My feelings are not dented if collectors ignore my opinions. After all, why should my recommendation be worth anything?I usually tell them that I respect their right to make their own decisions, and whatever they decide we stay friends. But today, I impart a pearl of wisdom that collectors ignore at immense peril:
IF YOU FAIL TO ASK ABOUT CONDITION WHEN PURCHASING A FIGURE, YOU MAY BE A SUCKER, A FOOL JUST BEGGING TO BE PARTED FROM YOUR MONEY.
Don't get me wrong: I am not telling you to only buy perfect figures. I accept that many very desirable figures have some restoration or repair. On the other hand, some figures have extensive restoration or repair. As you fall in love with a figure, as your heart beats a little faster and you are overwhelmed with that warm glow of excitement, the condition may not matter to you at all. But believe me, if you ever want to sell that figure, condition will matter a lot. So when you purchase a figure, insist that the dealer note any restoration on the receipt. That way, you know what you have. There can be no confusion, no he-said or he-didn't- say.
Does this sound harsh? I mean it to be! Again and again, dealers tell me (sometimes in amazement, sometimes with a smirk) that collectors routinely buy without a single enquiry about condition. I am stunned! These "collectors" are the same individuals who caress and squeeze every piece of fruit in the supermarket before deciding on the perfect one....yet when it comes to a costly Staffordshire figure, they just point at it (or click the mouse) and buy.
This begs the question: what kind of collection are you assembling if you care not about the integrity of the objects in it? If you just want pretty things, you can find plenty at a fraction of the price of an early Staffordshire figure. Is it that you prefer owning something old? I understand....but a heavily restored figure can be largely new!
Dear Collector, I believe a nice early Staffordshire figure warrants a fine price. On the other hand. a heavily restored example of that same figure is worth a whole lot less...but if we collectors fail to ask, what stops the trade pricing that heavily restored figure as if it were perfect?
If it is all about eye-candy for you and you don't care, go ahead. But when you want to sell your very restored figure some day, don't be surprised if you have great difficulty doing so.
Two examples make my point: Recently, I viewed a private collection, which held the object below, bought years ago from a now-retired dealer with whom the collector had a long-standing and trusting relationship. The price ticket beneath indicated that it had changed hands for a substantial price.
My second example is this sweet little church that appeared on eBay a few months ago. It was honestly described as missing critical components, as you see in the picture below.
The church is a petite little things, just 5" to the top of the steeple. The buidling itself was intact, and there never had been bocage leaves on those trees, but all the figures in the foreground were missing. Clearly, the back figure on the right had been a man because his lower trouser legs remained. Right next to him were two smaller feet that had to have belonged to a woman. The figure on the far left had broken away entirely, leaving an oval patch that corresponds to the way a vicar’s coat might fall, so I deduced that this group was once a christening. This made the fourth missing figure (one largish foot remained) the clerk.
I added the group to my Wreck Collection, and I could have happily lived with it as it was--in fact, I preferred living with it as it was! But once it became mine, I felt responsible for its future...and I was haunted by the certainty of it being discarded at the end of my days. Restoring it, to my mind, added absolutely no value, but unrestored it would almost certainly be tossed. I couldn’t justify costly professional restoration, so I decided to have a shot at replacing the missing figures myself. The task was way above my very amateur pay grade. How was I to make the figures? Which figures should I try to copy? All except one christening group recorded to date are from the “Sherratt” pot bank, and the figures on it are much too large for this group. Also, “Sherratt” christenings have two women (the godmothers) rather than a man and woman, who I believed had stood to the right of the church originally.
The tiniest figures in our collection are the man and woman shown below. I made models from these figures in clay and tooled them to remove his hat (which in this case is lying on the ground) and her dog (which I replaced with a small handbag). I fired them in a little kiln, and, as expected, the clay shrank, making the figures about ten percent smaller than the originals. Next, I fitted them onto the base so as not to damage any original material. In other words, it would have been easier to remove the feet and legs remaining on the base to position my figures, but instead I removed the feet and legs from my figures and fitted them to the original body parts. The result looked reasonable, so I continued.
Lastly, I needed a vicar holding a baby. Again, my friend sent me a clay model of his vicar, but this presented great challenges because it was huge. Each time a figure is fired, there is shrinkage of about 10%, so I knew that I had to model another clay figure off the vicar, fire it, and keep repeating this process until the vicar was suitably petite. This took four very long iterations.
I spent an embarrassingly long time on this project, and, as I have very little experience and am far from artistic, the result could be improved, but I learned a lot, and it would be better if I were to do it again--but that is NEVER happening! I show you the end result alongside a figure of a gardener, just so you can appreciate how very tiny this group is.
I hope that after my days this group passes to someone who is able to enjoy it despite its issues, and I also hope that a perfect example comes to light to enable correct restoration. My work is reversible; it did no harm to any original material. Above all, my task enhanced my appreciation of the enormous skills the potters had, as well as the skill and time required for professional restoration.
Collectors who buy without asking about condition, who demand the cute above all else, who never want to see a flake or a nick on a figure, these collectors would love this little christening. It has all the elements that make it popular in today's market. Even restored, it should be worth no more than the GBP45 (plus shipping) that I paid for it. But if collectors are not going to enquire about condition, what might a dealer ask for this unrecorded group? GBP450? GBP4,500?
Collectors, don't be suckers. Restoration is a fact of life, but know what you are buying. Perfection should command a premium. Restoration must be tolerated, but it impacts value and can make an ordinary figure almost valueless. Appearances can be deceiving. Don't be deceived!! A fool and his money are soon parted.
A dealer wanting a quick fix to make the church marketable might simply have asked a restorer to grind away the remains of the figures and paint the patches on the base green--in this manner, the remains of the lion and unicorn were removed from the armorial container shown in this article. For this reason, when you buy a figure group, open books or Google to compare it to other examples and ensure all the elements are in place.