Some of the miniature animal models made by the Wade Group of potteries were literally given away in the 1960s, but now attract a lot of interest from collectors.
Though they were not aimed specifically at children, the porcelain models in the Wade Whimsies series were particularly enjoyed by little girls. Some attempted to collect the whole series, while others gave a favoured few pride of place on the bedroom window-sill. The endearing animal subjects, posed and modelled for maximum cuteness, ensured their appeal, while their smallness added to their toy-like charm. The largest was
5.4cm / 2 1/8 in tall, and several of them are less than half that size.
A total of 109 Whimsies were released in two bursts of activity. The first ones were made in 1953, when falling orders and cancelled contracts for industrial ceramics led the Wade group to develop new retail lines. They had already had a success in the cheap porcelain giftware market with the miniature Wade Porcelain figure series in the 1930s, and Whimsies were a logical step.
They were made in two potteries, one in Ireland and the other in Staffordshire, and were sold in boxed sets of five (or, in one case, four). The factories took turns at producing new sets - the competition between them probably contributed to the quality of these early models - until 1959, when the tenth and final set was put on sale.
Whimsies continued to be made in the 1960s, but were not sold directly to the public. Instead, they were packaged as 'giveaways' or premiums with various products, and also found their way into several brands of Christmas cracker. They proved so popular that, in 1971, Wade began to market a whole new series of Whimsies as a retail line.
This time, each model was boxed and sold individually, though it was still possible to buy the full set of five models packaged together in their original boxes. New sets, twelve in all, were issued regularly until 1980 (though none appeared in 1973), and existing sets continued to be produced until 1984, when Whimsies were taken off the market to make way for new miniature lines.
Whether they came in the boxed sets of the 1950s, or the individual packets of the later series, the small but appealing animal models in the Wade Whimsies series were welcome Christmas stocking fillers or birthday gifts for legions of young girls building up their own mantelpiece menageries.
WADE WHIMSY COLLECTOR'S NOTES
Wade Whimsies have many attractions for a collector. They don't take up a lot of room, are easy to display and aren't prohibitively expensive - even a complete collection should be within most people's price range.
The models were made and sold in some numbers, and are not too difficult to find today. Generally speaking, those introduced late to a
series are rarer than earlier ones, as they were not made over so long a period.
It would be unusual to find a complete boxed set from the first series, but strangely enough this doesn't seem to carry much weight with collectors; the original box adds little to the value. Figures are almost always sold singly. Even if you do find a boxed set, you'll probably already have two or three figures out of it, so you won't need the extras. Besides, much of the fun in collecting Whimsies is in the search, and in gradually building up a collection by buying just one or two pieces here and there.
WHERE TO FIND WHIMSIES
Whimsies are sold in a variety of places; in with mixed lots at smaller auctions, at antiques fairs and flea markets, jumble sales, car boot sales, and in charity shops. Some dealers (not many, though) specialize in them, and they are your best bet for finding the higher priced figures from the 1950s.
Because of their collectability, some models have been remade in a similar, though not identical fashion, so take care.
Back stamps and mould marks are an important guide to identification.
Unfortunately, not all of the models are marked, and those that are, vary considerably. Some from the first series are marked in ink, some with a transfer print, and others with a moulded mark. Sometimes the mark is on the side or bottom of the base, and sometimes it's on the animal's feet.
As the moulds were used over a long period of time, figures can differ greatly in definition. Avoid pieces with a rather blurred look about them. Go instead for ones with cleaner, sharper moulding. Any Whimsies which have cracks or chips are immediately devalued, especially those from Series 2, which can be found quite abundantly.
Many collectors also search flea markets for the wooden trays once used by printers, made up of shallow compartments of varying height and width. Cleaned up, polished, and hung on the wall, these trays make ideal display cases for Whimsies.
You may find models from the second series still housed in their individual boxes. Unlike many collectables, though, Whimsies aren't worth any more if sold with their packaging.
Read articles and references:
Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks
& Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).