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Staffordshire Animals Pay Tribute To British Country Life

Staffordshire pearlware figure of pipe in the form of a snake featuring figure of a head, ca.1815. Image courtesy John Howard, https://www.antiquepottery.co.uk

Starting in earnest in the 18th century, millions of people left the British countryside to work in bustling towns and cities where there was more opportunity for them. Reflective of the times, enterprising potters in England’s Midlands region started adding functional animal-themed pieces to their existing range of decorative figures as an homage to the pastoral life. Since most of the small pottery works producing these items were located in Staffordshire – a region of rivers where clay was abundant – the wares from all of the studios became known collectively as “Staffordshire/” 

Initially, these humble pieces were made of salt-glazed earthenware or stoneware. However, they eventually evolved into finer, thinner, glassy creamware, bluish-white pearlware, and underglaze-painted Prattware. Today, these delightful, functional items are collectible art. 

Staffordshire spaniel dog pitcher. Ca/ 1890’s – 10″ x 4.5″ x 5.5″. Realized $850+ buyer’s premium in 2003. Image courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Among British well-to-do, plump, white-glazed Staffordshire dairy cows, featuring hollow bellies, moo-mouth spouts, and curly-tailed handles, served as appealing creamers. Some, grazing on grassy-green bases, featured realistic spots and splotches characteristic of breeds common at the time. Others featured lighthearted freeform designs, dotting, sponging, or all-over Whielden-style spattering. 

Before the advent of lucifer friction matches, cow, horse, bull, donkey, hound, and wooly sheep images graced ornate Staffordshire porcelain spill vases. These functional hearthside items, bearing tall, hollow vessels on raised bocage bases, were filled with spills—slender wax tapers used to conveniently transfer fireplace flame to grease lamps, candles, pipes, or cigars. Since traveling menageries also captivated crowds, spill vases sometimes bore images of exotic parrots, giraffes, elephants, leopards, and zebras.

Pair of Staffordshire Porcelain Recumbent Greyhound Inkwells, unsigned, each 5⅛ x 8″. Realized $375 + buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy Kodner Galleries Inc.
and LiveAuctioneers

Bold, naturalistic broody hen, guinea hen, rabbit, pheasant, dove, and duck figurines sat pretty or nested atop broad, deep soup tureens—apparently alluding to their enticing contents. Rarer elephant, leopard, and tiger-themed tureen tops, however, evidently celebrated memorable menagerie moments instead, 

Flamboyant red roosters, molded into trendy 18th-century mustard jars, may have been prestigious in their day. “But happening on an identical pair in original condition, without repairs, was amazing,” explains Jason Woody, Operating Manager and Auctioneer at Woody Auction LLC. “When you think about the amount of time that has passed since they were created, and the fine detail these jars exhibit [including full combs and impossibly fragile “chicken-foot spoons”], these were truly extraordinary finds.”

Staffordshire Creamware Creamer on flat base with seated milkmaid, polychrome decoration, 1780-1810, 5” HOA. Realized $550 + buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Jeffrey S. Evans & Associates and LiveAuctioneers

 Though all sorts of Staffordshire cat figurines were popular through the 1700s, few, if any, were functional in nature. During the Victorian Era, widely adored King Charles spaniel porcelain sculptures, associated with both King Charles I (1600–1649) and Queen Victoria’s beloved dog Dash, were also purely decorative. 

Yet at the time, Staffordshire potteries also produced a range of tall, large, hollow, expressive “begging” spaniels, topped by incongruously cheery, flowered crowns. These sturdy, functional vessels served as milk or water pitchers and jugs. Though scores appeared life-like, others, more elegant, were gilt and white-glazed or treacle-glazed, referencing the dark, thick British syrup that resembles molasses. 

Early Staffordshire Figural Mustard Jars featuring life-like rooster heads with full combs and full-figure “chicken foot” spoons. Realized + buyer’s premium in 2017. Image courtesy Woody Auction LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Many Victorians found hunting hounds, like pointers, pugs, and poodles (bred to hunt bears), endearing. Yet after Prince Albert famously acquired a greyhound named Eos, sculptures of these sleek, fleet hare hunters, singly or in pairs, graced innumerable trinket boxes. Others, along with whippets, foxes, nesting birds, perching parrots, and swans, were fashioned into decorative, highly popular ink pots. 

Staffordshire Molded Duck Tureens and Covers with feathers, 25.5cm, realized £380 ($507) + buyer’s premium in 2014. Image courtesy Sworders Fine Art Auctioneers and LiveAuctioneers

According to recognized authority on 18th- and 19th-century British pottery, John Howard, The Antique English Pottery Specialist at https://www.antiquepottery.co.uk, “Early 19th-century Staffordshire potters also created remarkable, quirky pearlware pipes in the form of coiled snakes. In addition to delicate enamel dot and stripe embellishments, they featured tiny human-head pipe-bowls. Vivid, zoomorphic pearlware porcelain sauce boats, with spouts shaped like bird heads and snake-like handles, date from the same era.” 

Though these Staffordshire animal-themed, functional charmers fell from fashion by the end of the 19th century, they offer fascinating glimpses of long gone British values, mores, and ways of life. 

Blue Staffordshire: timeless elegance in deep, rich hues

NEW YORK – Thanks to the plentiful availability of clay, salt, lead and coal in the area, Staffordshire, England became a bustling center of ceramic production starting as far back as the early 1600s. Hundreds of firms make all manner of pottery, from tableware and decorative pieces to more industrial items. Earthenware, stoneware and porcelain were all produced in huge quantities and Staffordshire became a major innovator of bone china, jasperware, transfer printing and glazing.

Staffordshire had a major advantage over other potteries of the day: it was the strongest in the middle and low-price ranges (although fine and expensive types were also made). It was the affordability factor that helped propel North Staffordshire to the largest producer of ceramics in all of Britain by the late 18th century, even though there were many significant centers elsewhere. Starting in the 1800s, large export markets took Staffordshire pottery literally around the world.

Historical blue Staffordshire ‘New York Heights from Near Brooklyn’ platter, 19th century, by A. Stevenson, with repaired rim, 12¾in x 16¼in, est. $150-$250, sold for $1,200 at an auction held Oct. 21, 2017. Image courtesy Nadeau’s Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Blue Staffordshire is what caught on most quickly with the buying public, for its deep, rich color and gorgeous, intricate patterns. Flow blue was a style of white earthenware that originated in the Regency era, sometime in the 1820s, also in Staffordshire. The name was derived from the blue glaze that blurred or “flowed” during the firing process. Most flow blue could be categorized as transferware, as the decorative patterns were applied with a paper stencil to white-glazed blanks.

“Blue and white is a timeless combination that will be popular in perpetuity, for its classic elegance and versatility,” said Pam Briggs, a pottery and porcelain specialist with Leland Little Auctions in Hillsborough, N.C. “The blue transferware styles adopted by makers like Staffordshire in the 18th and 19th centuries made finely decorated tableware accessible to an ever-growing middle class.”

Group of flow blue tableware, Staffordshire, England, 19th century, three tea bowls, a covered sugar, three saucers, a low bowl, three plates (two decorated in the Sheltered Peasant design). Eleven pieces total. Largest plate 10¼in diameter, sold for $240 at an auction held Aug. 4, 2018. Image courtesy Leland Little Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Briggs added, “Traditional designs have lost some popularity in the past 15 years but have recently made a comeback as consumers begin to incorporate classic elements in their home décor to soften other, more modern pieces. The blue Staffordshire pieces that command the highest prices, and are most likely to hold value, are those with historical interest, like ones that depict a landmark building or scene, or those that evoke a personal connection with buyers.”

The multi-cultural element that went into the development of blue Staffordshire was explained by Tom Curran of Litchfield Auctions in Litchfield, Conn. “There’s a reason it’s called royal blue, particularly in England,” Curran said. “Historically expensive, the pigments were originally from the Middle East and used to decorate pottery with classic Islamic motifs, then perfected by the Chinese with their discovery of porcelain. Added to the enormous risks and expense of the early China trade was the closely guarded secret of porcelain.”

Lot of 15 blue Staffordshire dinner plates English, circa 1800. Clews, Adams, Wood, Stubbs & Kent, Longport and others, ranging in diameter from 9¼in to 10½in, est. $600-$900, sold for $700 at an auction held Oct. 13, 2016. Image courtesy Litchfield Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

He went on, “So, blue and white ceramics just screamed class and wealth and we saw the Dutch first copying the Chinese with primitive pottery imitations from Delft. In the 19th century, English potteries in Staffordshire found a huge demand among the general population for affordable imitations of the fine porcelain owned by the upper classes, with blue and white remaining the standard. Even when porcelain and bone china became more common and affordable, the charm of antique Staffordshire made it appealing to 20th century antique collectors for their mantels, china cabinets and plate racks.”

Not today though, Curran remarked. “Antique Staffordshire often has minute chips, crazing and knife scratches, isn’t dishwasher or microwave safe and screams ‘grandma.’ So, collections built over the years have plummeted in appeal and value contrasted with decorative blue and white Chinese ceramics still warm from the kiln stepping in at Walmart and T.J. Maxx prices.”

Historical Blue Staffordshire Soup Bowl the Beach at Brighton with Shell Border, 9¾in diameter, in very good condition, est. $50-$100, sold for $550 at an auction held Nov. 7, 2015. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. (division of Hess Auction Group) and LiveAuctioneers

In his experience, Curran concluded, “It’s unusual subjects and the earliest examples of American historical or commemorative subjects that still sell decently – John Paul Jones, the Boston Massacre, General Lafayette. While the prices aren’t what they were, they’re still terrific examples of the creativity and marketing reach of the Staffordshire potteries of the 19th century.”

Joseph Perron of Merrill’s Auctions in Williston, Vermont, said the intense blue hues of early Staffordshire held an appeal for both collectors and decorators alike, one that endures today. “Whether it be a small arrangement of blue Staffordshire items on a wall or a shelf, or a large collection in a cabinet, their rich colors can have a truly dramatic effect in a room,” he said.

Circa 1819-1835 deep blue historical Staffordshire porcelain plate with transfer decoration titled ‘America and Independence’ showing scenic landscape and Washington memorial cartouche, surrounded by festoon bearing the names of 15 states, 8¾in diameter, est. $100-$200, sold for $175 at an auction held June 21, 2019. Image courtesy Duane Merrill & Co. and LiveAuctioneers

“Also, despite massive quantities of this type of ware being exported to the American market in the 19th century, due to the delicate nature of the porcelain, it is quite remarkable that any of it survives, which makes it all the more coveted by collectors. The combination of the potter’s art combined with the skill of the printmaker executing the transfer designs also broadens the appeal of this type of porcelain. Strong visual themes delight the collector, and detailed depictions of historic events appeal to those seeking a greater understanding of the past.”

As most of the best examples of blue Staffordshire are now in public and private collections, Perron believes the opportunity for discovery of unknown or scarce examples becomes rare, so collectors will compete more for the best examples when they come to the market. “However,” he said, “condition and subject matter will continue to be important drivers of demand. Unusual forms and scenery will continue to demand increasing prices, but more average examples with heavily floral decoration may stagnate.”

English dark blue Staffordshire soft paste pitcher with repair to rim, 7½in tall, est. $100-$200, sold for $110 at an auction held April 22, 2014. Image courtesy William Bunch Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

Perron added, “We see collectors particularly interested in pieces with fantastical depictions of quadruped animals because they’re flamboyantly graphic and employ an endearingly naive sensibility about what was considered ‘rare’ and ‘exotic’ in the 19th century. The historical scene decorated pieces were produced in less quantity than the more typical wares to begin with, so their desirability by collectors will continue to increase. It seems that this type of porcelain is an exception to many other ceramics in that it will continue to hold appeal to both older and younger buyers.

Production of blue Staffordshire, which had already begun to decline in the late 19th century, took severe hits during and following World Wars I and II. Some production in the area still continues to this day, but only a fraction of what it was during its peak years and heyday.

A Vintage Porcelain Collection with Loads of European Elegance

Exquisite European ceramic wares comprise much of the catalog for this week’s Vintage Porcelain sale. From teapots to plates, vases to candlesticks, this collection has it all and delivers with elegance. Here are 6 standout pieces from the collection.

A large ceramic tray designed by Carl Sigmund Luber (1868-1933) and produced by the ceramics firm of Johann von Schwarz in Nuremberg, Germany at the turn of the 20th century is a remarkable example of of Art Nouveau style. The tray, estimated at $700-$1,000, features a hand-painted design of a young woman’s profile with yellow poppies and has a majolica glaze. The nickel-plated, or possibly silver-plated, copper frame has handles on two sides.

Art Nouveau ceramic tray by Carl Sigmund Luber, circa 1901, manufactured by Johann von Schwarz, Nuremberg, Germany. Estimate: $700-$1,000. Jasper52 image

 

18 pieces of mid-19th century Louis-Philippe Paris porcelain dinnerware consists of plates, cups, and saucers. Decorated in royal blue and gold, this lot is estimated at $700-$1,000.

Eighteen pieces of Louis-Philippe Paris porcelain dinnerware, mid-19th century. Estimate: $700-$1,000. Jasper52 image

 

A rare pair of antique Sampson French porcelain lamps, each measuring approximately 20 inches base to socket and 25 inches overall, is estimated at $600-$700.

Pair of antique Sampson French porcelain lamps decorated with an armorial crest and faces. Estimate: $600-$700. Jasper52 image

 

Minton china has been made in the Staffordshire region of England since 1793. 12 Minton luncheon plates made for Tiffany & Co. in the early 1900s are offered at $600-$900. The plates are hand-painted in gold, red and brown decoration.

Twelve Minton luncheon plates for Tiffany & Co., hand-painted decoration, early 1900s. Estimate: $600-$900. Jasper52 image

 

A pair of large Spanish revival garden pots features superbly rendered Renaissance motifs. The palm and the oranges adorning these antique garden pots link them to California. They are estimated at $800-$1,000.

Spanish Revival glazed garden pots, Renaissance motifs, 16in diameter x 12in high. Estimate: $800-$1,000. Jasper52 image

 

Rounding out this 100-lot collection are pieces made in America, like the Claycraft relief tile in the form of an architectural surround. Two small corner nicks are noted on this delicately molded item, which is estimated at $700-$800.

Claycraft decorative relief tile, strongly defined architectural surround featuring peafowl. Estimate: $700-$800. Jasper52 image

 

On the hunt for more porcelain finds? View the full collection featuring additional highlights such as a Jasperware teapot and a Russian Imperial coffee service by Gardner.