STAFFORDSHIRE FIGURES 2
The fully coloured earthenware figures made as mantelpiece ornaments by various anonymous Staffordshire potteries drew on popular figures from the stage, the circus and other popular entertainments for their subject matter
Staffordshire potteries produced enormous numbers of full-length portrait figures in Victorian times, in response to an upsurge in public demand for cheap but colourful earthenware ornaments that reflected the general increase in prosperity in Britain throughout the century.
While pre-Victorian Staffordshire figures had been well crafted and highly coloured in
an attempt to imitate porcelain, Victorian potters didn't have such lofty ambitions. They simply set out to give the public what it wanted as cheaply as possible. They took their inspiration wherever they could find it, copying illustrations from coloured prints, broadsheets, gazettes, newspapers and magazines such as Punch and The Illustrated London News.
Other rich sources of subject matter were sheet music covers, theatre playbills and other advertising material devoted to popular entertainments. Then, as now, the top performers attracted a following, and figures of famous actors in their greatest roles would attract armchair theatregoers as well as those who wanted a souvenir of a performance they had actually seen.
Unnamed theatrical figures were also popular. Though people of more sober tastes might have enjoyed seeing Gladstone or the Iron Duke glowering down at them from their mantelshelf, their more frivolous fellows preferred to deck out their homes with cheerful figures of folk entertainers such as clowns, tumblers and musicians.
Many Staffordshire figures are marked on the base with the name of the person they represent, which is useful since many, though by no means all, of the likenesses are poor. Even anonymous figures were probably based on obscure playbills and now lost advertising material.
This type of figure was also sold by vendors inside and outside theatres as well as in the markets, fairs and small-town shops throughout the country that sold Staffordshire and other china. They rarely cost more than a few pence when new, but have appreciated enormously in value in the last few decades as they are more and more recognized as pieces of charming and decorative folk art.
STAFFORDSHIRE FIGURE COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Genuine 19th-century Staffordshire figures are not particularly unusual, but if you find one that seems remarkably good value, beware it's almost certainly a modern reproduction. Many of these find their way into junk shops and car hoot sales, although some are sold legitimately in retail outlets such as china, souvenir and gift shops. Most reproductions will have been finished with artificially crazed glazes to give an impression of age, but generally the crazing is rather uniform and looks 'new'. The colours are bright and there are few signs of natural ageing such as the chips and discoloration you would expect to find around the base of a genuine figure.
While some reproductions are attractive and agreeably ornamental, they have no value for the collector. It therefore makes sense to buy from a specialist dealer who will authenticate pieces. Staffordshire figures frequently appear in the auction rooms too, and will generally sell for less there than from a dealer.
Antiques fairs are another possible source.
Though named subjects tend to attract the greatest interest, some collectors prefer the challenge of unidentified figures. They enjoy
the detective work of going through old engravings, journals and playbills in an attempt to find out who the subject was. Virtually none of the figures were purely imaginary, but were based on existing images of real people.
All Staffordshire figures were made as unpretentious ornaments that were never going to get the care and attention of the best china tea service or a painted porcelain figure, 50 any signs of normal wear and tear, such as the odd unobtrusive chip, slightly faded colours or worn gilding should not affect price too much.
Do, though, check for repairs - where a broken but original part has been fixed back or, more seriously, restoration, where an entirely new hand or other piece has been added in place of the missing original. Such work has often been carried out by experts and is difficult to detect, although restorations tend to discolour more easily than repairs.
It is very difficult to exactly re-create the feel of an old glaze, and your fingers might fail to pick up the difference. Try running your tongue over the suspect area, as it's much more sensitive to differences in texture.
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain.