If you have already read the posting below, please look again. I have updated it with a picture of the Four Elements, courtesy of a Collector. Also, Jim and Elizabeth Dunn of Bittersweet Antiques had a full set marked Walton in stock at the last SFA meeting, so contact them if you are interested in purchasing. And last but not least, if you skipped reading about the ongoing 'problem' in the luster market, please click here.
This lady holding fish in her lap is titled WATER. Sometimes this figure is found untitled, and then I am amused at auction houses' attempts to identify her. A fish wife is the most common dubbing, but it is far from correct.
Why a figure symbolizing Water? Well, Water is one of the Four Elements--as are Earth, Fire, and Air. The potters made all four allegorical figures, possibly as sets, although when found thus today they have usually been united in recent times.
The figure above is emblematic of Air. Like Water, she is marked SALT but she is not titled. You were meant to know your classics in those days!
What of the other Elements? Earth looks as a gardener. Fire is a man holding a magnifying glass and stick of sorts--presumably to concentrate the sun's rays and start a fire. Several potters made very similar figures of each of the Elements from the same molds. Thus, I have illustrated in my book three examples of Fire--same bocages, same molds--yet each one has a different maker's mark on the rear. Walton, Salt, and Dale, and if you would like to see them side by side, flip to page 30 of my must-have book!
What else did the potters make in fours? The Four Seasons, The Four Corners of the Globe (although so far we have only found two of them!), The Four Apostles.... I think that's it.
I admit that for a long while I didn't know the difference between a putto and a cherub. Still have to think about it. For those similarly challenged, a putto lacks wings, while a cherub has wings. Not much in it...unless you happen to want to fly. Anyway, the figure below is officially a putto.
This Staffordshire figure is no ordinary putto, for it happens to be in the "Sherratt" style. The distinctive base and the bocage leaves and flowers are found on other figure in the "Sherratt" family. The figure can be found facing left or right, so pairs are possible...but in my opinion, pairs were assembled later in life, so the figures were probably sold as singles. These puttos occur on a variety of "Sherratt"-type bases (even table bases that are footed) and with varying typical "Sherratt"-type bocages. The mystery is this: what is the fat fellow clutching in his hand? A cigar?
Here we have another pearlware "Sherratt" putto, but the base and bocage are different. Grab my book and look at the splendid "Sherratt" dandies on the cover. Like the putto, the dandies stand in front of a turquoise bocage and their base is also adorned with those signature "Sherratt" garlands. I really like this turquoise putto. The turquoise "Sherratt" bocage has always been one of my favorites...and those garlands make me melt each time.
Note that the turquoise putto has lost the large fig leaf found on the first putto--yes, the same fig leaf used for obvious purposes by nude males in classical sculpture. And the turquoise putto brings us closer to figuring out what our plump friend is doing. Can you see that the object in his left hand has been carefully painted in red? I think it is intended to be a magnifier--and this ties in with my suspicion that the object in his raised hand is a kaleidoscope or small telescope of sorts. I have still not been able to link this to any classical connotation, so if you know please shout.
Did you notice this very rare figure for sale by John Howard. It is an early example of an enameled Staffordshire figure. The first examples of this elephant were decorated by merely coloring the glazes--and today these too are desirable figures. But an enameled elephant was costlier in its day because it required more careful painting and an additional firing. No sloshing on of colored glazes and popping it in the oven.
To make an enamel-pianted Staffordshire figure, the figure was formed, fired, dipped in clear glaze, and fired again. Only then could the enamels be painted atop the glaze, and the whole thing fired yet again. To complicate matters, some enamel colors needed high firing temperatures, while others needed lower firing temperatures. Consequently, there might be several enamel firings, starting with the highest temperature firing first. All this was an expensive process, and an enamel figure was costlier than its colored glaze counterpart. The fact that a figure emerged unscathed is, to me, a miracle. And in those days, there was no means of measuring kiln temperatures, so 'getting it right' hinged on the skill of the man who fired the kiln.
John Howard's elephant is a model that was made by the famous Wood family of Burslem, probably Ralph Wood. As noted, it was also produced in colored glazes typical of Ralph Wood figures. But the enamel example is especially rare. I have only been able to trace one other. It appeared in Jonathon Horne's Exhibition Catalogue in the early 1990s.
If you are thinking of buying this figure, remember that an elephant with a raised trunk is a symbol of good luck!
Think the elephant was an unfamiliar site on Britain's shores by the 18th century? Think again!
I never cease to be wow-ed by the beauty of this figure: A watch holder depicting Truth as a female allegorical virtue. She reclines on a globe to indicate that she is above worldly matters; her partial nakedness expresses her simplicity. The object in her right hand (which looks more like a double pointer of sorts) is supposed to be a mirror, which always reveals the truth! The figure's formation as a watch holder is most appropriate for in allegory truth is linked to time: with time, all truth will be revealed.
So isn't she absolutely stunningly gorgeous? She is also quite rare, so don't expect a sighting on eBay at any time! A picture can't do this figure justice. At 9" high, it has great presence and an amazing dimensionality. The modeling is superb--just look at those arms. The enamels are dazzling, the painting is particularly meticulous. Aside from this example, I have only seen one other. Also, one is pictured in Earle, and on the front is painted THE GODESS OF TRUTH. I fuzzily recall one in an old Christie's catalogue, but then it may be one of the already-mentioned examples.
Our Staffordshire figure is pearlware, made around1790, probably by Enoch Wood either just before or during his partnership with James Caldwell. Do I know this for certain? No. Mere instinct based on seeing other Enoch Wood figures. Incredibly, this figure is perfect. Tiny chip to the edge of the mirror and that's it. Perfect survival after 200 plus years. A collector's dream.
I am uncertain of the design source for this figure. I seem to recall seeing a similar porcelain representation of Truth in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. I do wish I could pop in and check. So if you happen to go to that museum, please look in the porcelain cases in the upstairs hallway and let me know. Meanwhile, I shall keep searching. Eventually, the truth will be revealed!
No pretty picture today. Instead I pose a question that has been gnawing at me for weeks. If you take an early 19th century figure that is totally intact, except the enamels are poor—perhaps the figure was fired badly originally—and you overpaint completely to restore some shine, what do you have? Or if you break a fine figure into umpteen pieces, and it is restored and over painted to look like ‘new’, what do you have? Are you looking at a 19th century figure, or a 21st century make-over? I know my answer, but the market doesn't always agree with me. I guess Michael Jackson was still Michael Jackson after his face was changed….but this is not a good analogy. In Michael’s case, we weren’t buying the look. Far from it.
Of course, we can take the pottery question further and contemplate restoration of many missing parts. The opportunities are endless because early 19th century figures have many vulnerable ‘bits.’ But I think you get the gist of my concern. Restoration is inevitable, but when does restoration destroy all value? When is a figure SO tarted up that it is no longer an early figure? When does it become an object of no merit? Where do you draw the line on restoration? And just where you draw that line will determine the caliber of your collection.
I know most figures have restoration, but I want full disclosure so we can all make informed decisions. Do you think this unreasonable?
I have been around enough to have seen plenty of atrocious things priced for perfection and foisted on the unsuspecting public. I have seen more than one figure with a beautiful bocage….except the bocage was not original to the figure. Instead, it had been ‘transplanted’ from one broken figure to another, so two halves made a whole. I have seen a restorer chop off a damaged bocage because it was easier to make a brand new replacement bocage rather than restore the broken pieces on the old bocage. And I have seen and heard of more over painting than you could imagine. Want that cow black rather than red so it pairs with a black cow you already own? No problem for a restorer. Repaint elements of two odd figures to make them appear a pair? No problem for a restorer. Don’t like the gritty, degraded enamels on a figure? No problem for a restorer. Anything at all missing on your figure? No problem for a restorer. Just about anything is no problem for a restorer! But the restorer is merely doing what the dealer wants. So we must question the motivation of the dealer in having this work done.
Nearly all dealers are charming, but who’s looking for a date? We want honest wares, and I am increasingly shocked by the lack of ‘transparency’ in the antiques pottery trade. Yes, figures get restored and I can show you all types of restoration in my collection--but I know about that restoration, and if you buy a restored figure I believe you should be told about it too. We have three types of dealers:
1. A few fabulous dealers who are both savvy and honest. They buy the best merchandise to start with, they disclose the often-inevitable restoration on the price ticket, AND they note it on the receipt.
2. Dealers who are not dishonest, but they are also not savvy enough to detect restoration. (If restorers can be so clever, how can some dealers be so frigging stupid?!)
3. Dealers who are quite savvy about the restoration on their figures….but they prefer keeping that info to themselves.
Of course, dealers in Group 1 pay the price. The novice collector judges our Group 1 dealer as much more expensive and shops elsewhere. Caveat emptor. Sometimes Group 2 and 3 wares are also priced for perfection!
Would you go to a doctor who could not assess your condition? So why buy pottery from a dealer who cannot assess condition? I believe every dealer should be able to detect restoration and repair. And every dealer should back his/her opinion with a written guarantee of authenticity. INSIST ON THIS. Don’t be intimidated.
I hope this helps you all build Beautiful Collections. Life is too short for anything less. There is a lot of cruddy pottery out there, and you must avoid it. So some practical tips to detect restoration yourself. This is quite easy at home, but a lot more difficult at antiques shows where the lighting is poor.
There has been some more activity in the termite heap created by our lustre faker. Stephen Smith has caught it again--but eBay has not yet acted. Click here to read all about it. Update is at the end of the original story.
I've said before that when I first touch a figure, I immediately flip it over to look at the pot beneath. It tells me so much. This time, just the picture on eBay had me suspicious. The Staffordshire figure was clearly a "Sherratt" style Widow, customarily paired with Elijah. Shown on the left, this figure is routinely found on a "Sherratt" type mound or table base. The Widow on the right is on just such a base. Note it is formed like the one on the left--and then it has been placed atop a brown table base. (Enlarge figures by clicking on images.)
Anything is possible, and our widow on the left could just have been made without an added base structure. After all, it looks quite pretty as is. But turning the figure over will reveal all.
Can you see the unglazed interior and the rough gray area around the rim? Once upon a time, the eBay figure was attached to a base along that rim. And today this tells us that this widow is missing much more than her man! Truth be told, she seems to have lost her child too. And the sticks in her hand have been replaced by a cup.....all of which point to the importance of using caution when buying.
Amusingly, the eBay seller's name is "worth-a-bid." Good marketing. So far, this tragic lady has four bids!
This incredible, amazing, delicious, devine pearlware spill holder debuted and sold in the UK this week. In the 'Sherratt' style, it is the only known example and I live in hope of finding something 'new' like this! Fortunately, I know the new owner and will get to see this figure in the flesh at some time in the future.
The English lion and Scotland's unicorn, seen here, are the supporters found on either side of England's coat of arms. When King James VI of Scotland also became King of England in 1603, he placed the unicorn alongside the lion on the arms. Traditionally, both animals had been regarded as King of the Beasts and were thought to be deadly enemies! But by placing them besides each other, King James symbolized harmony between England and Scotland. Nice diplomatic touch. And this peace was, miraculously, achieved without the intervention of today's United Nations. How cpuld this have happened?
This spill holder is definitely attributable to "Sherratt" because the distinctive rainbow base is only found on other figures that have multiple features linking them to "Sherratt." But the lion and unicorn are best known to Staffordshire figure collectors from the marked WALTON armorial spill vase, seen below.
The Walton group is rare but not unique. At its base is "Dieu et Mon Droit" (French for "God and My Right), a phrase believed to have been first used by King Richard I as a password at the Battle of Gisor in 1198. In the 15th century, these words became the royal motto. In the center, the French words "Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" are emblazoned on a garter, for this is the motto of the Order of the Garter, the supreme British order of chivalry founded in 1348 by King Edward III. Legend tells that the king was dancing with the Countess of Salisbury when her garter slipped to her ankle. Courtiers tittered, but Edward gallantly placed the garter around his own leg, uttering those now- famous French words, which translate to "Shame on him who evil thinks." The garter surrounds a quartered shield depicting England's lion passants, the rampant Scottish lion, and the Irish harp. Our English lion and Scottish unicorn are on either side--the unicorn is chained because in Medieval times a chained unicorn was thought to be a dangerous beast that could only be tamed by a virgin. A crown in atop the shield and national floral emblems--a rose, thistle, and shamrock--are at its base.
French, in my opinion, should not be on England's royal Arms, but then Spanish is all over our American products. The world is but a village, I guess, and perhaps England was centuries ahead of the game. Seems that the potter we like to think was Obadiah Sherratt had a little problem with all that French too.....but then "Sherratt" style figures often had trouble getting even the English right. In any event, "Sherratt" obviously liked lions and unicorns enough to attempt to incorporate them into a figure group he could understand. And the result is the fantasmagorical spill vase that still has me ooh-ing and ah-ing. The thing about "Sherratt" groups is their quirky naivete, and this one has it all. A clock, adorable sheep, a beautiful classical relief, and brilliant enamels all fight for your eye's attention. Which to look at first? Incredibly, this piece has survived the centuries in extraordinarily good condition. Yes, the tails of the lion and unicorn have of course required attention, but the animals remain attached to their precarious perches, and even those four sweet sheep are unscathed by time. Miracles do never cease. Who knows what will turn up next week?