Early Staffordshire Pearlware Pottery Dandies Bocage Group
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - In a nutshell
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures are earthenware figures made in England, mainly in the county of Staffordshire, but also in other counties and in Scotland up until the time of Queen Victoria.
Another term used to describe 'early' figures is 'Pre-Victorian'. The broadest use of the term would include all earthenware figures made circa 1740 to 1840. The period we cover in our modest introduction to these fascinating objects is from 1780 onwards.
The figures fall into overlapping groups:
Choice of subject matter evolved in response to popular taste. A multitude of unknown small manufacturers produced most of the Staffordshire figures we see today.
With the exception of Walton, marked pieces are rare.
Early Staffordshire Pearlware Pottery Lion
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - Appeal
Pre-Victorian Staffordshire Pottery Figures resonate with social history. They are a testament in pottery to the pleasures and pastimes of ordinary folk from 1780 to 1840.
Life was in some ways vibrant, but in no way easy - many children died very young, and adults too - life expectancy for ordinary people was extremely low.
They make stunning decor
Within the genre are pieces to enhance almost any theme: plainly decorated pieces fit perfectly with the clean, minimalist look. A single large piece will highlight a corner. A hutch of figures all sporting a similar colour scheme, may be chosen to co-ordinate with complimentary colors, in the surrounding space. All manner of pieces are available to fit with mountain or country themes.
They are hugely collectable.
Collectors too, are spoiled for choice of direction. Some will focus on one particular period, maybe Pratt ware, or Pearlware. Or they may choose to collect only bocage figures, or Sherratt, or table-base, or religious; or particular animals e.g. zoo animals or domestic, cats or dogs; or they may limit themselves to oversize figures. The options seem endless.
Working Early Staffordshire figures into a design theme can make a powerful statement of connectivity between past, present, and future.
Pottery - Stoke-On-Trent
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - Manufacture
Wet clay was pressed into molds and allowed to shrink dry a little for easy removal. Press molding was used exclusively during this period.The individual molds were then stuck together with slip to produce a figure, then fired, driving out all water content, to form the biscuit.
It is essential to keep in mind that manufacturing processes evolve continuously. Visualize the development, over many generations, of constructions, molds, methods, modeling style, choice of subject matter, formulae for glazes, enamels and gilding, and ovens and kilns.
And recall the wide diversity of potters and artisans and factories, adapting to change at different speeds. At any one time there would have been significant variation in the end product of all these different enterprises. This may help to explain why an unusual looking figure is not necessarily 'wrong'.
Early Staffordshire Prattware Cow Figure
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - Types
There are various ways to group the different types of Staffordshire figure.
By form: Bocage figures; table groups; busts; plaques; etc.
By theme/subject: Religious; theatrical; domestic animals; farm animals; buildings; etc.
By genre: An easy choice in this period given the clear distinction between Prattware and Pearlware.
PRATT WARE - Circa 1780 to 1840
Distinguishing Features: Distinctive painted underglaze colours.
Subjects: Naval and military heros: Wellington, Waterloo 1815; Nelson, Trafalgar 1805. Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France, conquered most of Europe, represented good change in government with Napoleonic Code 1804 making the law fairer for working classes. Curiously popular with the British public despite being the enemy. Ordinary soldiers and sailors; royalty and other celebrities; scenes of smoking and drinking. Reveling, hunting, shooting, sport and archery; animals and rustic scenes. Classical figures.
Makers: Pratt, Barker, Emery, Dixon, Austin & Co, Ferrybridge, and a host of unknown makers.Pratt ware was made in many forms: Candlesticks, cornucopias, dishes, flasks, jugs, mugs, tea-caddies, teapots, and vases, as well as figures and animals, plaques and watch-stands.
Manufacture: A limited range of colors consisted of black, brown, blue, green, orange, yellow, and mulberry puce, all metallic oxides uniquely able to withstand high temperature in the kiln. They were painted on the biscuit, dried, covered in transparent lead glaze and the object fired at around 1100 degrees Centigrade.
Pearlware Circa 1800 to 1837
Also known as Pearlware, Early, and Early 19th Century.
Distinguishing Features: Characteristic blueish greenish greyish tinge to the white lead glaze; decorated all round; frequently open bases; often multiple molds.
Subjects: Classical interest continued with themes including biblical, legends, rustic, animals, passtimes, etc.
Many unashamedly imitated the fine porcelain figure and bocage groups of Meissen, Chelsea and others. Then something new - potters for the first time in history conveying the visceral thrills of bull baiting...and wild animals which in life were seen only in traveling menageries.
Makers: Sherratt, Lloyd, Salt, Walton, and many unknown makers.
Manufacture: Taking over from Pratt wares simple underglaze colors, a more extensive palette appears, mainly as enamels on top of the glaze, often meticulously applied. The figure receives its enamel decoration after glazing and is fired again at a lower temperature. Finally gilt decoration of the best gold, old dull gilt variety, might occasionally be applied and fired for the last time at a low temperature. Multiple molds producing very complex figures were now in production. Not only the front and back press-molds of the main body but also the flowers, leaves and branches of bocage groups as well as arms, legs, spades, swords, etc. were all separately molded then pieced together and smoothed with slip before firing. In the most advanced state the art of Staffordshire figure making ever reached, multiple figures were assembled on plinths with legs. These figures are known as table groups.
Makers & Dates Summary
Anyone looking for a profusion of makers names, marks, back stamps or date marks on Early Staffordshire figures will be sadly disappointed, though there are exceptions. Most figures are not marked. If a printed mark is found the piece is almost certainly 20th century.
Attributions can sometimes be made by comparing a hitherto unattributed figure with a positively identified figure or group of figures. Characteristics such as painting style, formation of bases, detail of bocage elements, use of underglaze colors, quality of modelling, size of head and feet, etc. are used.
A circa date of manufacture however can usually be determined, not by marks but by other characteristics.
20th Century Copy of an Early Staffordshire Pearlware Pottery Figure
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - Real vs Repro
The safest way of being sure you are buying the real thing is to purchase from a reputable dealer who guarantees authenticity. Make a habit of asking the right questions.
'What age is it?', Where was it made?, 'How do you know?' Vague answers mean the seller does not know or will not tell.
REAL: Original. Pratt ware figures were made circa 1780 to 1840. Pearlware figures, circa 1800 to 1837.
REPRO: Reproduction or copy of an original often using molds taken from original pieces. Objects have been copied or reproduced since time immemorial. Some examples of honest repros: Pratt ware gothic cottage re-issued by Kent during 20thC as Campbell Cottage, listed in 1955 Kent catalog; 1750 Chelsea porcelain bocage groups copied by Walton in circa 1820, pearlware, marked; 17thC Sevres porcelains copied by Minton in 19thC bone china, 1830, marked; 1750 Meissen Welsh Tailor and his Wife copied by Derby in 1760, marked.
The repros we have to watch out for are those being sold or re-sold purporting to be older than they actually are, either through ignorance or deliberate intent. For example the Welsh tailor and his Wife have continued to be copied repeatedly, usually without marks, often with incorrect date attributed.
Concentrating here on pre-Victorian figures, to detect real from 20thC repro for yourself, first concentrate on just two characteristics: Base glaze and foot-rim. These two will identify 80% of the repros. You are looking for signs of Early (c.1780-1840) manufacture (real), compared with 20thC manufacture (repro).
BASE GLAZE: Look for a thick syrupy base glaze distinctly tinged with color compared to typical 20thC repro bases where the glaze is thin and colorless.
Here are some further pointers, indicators, warning signs to look out for, for when the base glaze -foot rim examination is inconclusive, or when you are not 100% confident in the seller. Never judge a piece by one or two of the following indicators alone, as exceptions abound.
-Marks. Pre-Victorian figures with fake Walton and Salt marks exist.
-High value selling cheap. A danger sign in any market.
-No flaking of the weaker enamels, no wear and tear.
-Hurried, less elaborate or minimal decoration on an allegedly older piece.
-'Fuzzy' modelling, lack of fineness in detail.
-'Wrong' colors. Some 18th/19thC colors could not be mimicked with 20thC enamels.
-Wrong faces. A figure with an oriental look was probably not made in Britain.
-Slip casting - indicative of 20th Century manufacture - evidenced by large vent holes on closed base pieces, smooth interiors on open base pieces.
-Rough texture to the glaze or enamels.
-Dark stained crazing.
Compare real with repro side by side whenever possible, handle every piece you can and you will quickly learn to distinguish one from the other. It is easy when you know what to look for.
Rare Staffordshire Pearlware Pottery Crucifixion Group
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - Value
Factors that affect value are: rarity; age; provenance; condition; appeal; color; quality of workmanship; artistic merit.
Wear and damage is to be expected. Pristine un-restored pieces are extremely rare. Many sellers do not draw attention to repairs and restoration in as much detail as we do.
When buying don't forget to ask 'Is there any damage, repairs or restoration?
Depending on how well the work is done and the rarity of the item, any damage, and the extent and quality of any restoration will affect value.
Spotting damage and restoration:
If your eyesight is not great, use a lens and bright light.
Damage: Look at the most vulnerable areas first.
Restoration: Look for slight changes in color. Look for a disappearance of normal crazing. Feel for a change in texture. Feel for a change in hardness - teeth will do, but are no longer recommended; tapping lightly with a sharp steel implement works well - the softer acrylic of the repair can be distinguished by feel from un-restored enamel or white glaze.
Ralph Wood Staffordshire Pottery Lion, c.1780
Early Staffordshire Pottery Figures - History Timeline
Here are some significant dates, in the history of Early Staffordshire Figures.
- 1790’s Emergence of Middle Classes
- 1791 Bill of Rights
- 1801 Population of England 8.3 million
- 1815 Napoleonic Wars end with Trafalgar
- 1833 Slavery Abolition Act
- 1835 Bull Baiting became illegal
- 1837 Coronation of Queen Victoria, aged 18
- 1838 People’s Charter
- 1840 Queen Victoria married Prince Albert
- 1841 Bristol to London Railway completed
- 1842 Income Tax introduced
- 1843 Charles Dickens Christmas Carol published