Someone got lucky at auction this week. At Bonhams, New Bond Street, this amazing pair of Staffordshire figures found a new home, and GBP6150 changed hands--at least that is what the buyer paid, to include premium and VAT. The seller, will, of course, get less.
Bonhams catalogue description reads : A good pair of Staffordshire pearlware marriage groups Circa 1825.
Of Gretna Green and The New Marriage Act, the first with a blacksmith standing before an anvil, the couple at his side before a plaque inscribed 'John Macdonald aged 79 a Scotish Esquire run of with a English girl aged 17 to Gratnal Green the Old Blacksmith to be married', the other group with a parson and clerk performing the marriage, below a plaque inscribed 'The New Marriage Act John Frill and Ann Boke aged 21 That is right says the Parson Amen says the Clerk', both before flowering bocages, upon rectangular bases coloured in green and pink, 18.5cm high (blacksmith's hammer chipped, both with some chips to bocage)
So what is so important about this sale?
Firstly, it demonstrates the robustness of the pottery market in these economically trying times. Mediocre wares remain difficult to sell, but when something is special, buyers rush forward. At the same sale, a rare Staffordshire Toby jug, circa 1800, broke all Toby jug records by fetching GBP 36,950. Maybe people are having trouble finding cash for cars, but when it comes to fine pottery, money is seemingly always to be found.
Second, this pair of pearlware figures depict delightful subjects. The right hand example commemorates the New Marriage Act of 1823 (discussed elsewhere on this blog, I think!) so we can date the pair from around that time. The left hand example illustrates a Gretna Green wedding. The humorous reference to 79-year old John MacDonald eloping to Gretna with a 17-year old lady is thought to depict the aged Lord Erskine, who ran off to Gretna Green with his young housekeeper and their illegitimate children. Lord Erskine supposedly traveled disguised as a lady. Why the subterfuge? Apparently Lord Erskine's legitimate children--probably fearing their inheritance would be lost--opposed the marriage.
Third, the New Marriage Act is a relatively well-known figure, but this small version is less common than larger models. Gretna Green marriage groups, on the other hand, are really quite rare.
Fourth, no other paired example of these figures is known. Not even an assembled pair has been recorded. This pair has definitely been together always. Look at the matching dress patterns on both ladies' dresses.
Fifth, the figures are simply fabulous. Great enamels, glazes, and modeling. Crisp and cheerful. Wonderful bocages. It wouldn't matter if the were rarer than hens' teeth if they were not gorgeous.
Sixth, the condition is remarkable. I know American collectors in particular like looking at perfect figures, but I hope no-one restores the bits of honest damage on these figures. Yummy original condition. The older I get, the more tolerant I am of the flaws left by time! Amazing that all those little hands are undamaged. And the plaques--usually vulnerable--are as made.
I am a very happy camper because I know where this figures are going to be living. And later in the year, I shall be seeing them on the other side of the Pond.