The figure was described as a lady reading a book, but, in truth, there is a lot more to the story. The lady portrays the famous actress Maria Malibran.
Maria Malibran (1808–1836), a renowned beauty and a mezzo-soprano of extraordinary vocal range and power, earned international accolades and adoration on the stage. In 1836, Miss Malibran suffered permanent head injuries when falling off a horse. Thereafter, she performed a handful of times before collapsing on the stage in Manchester in September 1836 and dying days later.
The design source for the figure of Miss Malibran is this engraving of the actress that appeared in the Dramatic Magazine.
In working on Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840, I was required to put a price code on each figure. This was an impossible task! So many variables affect price. No figure is quite like another, and price at auction depends on many factors that bear scant relationship to the figure itself. But I knuckled under and provided prices. So what did I put on the Fitzwilliam Museum's figure of Miss Malibran? How do you price something that rare, something that has never traded in a public market? Well, I put a price of C ($3000 to $6000 or roughty £1900 to £3800). I can see this figure sitting on a dealer's shelf in just that price range. And I can also see it with a much higher sticker. Either way, it would rapidly go to a new home.
Yesterday's buyer got lucky, and I think he probably realizes it. The seller must still be reeling. He/she clearly had no idea of what he/she had, and the auction started at $5. Once in a blue moon, everything works out on eBay!
This weekend, I received an email from someone wanting to know if her sweet little shepherdess with a bocage was Staffordshire. Indeed it was. The figure was apparently in perfect condition. The new owner had fought off two other bidders at a local auction to buy the figure for the princely sum of $10.50. She was over the moon with her purchase--not because she got a bargain but rather because she LOVED the figure. A new collector is born. Yay! She emailed that she was scouring eBay and I answered with my usual caution, so here it is again:
- Be careful on eBay. Most of the so-called 'early' pottery offered is junk or has issues.
- Even if it is a genuine early figure and looks OK, beware undisclosed restorations (frequently the seller genuinely can't detect these.) I routinely return my few eBay purchases because of undisclosed restoration, and the return process is a big nuisance.
- If you really know what you are doing, you can find an exceptional item on eBay once in a blue moon, but you will not get it for nothing. You may get it for a good price--as in the case of Miss Malibran--but unless you are really well informed, you will probably overpay.
There is an intriguing link between the figure of Miss Malibran and a figure of the young Queen Victoria. You can read about it by clicking here to access my blog posting of Nov 13, 2012.