I have my new year resolutions (yes, plural!) ready to go and I suspect most of you do too. But for pottery enthusiasts, can I add one more? Please buy, read, and study the book on pottery that has taught me most. No, this is NOT a plug for my simply gorgeous book that I am sure sits at your right hand side as you read and every moment of your waking day. Instead, it is an endorsement for a little book that has taught me more than any other. Sherratt? A Natural Famly of Staffordshire Figures by Malcolm and Judith Hodkinson is my bible. In fact, I have worn out one copy and am onto the second!
So what is so special about this book? Well, it looks at figures in a different way. It links figures with distinguishing characteristics into a large 'natural family'--as is done in botany. The authors dub this family 'Sherratt'.
So who was Sherratt? Obadiah Sherratt, according to collecting lore, potted those large table-based bull baiting groups and as a result similar figures have traditionally been attributed to him. The problem is that there is no basis for the attribution because, although Sherratt definitely potted in the Staffordshire potteries in the early 1800s, he never marked a single figure he made! But, as the Hodkinsons show us, there is no denying the common relationship of these figures and we do need to call them something--and so for convenience we dub them 'Sherratt.' Perhaps someday we will learn whether this is indeed the true identity of the potter who made these undeniably related--and particularly appealing--figures.
So why is this book so important to collectors? Firstly, understanding what makes a 'Sherratt' figure protects you from buying a figure priced at a premium as 'Sherratt' when it is not. And secondly and more importantly, it opens your eyes to myriad details potentially linking other figures in your collection into natural families. This adds a whole new dimension to collecting. You will look at figures in a different way, always ready to spot the unusual and possibly unique.
When I first read Sherratt? A Natural Famly of Staffordshire Figures, I found it just a little challenging. But it sank in! Slowly, I started finding examples of the attributes the Hodkinsons have identified...and I now very definitely do know what is/isn't a Sherratt figure. So what are you waiting for? Make 2009 the year in which you accept the intellectual challenge of understanding figures as more than pretty things.
BTW, this book is still in print. If you need to know how to get a copy, please email me firstname.lastname@example.org