1 dealer as much more expensive and shops elsewhere. Caveat emptor. Sometimes Group 2 and 3 wares are also priced for perfection!
Would you go to a doctor who could not assess your condition? So why buy pottery from a dealer who cannot assess condition? I believe every dealer should be able to detect restoration and repair. And every dealer should back his/her opinion with a written guarantee of authenticity.INSIST ON THIS. Don’t be intimidated.
I hope this helps you all build Beautiful Collections. Life is too short for anything less. There is a lot of cruddy pottery out there, and you must avoid it. So some practical tips to detect restoration yourself. This is quite easy at home, but a lot more difficult at antiques shows where the lighting is poor.
For a start, I always compare the figure to a picture of a perfect example (stored in my brain, in my photo archive, or in a book) to assess for any changes in form that suggest damage or restoration.
At home, I use a pair of 4x reading glasses (at the suggestion of John Howard) to scour the surface for tell-tale signs of change in texture, glazing, color. When I am out and about, I carry a little magnifier. Clipped to the its ring is a tiny, strong flashlight—suggested by Andrew Dando.
I use my fingers to detect any change in ‘feel’. Restored bocage leaf tip edges usually are deliberately smooth, whereas originals have a roughness. A restored surface is often slightly sticky to the touch. If you drag a pin across the figure, it will move freely…until it hits restoration, when it will drag just a little.
If all else fails, paint stripper will do the trick. Of course, if you apply it and the paint dissolves, you know you have hit restoration and that you will need to have the work redone.
And if you have not yet read the next two blog posts, do so to see how easy it is to detect some restoration/damage.
There has been some more activity in the termite heap created by our lustre faker. Stephen Smith has caught it again--but eBay has not yet acted. Click here to read all about it. Update is at the end of the original story.
I've said before that when I first touch a figure, I immediately flip it over to look at the pot beneath. It tells me so much. This time, just the picture on eBay had me suspicious. The Staffordshire figure was clearly a "Sherratt" style Widow, customarily paired with Elijah. Shown on the left, this figure is routinely found on a "Sherratt" type mound or table base. The Widow on the right is on just such a base. Note it is formed like the one on the left--and then it has been placed atop a brown table base. (Enlarge figures by clicking on images.)
Anything is possible, and our widow on the left could just have been made without an added base structure. After all, it looks quite pretty as is. But turning the figure over will reveal all.
The eBay widow, detached from the base upon which it was originally mounted.
Can you see the unglazed interior and the rough gray area around the rim? Once upon a time, the eBay figure was attached to a base along that rim. And today this tells us that this widow is missing much more than her man! Truth be told, she seems to have lost her child too. And the sticks in her hand have been replaced by a cup.....all of which point to the importance of using caution when buying.
Dabs of green paint cover the bare patch where the boy once stood.
Restored hand with cup. Remnant of a stick clutched in left hand (not visible in this photo.)
Amusingly, the eBay seller's name is "worth-a-bid." Good marketing. So far, this tragic lady has four bids!
This incredible, amazing, delicious, devine pearlware spill holder debuted and sold in the UK this week. In the 'Sherratt' style, it is the only known example and I live in hope of finding something 'new' like this! Fortunately, I know the new owner and will get to see this figure in the flesh at some time in the future.
The English lion and Scotland's unicorn, seen here, are the supporters found on either side of England's coat of arms. When King James VI of Scotland also became King of England in 1603, he placed the unicorn alongside the lion on the arms. Traditionally, both animals had been regarded as King of the Beasts and were thought to be deadly enemies! But by placing them besides each other, King James symbolized harmony between England and Scotland. Nice diplomatic touch. And this peace was, miraculously, achieved without the intervention of today's United Nations. How cpuld this have happened?
This spill holder is definitely attributable to "Sherratt" because the distinctive rainbow base is only found on other figures that have multiple features linking them to "Sherratt." But the lion and unicorn are best known to Staffordshire figure collectors from the marked WALTON armorial spill vase, seen below.
Armorial spill holder, marked WALTON. H: 6-1/8'
The Walton group is rare but not unique. At its base is "Dieu et Mon Droit" (French for "God and My Right), a phrase believed to have been first used by King Richard I as a password at the Battle of Gisor in 1198. In the 15th century, these words became the royal motto. In the center, the French words "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" are emblazoned on a garter, for this is the motto of the Order of the Garter, the supreme British order of chivalry founded in 1348 by King Edward III. Legend tells that the king was dancing with the Countess of Salisbury when her garter slipped to her ankle. Courtiers tittered, but Edward gallantly placed the garter around his own leg, uttering those now- famous French words, which translate to "Shame on him who evil thinks." The garter surrounds a quartered shield depicting England's lion passants, the rampant Scottish lion, and the Irish harp. Our English lion and Scottish unicorn are on either side--the unicorn is chained because in Medieval times a chained unicorn was thought to be a dangerous beast that could only be tamed by a virgin. A crown in atop the shield and national floral emblems--a rose, thistle, and shamrock--are at its base.
French, in my opinion, should not be on England's royal Arms, but then Spanish is all over our American products. The world is but a village, I guess, and perhaps England was centuries ahead of the game. Seems that the potter we like to think was Obadiah Sherratt had a little problem with all that French too.....but then "Sherratt" style figures often had trouble getting even the English right. In any event, "Sherratt" obviously liked lions and unicorns enough to attempt to incorporate them into a figure group he could understand. And the result is the fantasmagorical spill vase that still has me ooh-ing and ah-ing. The thing about "Sherratt" groups is their quirky naivete, and this one has it all. A clock, adorable sheep, a beautiful classical relief, and brilliant enamels all fight for your eye's attention. Which to look at first? Incredibly, this piece has survived the centuries in extraordinarily good condition. Yes, the tails of the lion and unicorn have of course required attention, but the animals remain attached to their precarious perches, and even those four sweet sheep are unscathed by time. Miracles do never cease. Who knows what will turn up next week?
I have found this spill vase form (identical mold, including the lady at the top) on one other figure. That figure group does not have a lion and unicorn. Instead, the figures of Maria Marten and William Corder stand to each side and a small plaque on the front reads W. CORDER & M. MARTEN. William Corder murdered Maria Marten in the notorious Red Barn Murder of 1828. The Red Barn spill holder can be linked to "Sherratt" because the same forms of Corder and Marten (with similar dress pattern) occur on the brown-claw table base that is also "Sherratt". You can see this figure in my book, People, Passions, Pastimes, and Pleasures: Staffordshire Figures 1810-1835. And the story of the crime is a great read.
The spill vase form with a clock and lion and unicorn to either side occurs in the Victorian period. Was our rare "Sherratt" version its inspiration?
I believe I have mentioned the stunning work of Scottish artist Kevin Low. He uses the faces of Staffordshire figures to inspire his colorful creations. Check out Kevin's latest exhibition at www.kevinlow.co.uk/index.htm. Below are pictures from the exhibition opening and two of my favorite prints.
An Anxious Crossing
Chimes in the Distance
Staffordshire pottery dealer, Nick Burton, also has a fascination with faces of Staffordshire figures. See www.nickburtonenglishpottery.co.uk/Faces.html. Nick's stock is mainly Victorian, but given his sharp eye I can't wait for him to focus on the really interesting figures: those made in the earlier decades of the 19th century!
A PS to the blog entry below about the Osborn sale. The large bull and cow that were on the catalog cover and attracted so much attention from pottery collectors have been sighted before. Andrew Dando sold them at his very first Animal Dando exhibition in 1993. Then, they had been in a private collection for 25 years and their appearance must have caused quite a stir. You can see the picture of the figures at that exhibition and read all about it on Andrew's "business history" page, http://www.andrewdando.org/ad/2.about.htm. Clicking on the photo clipping with the bovine beauties will let you read all about their modern-day debut.
And while I remember (to tell you, that is. I would never forget the Event!): Andrew Dando's next Exhibition is scheduled to start on Saturday Nov. 7. It runs a week, but check it out early if you want to take your pick.
Last night, The Bovine Collection of Derrill Osborn sold at Dallas Auction Gallery. A Texas cattleman? No, Mr. Osborne, I have learned, was a rather flamboyant men's fashion guru who has been fascinated with cows since childhood. There were 338 lots in the sale, whih started at 7p.m on the east coast--yes, midnight in the UK--and may have run till past midnight here. Inevitably, there were Staffordshire cows, in fact there were quite a lot. The Victorian examples fetched poor prices, but then the Victorian market is in the doldrums and the examples were mediocre. There were just a few pre-Victorian figures and they made very respectable prices, reflecting the dearth of these wares on the market. A ho-hum, unspectacular example of a Sherratt bull baiting made either $6000 or $6500 on the hammer. Add premium and convert to sterling and you are over GBP4000. Still a good buy, I think. The really fascinating figures were this large cow and bull.
Pearlware cow and bull. Max W and H: 13-1/2'
I thought the pair striking, but at the size they appeared on my monitor. In reality these beasts are huge. Hold a ruler next to your monitor and imagine over 13" in each dimension. I am not sure I want a pair of household pets. The cows were cataloged as Obadiah Sherratt, which they absolutely are NOT. There is not a single feature of the "Sherratt' style to be seen.
I have seen the bull before, with a farmer alongside. And I have seen the cow as a single. I have seen lots and lots of things--my photo archive has over 10,000 pictures--but I have never seen a figure looking as these did from the back
Rear view of cow and bull from Derrill Osborn collection.
At first glance, it appeared that the spill holders had broken off the figures and a restorer had modified them thus. But to cut perfectly smooth holes in hard fired pot would have been so difficult. Surely restoring the spills would have been easier? And aside from figures that serve as jugs, I have never seen a figure with a large opening. Something was odd here. I conferred with several other collector and dealer friends. None of us had ever seen the like of this. Restoration was the consensus. So I wrote to Dallas Auction Gallery. I got an impressively prompt and detailed reply, along with very large scale images. These figures were indeed made exactly as they appear. The guess is that perhaps they were commissioned thus for a butcher's shop. A lamb chop in one opening and a chicken wing in the other? Who knows.
As you know, I am always tickled to learn something new and I sat up last night watching the auction. Bidding on this pair (estimate $7,000-12,000) opened at $9,000 because the auction house had two absentee bids. The pair went for $9,000, with the auctioneer muttering that the bidder would have been prepared to pay $12,000. (Must admit, I have never heard that type of information disclosed!). Maybe this time these bovine beasts have indeed gone to a Texas cattleman with an oversized mantle. In the right spot, they will look grand.
When I look at a figure, I always look beneath the base first because it has not been enameled and it tells me so much about the pot and the glaze. Look at the base of one of these cows and you will see what I mean. Lovely. In fact, I almost like the bottoms best.
It is quite easy to over paint poor enamels on a figure. Indeed, even dull worn enamels can be made glossy by painting glaze over them. Sometimes, small amounts of touching are necessary to restore a damaged object to its original appearance but who wants to look at a lot of modern paint? When touching is done to enhance an object by making it into something other than what it was before hand the faker's hand is at work! You can always tell overpainted enamels by standing in good light and looking closely at the surface with a magnifier (I use 4X reading glasses). The small crazing marks, tiny flakes, and other irregularities that occur with time should be apparent. Any changes in texture invite questioning.
Seems like someone has been very busy trying his painting skills on Sunderland lustre plaques to enhance their value. And he has been getting away with it. Although this site is about figures, I have posted the tale as a cautionary one for us all because the same could just as easily happen to figures. The story also illuminates the perils of buying at auction. So read it by clicking here.
Friday was gray and soggy, and I was slogging through another hard day in what has been a difficult year, when the mailman rang my door bell. (BTW, I have the nicest mailman in America. He even left a bone for my dog, Maddie, the other day.) I sliced through the copious tape and bubble wrap protecting the contents of the parcel he delivered.....and as the figure came out of its wrapping, the sun popped out from behind a cloud, both literally and figuratively.
Wouldn't these dandies brighten anyone's day? They are in the "Sherratt" style--note those signature garlands on the base and in his basket. You are looking at no restoration here. That amazingly full bocage is original, and even the little garland in his basket has not a chip. Looking to find damage, I noted a chipped hat plume, two enamel flakes, a chip to the handle of the umbrella, and a large chip to the top of his hat. None is visually distracting. To restore any would detract from the originality of this fabulous pearlware figure group.
The chip to the top of the man's hat mystifies me. I am sure it happened after production. A horizontal slice has come off the hat. But how it came off without doing any damage to the bocage is a mystery. I have crawled all over this with my magnifier and still can't work it out. Somebody has touched that chip with a black pen of sorts, and that's just fine. It stops it from catching the eye.
Of course, this Staffordshire figure was FILTHY when it arrived. Taking advantage of the sunshine it had brought with it, I went to the kitchen sink for the sun-bath ritual I enjoy with new figures. The figure glowed and sparkled in appreciation, and as I explored its intricacies and mysteries, I was reminded how rewarding true collecting can be. That night, I placed the figure in our bedroom so I could enjoy it from bed. AYes, figures have finally crept into our bedroom too!
Nasty beasty, is it not? The back and base are worse...but each to his own taste, as long as the figure is represented correctly. This figure is typical of a recent batch of reproduction figures supposedly made in Asia.
PS. Read my correspondence with the seller by clicking onto the BELIEVE IT OR NOT tab at the top of this page.