It's been a long, dry summer for collectors of early Staffordshire pottery figures. Very little new or exciting has come to market, and that doesn't seem likely to change soon. The most important figure group available is, of course, in the stock of John Howard, and what a stunner it is. This group, decorated under the glaze, was made by the potter Charles Tittensor, who is known for his weirdly wonderful creations.
Tittensor figures are especially rare and expectedly expensive. John's group is particularly remarkable in that it comprises four figures that are otherwise found in two separate pairings. The musicians below are the very same couple found seated on the left of John's large group.
The shepherds on the right of John's group are otherwise recorded as a twosome, shown below. Note that the figures have switched positions.
John's group is impressed TITTENSOR four times on the reverse. Three of the marks are on the side of the group portraying the shepherds, and I was interested to see that the marks are in exactly the same spots on both the 4-figure group and the 2-figure group. This tells me that Tittensor did not reach for a stamp and mark his work after he had made it. Instead, the marks were integral to the molds he used to form each figure group. Oh, the little factoids that delight too-serious collectors!
Tittensor figures require quite sophisticated taste. They certainly don't fit the bill for those who prefer their figures cute. Prize for the most imaginative goes to this remarkable Tittensor group. Yes, the same shepherd and shepherdess, but this time with oversized farm animals. Quite something, isn't it? What was Tittensor thinking?
Even in dry spells, I find fascinating features on relatively ordinary figures. What could be more ordinary than a lone pearlware Widow, yet the addition of a date boldly painted on the base of this Widow makes her noteworthy. Oh, had all potters painted a date somewhere on their figures!
If anything could be more run-of-the-mill than a pearlware widow, it has to be a pearlware figure of Charity. Don't knock them though! Because they are so "ordinary," lovely examples often can be had at give-away prices. I have a dozen or so arranged on individual little wall brackets on my office wall, and I am always open to adding more. Something unusual on this example caught my eye. Any idea what it might be?
It's the object in her hand. I have no idea what it is, but it resembles a flower or vegetable of sorts. Again, what was the potter thinking?
This widow, again with that mystery object in hand, is currently in a set in the stock of new dealer John Cockburn, so visit his shop, Pickleherring, at http://www.antiquebritishpottery.com/
Lastly, do check in at Moorabool Antiques in Australia, where Paul Rosenberg is offering an astounding array of ceramic objects, including early figures, at his Exhibition that commences on October 5.https://moorabool.com/
Browsing the internet recently, I was smitten by an antique pottery figure group that I had not before seen. The two fishwives below look in many ways like early Staffordshire pottery, but the group was actually made in Scotland and resides in the National Museum of Scotland. Despite the obvious breaks at the ankles, I would give my eyeteeth to own it. What collector wouldn't? Objects of such beauty help me understand museum thefts--but don't for one moment assume I would start down that slippery slope!
Beneath the broad umbrella of figures loosely dubbed "antique Staffordshire pottery figures," are some that were not made in Staffordshire at all. Among these are figures that were made at the ten or so pot banks along the east coast of Scotland.
From the mid-1700s on, Scottish pot banks produced figures, plaques, and useful wares often in much the same style as those made in Staffordshire. But one subject in particular was inspired by a Scottish presence. Scottish potters captured in clay their local fishwives, who were known for their robust physiques and striking garb.
This line-up of fishwives, all made in Scotland between 1790 and 1840, gives us an idea of what these women looked like. The ladies wore a series of skirts or petticoats, and the topmost one would be tucked up to form a handy catch-all. (For individual images of these and others fishwives, see Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840, vol. 1 and http://www.earlystaffordshirefigures.com/29-trades-and-occupations.html)
The rare and unusual example third from the left jumped out at me because one just like it is currently is with Paul Vandekar at www,vandekar.com. This fishwife is shown selling her fish. Her creel containing her heavy load is at her feet, while a smaller basket placed atop displays the catch that is for sale.
A fishwife customarily transported her basket on her back, and a strap around her forehead helped her support it, as we see in the figures below.
Look at the base of the figure above. Believe it or not, real shells are incorporated into the decoration! Also, notice the rope-like border. Bases with rope-like borders occurs exclusively on figures made in Scotland. You see it again on this very fine pair of figures below, formerly with Andrew Dando.
That same distinctive rope-trimmed base supports the figures of Faith and Charity below. Were it not for the rope trimming, you might reasonably assume the figures to have been made in Staffordshire.
This figure of Hope is just like the one above. Again, it has that distinctive rope-trimmed border that confirms a Scottish origin. This time, the colors are quite different. That raspberry shade is one that occurs frequently on Scottish pottery, as does that green shade on the base.
The figure of Faith has the same rope-trimmed Scottish base, but notice the very different color palette, which, I must admit, I find rather unappealing. The deep green is common on
Scottish pottery figures, but that sky blue (for want of a better term) is one that I think occurs only on figures made in Scotland.
You see the same coloring on the figure of the pugilist Thomas Cribb on the left. Note also the raspberry belt. Were it not for the coloring, it would be difficult to distinguish it from the figure on the right, which was made made in Staffordshire.
The figures and plaque below are all output of one or other of the Scottish pot banks, and all sport a typical Scottish palette. All, to my knowledge, are forms only made in Scotland. (Click on images to view.)
I can't sign off without emphasizing three points.
There is always much doom and gloom in the antiques world, with old dealers inevitably dying and no promising new ones taking their place. Dinner was very delayed in our home last night because I discovered Pickleherring's fabulous new site, and I had to spend an hour perusing the stunning stock that John Cockburn is offering. The site is beautifully done, and I appreciate John's obvious love of pottery and his erudite approach.
I don't know John, but I expect he is young (which means he should be around for a long time). What makes me conclude this? John offers the opportunity to view a potential purchase via Face Time!
Pickleherring Pottery offers something for every pocket, so do visit it at http://www.antiquebritishpottery.com/
In the universe of antique Staffordshire pottery figures, the two groups below stand out because of their stunning, unusual bocages. Only a handful of figures sport bocages of this form, and, until recently, we have not even been able to guess at who made them.
Our collective knowledge took a giant leap forward recently when the widow below with the same bocage came to auction. As pretty as the front is, the most interesting aspect is the mark on the reverse. It is the mark of the potter John Walton.
John Walton was a prolific manufacturer. No suprise really, given that he potted for over thirty years. In that time, Walton produced more than eighty MARKED figure models. He would almost definitely have produced unmarked models too, but we have little basis for attributing unmarked figure to him.
Until now, each and every one of the bocage forms on marked Walton figures is of a sort that multiple potters used. But the large-leafed bocage on the groups shown above occurs so very rarely that there is reason to assume it is specific to Walton.
For the record, marked Walton Widows also occurs with the generic bocage of the sort seen on the example below.
What other figures occur with that rare large-leafed bocage, and what are their links to Walton? The beautiful lion and unicorn below certainly have bocages of that very form. Although they are unmarked, I am now certain that Walton made them.
Supporting my conviction is the marked WALTON pair below with a rather common bocage form.
The Potteries Museum owns this beautiful figure of St. Peter, again unmarked and with that distinctive bocage. I believe it too was made by Walton.
I wish I could show you a marked Walton Peter, but here's the strange thing: paired figures of Peter and Paul occur with Paul marked WALTON...but Peter is NEVER marked! The WALTON mark is integral to the mold used for the base of Paul, but it seems that Peter's mold was made without a mark.
For those of us who focus on attributing figures to makers, the plot now thickens.
The rare nanny-and-child group shown at the top of this posting also occurs with another bocage form. In the example below, the leaves are arranged in clusters of three. Did Walton make this group too? Is this bocage possibly one that Walton also used?
We see that same bocage form on an unmarked St. Peter. Again, did Walton make it?
If such three-leaf combinations were specific to Walton, it opens the door to attributing a host of other unmarked figures to him. The trail grows warmer!
We have a new menu tab at the top of this page: Videos.
My three videos on early figures are now up and seem to be working. You can access them via the Videos tab on the menu bar. Or you can find them on YouTube by searching "Early Antique Staffordshire Pottery Figures."
This is my first attempt at this sort of thing, so please let me know how I can do better!
This summer, Dallas, Texas, was again the hotspot for early Staffordshire pottery figures when a lucky collector acquired the stunning pair of equestrian figures shown below. I was fortunate enough to be present when the box bearing these treasures was unpacked, and, as each figure emerged from its tissue and bubble wrap, I was amazed at its size and presence.
Of course, the bocages add height to the figures, making each taller than other equestrian models, but the impact is about more than mere height. Each horse is strapping, and a good chunk wider than the horse used for most other large equestrian figures. And the people are bigger too. As you look at this pair, you hear pounding hooves--as I placed them on a shelf, I almost expected all else on the shelf to rattle just a little. Although I tried, my photos simply fail to capture the heft of these figures, but I assure you that, by comparison, other equestrian models are mere prancing ponies.
These equestrians can be attributed to the Leather Leaf Group pot bank. The bocages (with thick leathery leaves) and distinctive flowers are found routinely on other Leather Leaf Group figures. Also, the backs of the trunks are painted in a mottled pattern that occurs frequently on figures from this pot bank.
Menageries are the Holy Grail for pottery collectors, but these equestrians are just as impressive and far rarer than most menagerie models. They are colorful, animated, and attractive. Those bold bocages, the eye-catching colors, the horses and dogs caught mid-stride, and the elegant couple with riding crops in their hands...what more could a collector want? Perfect condition? Believe it or not, this pair, while not perfect, comes pretty close. Clearly, they have inspired careful respect for two centuries.
This pair of equestrians depicts a circus reenactment of a hunt, rather than a real-life event. In the early nineteenth century, women generally did not hunt because hunting was not a genteel pastime. Remember that the circus then was a relatively new entertainment genre, and it was all about equestrianism. Circuses reenacted hunts, and women, the circus's glamorous equestrienne stars, participated in these staged events.
P.S. Don't overlook the sweet little dogs on the bases!
The Leeds Pottery, based in Yorkshire, is renowned for the creamware useful wares that it produced from the later eighteenth century. But it also potted figures in both pearlware and creamware that have distinctive facial features. I was excited to spot two figures with those very facial features in a mixed lot that came to auction recently. With the help of a collector friend, I was able to procure just these two six-inch beauties out of the lot.
The figures represent the seasons Autumn and Summer. I know of such figures only from the photograph below of a full set of Season, taken from Peter Walton's Creamware and Other English Pottery at Temple Newsam, Leeds.
My little Leeds couple are almost as pretty from the back.
Although I would bet they have been together always, their bases were finished differently beneath, and the one is impressed LEEDS POTTERY, while the other is not.
The detail in the modeling is impressive. Look at the fruit in her basket and those teeny grapes in her outstretched hand. (Please overlook the dirt!)
Also note the folds in his clothing and the wheat in his hand.
And, to top it, those typical Leeds faces are sweetly painted.
To my mind, the consistency of the glaze and enamels makes these figures especially delicious. There is a silkiness to them, and the enamels have melded softly with the glaze. Nothing brash, harsh, and glassy here. Rather, the feel is very like that of the Neale figures of the early 1780s, and I suspect that these Leeds figures are also rather early.
Speaking of Neale Seasons, I have long wanted to own a set of Neale Seasons with the Neale mark. I think that the marked examples predate the closely similar unmarked ones by a little bit, and their quality always seems finer. I suspect the only way to get a complete set is to assemble it, so I got started by acquiring the marked examples of Winter and Spring, below Are they not superb? Why do collectors and dealer overlook such tiny gems but eagerly pursue splashier figures?
Figures potraying the Seasons, are, to my mind, endlessly satifsying. They are almost all beautiful, and they are so very varied. If I was compelled to collect just one subject, the Seasons would be it!
Yet another Season came my way this year, when this 6.8" figure debuted on eBay. That comic face was, to my mind, instantly recognizable, because I had seen this lady before, in a partial set of the Seasons.
Below are her three "sisters," and together the four ladies would portray all four Seasons. I don't know which pot bank made made my lady in the yellow-dress-that plunges-too-low, but the three gals below can be attributed to Ralph Wood. Among their distinctive features is the line that bands only three sides of each base. I suspect that they were made in the latter years of Ralph Wood's fairly short career and that the molds subsequently passed to another potter. Alas, it seems that time has robbed us of all but the lady in yellow, but please be on the look out for her companions!
Below are my recent Seasons, all looking for members of their original families. They are all fine figures, ridiculously inexpensive at that. For now, I am enjoying them on a shelf in my office, where they give me enormous pleasure.
WOW! was my reaction when I first saw this lovely pair of classical antique Staffordshire pottery figures--and I am hoping that will be your reaction too.
The figures depict Apollo, the Greek god epitomizing beauty, and Venus, the goddess of love. Although both subjects are well-covered in Staffordshire pottery, these particular models are exceptionally uncommon, and I have recorded only one or perhaps two others from the same molds. So to find them as a pair was really gratifying. At nine inches in height, they are impressive.
Where did this great "find" happen? Believe it or not, on FaceBook. One of my FaceBook friends, the Australian dealer Barrie Cathcart, posted their photo, and the rest is history.
Both Apollo and Venus are bedecked in delicious enamels--meltingly soft--and considerable thought went into all the details. Look at the lovely wreaths on the deities heads. And yes, the same rather girly head seems to have been used for both figures.
I am quite enamored with the dolphin's eye!
Of course, the vermicular decoration on the bases is especially eye-catching. I have noticed that other figures with similarly decorated bases exhibit the same caliber of enameling and glazing, and, on occasion, the same titling. All are rather yummy, and I suspect (but can't prove) that all came from the same pot bank.
Also added to the shelf in my office recently was this figure portraying Fortitude.
At almost seven inches, she is significantly smaller than Venus and Apollo, but she is charming, and I need all the Fortitude I can get! Notice that she wears a helmet (because Fortune is often portrayed as a warrior) and she leans on a pillar, (a pillar became Fortune's attribute in the Renaissance). I am not sure of the symbolism attached to the book...wisdom perhaps? I have only seen one other example of this figure, which was in the stock of the late Aurea Carter and is shown in Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840, Volume 4. I like her rather stoic expression.
My third and last collection addition is also classical, and the photo does not capture the shimmering iridescence of its luster background, which is a much pinker shade than my photo suggests.
This wee treasure, just seven inches tall, portrays the goddess Diana. As the goddess of the hunt and the moon, Diana personifies chastity. She is frequently portrayed with her hunting gear and a dog.
This humble plaque and I have a history. I fell in love with it in 2008, when I visited the home of the dealer Bill Shaeffer. As I entered the door it caught my eye--but Bill was not wanting to part with it. This year, his estate was auctioned, and it became my turn to acquire the plaque and enjoy Diana on my wall. Notice the smudge in the paint at ten o'clock. It's the painter's finger print!
Bull baitings, wedding, christenings, children at play...the subjects have naive charm, but classical figures tell amazing stories of their own. Any idea why the figure of Venus usually has a dolphin at her side? That's because dolphins recall Venus's birth from the sea. Here the story gets a little gory. The Greek poet Hesiod tells that when Uranus was castrated, his genitals were cast on the sea, and Venus was born from the foam they produced, and she floated ashore in a shell. The Ancients were certainly not lacking in imagination!
Classical figures are easy to find, but not necessarily on the shelf of your favorite dealer. Dealers tend to focus on those bull baitings, weddings, christenings, and the like. They deem these subjects more "commercial", The secret is that classical figures (which are often earlier and finer than the so-called "whimsical" or "naive figures that dealers hone in on) are ridiculously underpriced because the trade, in its ignorance, often ignores them.
PS: James Hall's Dictionary of Subjects & Symbols in Art, an inexpensive paperback, is my go-to reference for the low-down on classical figures
Dallas is a remarkable city in that it houses more early Staffordshire figures than does any other city on earth. No, these treasures are not stuffed into museum cupboards. Rather, they are loved and enjoyed in the homes of collectors who generously share them with like-minded others. And so it happens that in the past few weeks, several interesting early Staffordshire figures crossed my path within a few miles of my home.
First, I was thrilled to see that the two pipers below jumped from John Howard's stock onto a local collector's shelf because this gave me an opportunity to examine and compare them to some other figures in my own collection.
These two close-to-identical pipers are not what you could call a pair, but they have probably lived side by side for almost two centuries. At my first glimpse of them, a "Sherratt" siren went off full blast in my head. Look at the number of features they share with other "Sherratt" figures----features that are exclusively "Sherratt."
First, the same piper occurs within other "Sherratt" groups, some of which are shown below.
The base is of a form that we see on other small "Sherratt" figures. It is from the same molds as the bases on the groups below.
And if you look at the "Sherratt" groups that follow, you will see that both the little perky dog and the bottle occur repeatedly within them. Yes, I know small dogs are not uncommon on pottery groups, but the "Sherratt" dog is unlike any other, and, off the top of my head, the bottle is also specific to "Sherratt."
The bocage flowers are the typical four-petalled mayflowers found on other Sherratt groups, including the two large family and courtship groups shown above.
The bocage (right) is a little atypical in its structure. I might have expected it to look more like the example on the left.
Those funny little round flowers on the base had me stumped for a while. A first for "Sherratt" perhaps?
Not so at all. I had almost forgotten that I had recorded those same round flowers
on the base of this musical group.
Below, you see one of the pipers alongside two other "Sherratt" groups with like characteristics. It is no wonder that Malcolm Hodkinson dubbed his book on this pot bank "Sherratt? A Natural Family of Staffordshire Figures."
It is satisfying when all the puzzle pieces come together, but I am left wondering why two male pipers would be "paired" in this manner. Given the choice, wouldn't you have paired the male piper with his female companion? I have encountered another instance of this. The two male pipers below probably lived together for centuries.
The owner of this "pair" sold one--to me, I will confess--but the owner of the two "Sherratt" pipers prefers to keep that twosome together, which I quite understand.
Another interesting find in a Dallas home this month was this sheep. The base is one most commonly found on Dudson figures, but the distinctive bocage flowers (just like those on the two pipers immediately above) place this sheep in the Big Blossom Group.
I must admit to being surprised at this combination of bocage and base, so much so that I checked carefully to confirm that the bocage is original to the group. Lovely beast is it not?
A beast of another sort, and certainly not to every collector's taste, is the large figure of Atlas holding a globe, such as the example below.
Atlas's globe is usually open at the top (as is the one shown here) or it has a series of large holes near the top. The purpose of these openings has been a bit of a mystery. Last month in Dallas, I encountered a pair of Atlas figures gracing a dining table. Each globe held a metal candlestick fitting, as you see below.
For now, I am left to assume that globes with multiple holes accommodated more complex fittings.
This past month, getting out and about in Dallas was remarkably rewarding. I wonder what will turn up next?
There are no prizes for guessing the identity of the lady in the pearlware figure above. Her cornucopia reveals that she is Ceres, goddess of agriculture and plenty. But look again, and you will notice an unusual detail, other than the pretty base. Have you found it? It's the tiny animal (a lion?) peeping out from beneath her skirt.
Small Staffordshire pottery figures of Ceres are usually around six inches in height, and they were mainly made in the late eighteenth century and just into the post-1800 period. They tend to look like the example below, made by Neale/Wilson around 1785, and they do not include a small animal.
Excavated shards link the model-with-animal to William Greatbach's pot bank in the 1775-1782 period. The shards are decorated with colored glazes, so presumable the figure would have looked like the one below, which is currently on eBay. Again, that little beastie peeps out from beneath Ceres's skirt.
This model may have neither originated with Greatbach nor ended with him, for molds changed hands routinely in the Potteries then. I was intrigued to see the small figure of Ceres below in a private collection. She is the only other enamel-painted figure I have recorded from the same molds as the figure at the top of this page. This time the beastie really looks like a lion. Love Ceres's eye makeup!
Last month, I commented on how pleasing the detail in figures can be, and detail can be found on even quite huge figures. The potter of this large lion in Martyn Edgell's stock was very determined that the beast should have great big ear holes but, more appealing is the motif of putti with a lion in relief beneath the animal's belly.
A putto atop a lion’s back occurs in classical imagery dating back to Roman times. It conveys the theme of the power of love, or “love Conquers All” (“Omnia Vincit Amor” from Virgil’s Eclogue). This same scene appears on a Wedgwood jasper plaque in the Buten Collection, which was modeled in 1776 after a carved gem. And it appears on a plaque in my collection.
Another large figure with an interesting detail coming to auction soon is the lady below. Any idea who she is?
The devil is in again in the detail, for the lamp holds the clue to her identity. She portrays the Wise Virgin, as in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25: 1–13), also known as the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. This parable tells of ten virgins awaiting the coming of a bridegroom. Each carries an oil torch. The five wise virgins have sufficient oil for their lamps, but the five foolish virgins have not. Because the foolish virgins have to seek more oil, they are not present when the bridegroom arrives. They miss their big opportunity!
The Wise Virgin has been represented in imagery for centuries holding her oil light, as does the Staffordshire figure. (A figure portraying the Foolish Virgin has not yet been documented.) Of course, that outstretched arm is just asking to be snapped off, which is why I have yet to see a Wise Virgin with an intact arm in a private collection or in a dealer's stock. I know of only two intact examples, both in museum collections, and they can be seen is Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840, Vol. 2. For completeness, note that in this case the ewer that should be present in the lady's other hand is missing.
Missing details are so frustrating! A few months back I was intrigued to see a hitherto unrecorded figure on eBay. The flower on the base is an Enoch Wood/Wood & Caldwell feature, so I know which pot bank made her...but what did this lovely lass once hold in her arms? The details that would pinpoint her identity have long since been lost.
I have since seen a similar figure with her arms restored to hold a musical instrument of sorts. A botched job if ever there was one! If the world can drool over the armless Venus de Milo, why do we collectors demand perfection?
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