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An introduction to Victorian Staffordshire Figures -

A helpful guide

In the reign of Queen Victoria, the fireplace was the heart of every home.Nearly every room whether downstairs or upstairs, had it's own Fireplace.The Mantlepiece above the fires were normally wooden or cast iron in the working class cottages, and slate, marble or stone in the Middle and Upper class houses. However it is to the cottages that we look for the much loved Staffordshire Figures. During the 18th and 19th Centuries, working class cottagers who could read or write were few and far between.Indeed their daily lives revolved around their homes and their villages.Transport was by horseback or carriage, and News travelled the same way, passed from person to person.Thus it was that Staffordshire Figures were born, they reflected the news of the day, whether it be concerning the Royal Family,Politicians,Murderers,Sportsmen,Lion Tamers and Circus performers including their exotic animals, Soldiers,Sailors,Generals,Religious Figures,Explorers and all the rest. Every available topic was covered. Sometimes you will see miniature Staffordshires, and these probably emanated from the many travelling salesmen who showed these little versions to prospective customers in the hope of procuring orders for the full size ornaments.Some mantlepiece shelves would be crammed with up to a dozen figures, but usually on both ends would sit a pair of Comforter Spaniels, looking out calmly over the cottage scene. Indeed these Staffordshire Dogs have been produced commercially ever since and up to the present day. Staffordshire figures are also called Flatbacks,because of their plain flat backs for standing on shelves and against walls.There are earlier Staffordshire figures made before Victorias reign,but these are completely different- usually a round base or a square plinth base, and are made from Pearlware more often than not carrying Bocage. The clay being hand pressed into two moulds and then joined together, painted and fired in the kiln.These 'primitive' Staffordshires are very expensive to buy now, and were made by potters such as Obadiah Sherratt and Isaac Walton. However, the Victorian Figures are still relatively easy to come by and the comparison between early Victorian figures and later Victorian figures are very easy to distinguish as the earlier ones show good ,crisp moulding, and good colours,whereas the later ones are poorly moulded and are mainly white in colour with perhaps some gilding.However, even the latter type have an innocent charm of their own, and are now avidly collected. If you decide to collect Staffordshire figures, I would suggest that you follow a particular field and stick to it. For example you may decide to collect only animals and one of my favourites is the Zebras which is moulded as a horse but given black and white stripes!! Staffordshires are a record of Victorian History,each one depicting a scene of Victorian life that alas, we will now ever see. These figures then, were the newspapers of today.The expanding horizens of the 18th and 19th century are shown in the figures of such people as Sir John Franklin who died trying to discover the North West passage, and Dolly pontreath, who was the last person to speak Cornish. One last thing which must be said, is that there are thousands and thousands of Reproductions which range fro Terrible to Good. However it is the GOOD that we must worry about, and to ensure that you never ,ever make the mistake of purchasing one of these fakes there are a few golden rules to follow,

1/ Only buy from a reputable dealer.

2/Ask for a written receipt with an accurate description complete with the approximate date of manufacture.

3/Only buy figures that you like,as what is the point of paying good money for something you do not really want to live with.?

4/ Don't buy Staffordshire Comforter dogs with large holes in the base, and I do not mean damage,all of the originals have a closed in base with perhaps a small hole either in the base or behind the neck.

5/Do not buy figures that have a grey, dirty looking crazing usually of uniformed sized crazing,.Staffordshires do not craze in this way, indeed many have very little crazing, and some not at all.

Please don't be put off by what has been said, as there are countless honest dealers who really know their business, try and find someone you can trust and rely on. Listen to experienced dealers advice, and above all enjoy yourself as you embark on your new hobby of collecting Staffordshire figures, something you will never regret., I promise you.

This guide recently appeared on The Antiques and Collectors Newsletter

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