Conta & Boehme
Inexpensive china ornaments, bought or won at Victorian country fairs, are now collected as authentic pieces of folk art. At one time, the annual fair was the biggest event in every country district.
The whole neighbourhood took a holiday and went along.
Most were essentially commercial affairs, dedicated to purchasing livestock and domestic essentials. During the 19th century, though, they gradually changed to something like the fun-fairs we know today.
The second half of the century was the heyday of cheap china ornaments known to collectors as fairings.
Some were given as prizes, but most were sold for a few pence to adorn cottage mantelpieces.
Much of their charm lies in their very British humour, bright, cheerful and often a little crude.
They shared a cast of characters with music-hall skits and Edwardian saucy postcards.
Buxom matrons, hapless youths, innocent and not-so-innocent maidens, outraged fathers, henpecked or erring husbands, nervous newly-weds, old lechers and swaying drunkards were all grist to the comic mill.
Most fairings were made in Germany.
Conta & Boehme, the first manufacturers, were the best.
Their fairings were made of solid soft paste porcelain, while their competitors made hollow models, which tended to be less well finished and painted.
German dominance meant that the trade in fairings ended at the start of World War
FAIRINGS COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The really collectable fairings are those made by
Conta & Boehme, with amusing mottoes in black or red copperplate script.
It is important that the script is still readable.
Early Conta & Boehme pieces are unmarked, but after the late 1870s they adopted the mark of a crooked arm holding a dagger.
Earlier pieces tend to be better, as the pieces lost definition with wear and tear on the moulds.
Conta & Boehme began to number their pieces about the same time as they marked them. Numbers run from 2850 to 2899 and from 3300 to 3385.
At first, the numbers were scratched into the base; later they were embossed.
Any pieces that are unmarked, have a heavy Germanic or Roman script and are stamped 'Made in Germany' on the base are not Conta & Boehme fairings.
REAL OR REPRO?
The value of a fairing depends largely on its rarity.
Many were made, but these were cheap and cheerful ornaments, not meant to be treasured, so many of them were thrown away or broken.
They have also been widely reproduced.
The best way to tell an authentic piece is to check for wear, especially on the gilding.
The glaze on old pieces may be irregularly crazed. Uniform crazing is the sign of a modern glaze.
Modern ones, like the one above have transfer printed
Small repairs do not necessarily reduce value. Most of the charm of fairings is in their folksy appeal, and do-it-yourself mending may enhance this.
When buying, make sure that the number, mark (if any), style and subject all point to the same factory.
If they do not, then the piece is a reproduction.
A base with a continuous ridge, top and bottom, is from the first half of the 1860s.
Numbers may help you date a piece, and so will fashions.
Crinolines suggest the 1860s, while bustles came in after 1870. A bicycle indicates that a piece is from after 1867.
Some fairings have themes based on popular music or prints, and these may he dated easily and exactly.
Fairings may come in pairs, typically before and after scenes.
These companion pieces are worth a lot more if you manage to get both pieces of the set.
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.