This bull baiting group is in the 'Sherratt style." It is just over 13" wide and 11' tall. The plaques read BULL BEATING (could this be a telling mis-spelling of bull baiting?) and NOW CAPTIN LAD (presumably the man's encouraging words to his prize bull). A bull baiting group such as this was the first Staffordshire figure to earn a Sherratt attribution when Herbert Read, writing in 1929, commented on "the excellent bull-baiting groups...attributed to Obediah [sic] Sheratt." Mr. Read did not explain how he reached his conclusion, and almost 80 years later we are no nearer knowing whether Obadiah Sherratt did in fact pot the bull baiting group that catapulted him to fame!
Who was Obadiah Sherratt? To the beginning collector, he seems to be a name seen on price stickers. In reality, Obadiah Sherratt potted in the early 1800s. We do not know for certain that he was a figure potter, for the only wares bearing his name are two frog mugs. Despite this, many figures with a particulary vigorous earthiness are traditionally attributed to Sherratt. While some would apply the Sherratt label wherever possible to boost price, others rightfully claim there is no scientific basis for a Sherratt attribution. However, there is no denying the existence of a group of figures with common distinctive characteristics; they need to be called something, and the label 'Sherratt style' recognizes that credit for this work may go to an unknown potter.
Today, we are fortunate in that distinct criteria for a Sherratt style/'Sherratt' attribution have been established, thanks to Malcolm and Judith Hodkinson's scientific analysis of thousands of figures. In later postings, we will look at some figures and determine whether they meet the criteria for being 'Sherratt style.' Good references that discuss the Sherratt issue and illustrate examples of figures are:
WARNING: Beware small versions of these bullbaiting groups.
The following is from Oliver, Anthony. Staffordshire Pottery: The Tribal Art of England. Page 45.
"These bull-baiting groups on both flat and table bases are still much sought after by collectors but do beware of a small one about 5 ¼ inches high and 7 ½ inches wide. It is nicely potted although the glaze and the colours are wrong for Sherratt. It was produced by the William Kent factory and was last quoted in their catalogue for 1960. Some years ago when I was doing some research in the Potteries, I spoke to the man who had reduced it in size and potted it for the Kent factory. He had one of them in a little cabinet in his living room and was very proud of it in his retirement".
Writing in 1981, Anthony Oliver went on to say that he had seen large amounts paid for these small groups by ignorant buyers. Sadly, the same remains true today!
I have a part-time career writing to sellers who advertise figures like the little one above as The Real Thing. You would be amazed to know that I have written to eBay hopefulls as well as prominent auction houses and dealers. Some of the Kent reproductions are quite nicely done, but cruder versions have since been churned out in Asia....and they make my skin crawl.