Collectors, please tell me why so many of us pursue known figure forms, to the neglect of the unusual. Seems that if it is yet another Teetotal, stand in line to write a check and count the zeros as you write. But why do we overlook so many modestly priced, less conspicuous figures? Yes, I admit little figures can be crude or boring (same applies to big figures!)....but there are SO many rare, colorful little figures that make collecting fun. The secret is identifying the figure form as unusual and then waiting patiently for the finest example you can find.
A few years ago, I visited a fabulous private collection in the UK, and the collector pointed to a small figure he had just acquired. "It's a very rare figure," he said. I looked at the crudely decorated, poorly modeled Pratt figure depicting a man clutching something in his hands. Revealing my blatant ignorance, I had to ask what it was. "A press ganger," he replied.
Before you rush to the web, let me fill you in: Press-gangers forced (or pressed) men to serve in the British Navy from 1664 until 1814. This ensured that war ships were crewed to defend the realm. New recruits were given a shilling, and acceptance meant a man had agreed to serve as a sailor. Wily recruiters pressed the shilling on an unsuspecting victim by slipping it into his drink! Over the next couple of years, I watched out for figures of the same from as the Pratt ware press ganger I had seen in the English collection. Was it really rare, I wondered. And were enamel examples made?
The first few similar figures I found were rather hideous, decorated in heavy underglaze Pratt colors. A 'press ganger'?? I thought each time After all, there was nothing much to link these crude little figures to the navy. And then along came an enamel version, pale in decoration. Still nothing to write home about, but I now knew that the figure form was rare and someone did indeed decorate it in enamels. But apress ganger? Hmm...I still was not convinced.
At last, I got my answer. I found the perfect press ganger! And I know he is a press ganger because he is so beautifully painted. His trousers are striped in navy and white (as befits a navy man), and he clutches a well defined money pouch in one hand and a stick in the other. The enamels are vibrant, the glaze delicious, and the figure is a joy to behold.
It never rains but it pours! After all this time searching, I found not one but two press gangers. They were both in the stock of Martyn Edgell Antiques and Martyn had bought them together. Seems they had lived as perfect twins for centuries--no repairs or restoration on either. I bought one. The other is equally lovely and can be viewed in Martyn's stock or on my Showcase. And despite its rarity, the figure is very modestly priced.
Martyn is another one of the very few dealers I buy from at a distance, on the basis of a photograph and his word. His stock is wonderfully eclectic, and I will admit it has tempted me beyond ceramics. I have always loved my purchases. Happy shopping!