THE MYSTERY, GLAMOUR, AND HUMOR OF 19TH CENTURY
ENGLISH CERAMICS BY ARLENE PANNULLO OF ARLENE
English Ceramics offer a charm and naiveté that is hard to resist, and the porcelains are as sophisticated and fine as it is possible to be. This includes colorful and collectable Staffordshire figures, puzzle jugs, and pastilles as well as Creamware, Delftware, and my personal favorite: Polychrome Decorated Transferware. There are names like Leeds, Chelsea, Bow, Derby, Bristol, and Minton among many others. Whatever your taste and decorating interests, English pottery and porcelain will fit the bill.
I was initially attracted to all things Blue and White, which is forever popular with decorators for what it can do to transform a room. Patterns upon patterns, shapes of all kinds all a jumble, each one blending and complimenting the other so that the whole effect is breathtaking. That set me on a journey that I have yet to finish.
I am in love with Creamware - the late 18th early 19th century Creamware. Just the feel of it - so light with a smoothness like nothing else, and the color - a soft vanilla off-white that is so elegant that I once did an entire room around it, using the Benjamin Moore paint color Linen White. The early Creamware shapes are beautiful and rare: chestnut baskets, plates, mugs, reticulated trays, and teapots with twisted handles. I want them all! But my favorites are the painted and transfer-decorated pieces, such as teapots that have been transfer decorated and then painted. Children's plates and mugs with names were given as christening gifts or as rewards of merit, plates and tankards with humor, or moral verses that give a glimpse to the mores and social ways of the times. The choices are endless and the charm of it is something I always respond to. These pieces were decorated by women and children, since England had no labor laws at the time. As their hands were small, the painting was left to them, and how wonderful it is. One of my favorite transfer decorated mugs, probably a long ago wedding gift reads:
A little Health, A Little Wealth A Little house and Freedom And at the End A Little Friend And Little Cause To Need Him
It's always interesting for a dealer to notice the beginning of new trends in the tastes of collectors and no one is in a better position to observe them. Dealers are the first to open their door and the first to learn what the collector is looking for. The popularity of decorated transfer ware has been growing steadily for a while now. I've sold things in this area to Dustin Hoffman who bought an early Creamware child's mug with the transfer "Idleness Brings Disgrace," I've also sold to Martha Stewart, Martha Ford, the Belafontes, Joanne Woodward, and several museums. Dealers work with clients who are developing collections, and seeking out hard-to-find pieces. They're also finding homes for pieces that no longer fit.
Then there is the subject of Staffordshire figures which allow the imagination to go into high gear. People have made collections of reading figures, literary figures, stages of life, and war. Whole collections have been built around crime, performing arts, sports, temperance, religion, and naval figures. Bocage figures are very popular. Ralph Wood and Walton are two of the desirable names to collect here.
Animals are collectable, too: pugs, cats, zebra, and giraffes. Many were originally sold at traveling fairs that went around the countryside, when many people got their very first glimpse of such exotic animals. And who can overlook the Staffordshire spaniels that decorated many a Victorian mantle? Or even that famous scene in War of the Roses when Kathleen Turner smashed Michael Douglas' Staffordshire collection piece by piece.
Collecting Staffordshire British Royalty figures is another area where your imagination can run wild. Figures, plates, a variety of commemoratives - and many collectors know the names and lives of the 18th and 19th century Royal Family as well as that of their own family.
You can be elegant too with porcelain dessert sets. The colors and patterns were usually inspired by the factories in France and Germany, and China influenced the earliest ones. Tureens, comports, beautifully shaped plates and trays set an elegant table and make for excellent display pieces. Here I stray a little because Old Paris talks to me, I can't help but respond to the elegance of the decoration and the shapes.
Botanical plates and pieces are interesting, too. The designs were taken from early prints and are faithful to them. A great thing if you can afford it is to have the porcelain and the print that inspired it.
Now for some tips:
Buy the best you can afford, condition is key. No restorations, chips, breaks or damage. It may cost more but these are the pieces that will increase in value.
Always look at the bottom of the piece. It should reflect normal wear, scratches, some darkening of color around the edge. Feel with your fingers for scratches or chips that may not be visible to the eye. Run your fingers over the entire surface for hairline cracks.
With Bocage figures, inspect them from the back first. If it's been restored this is where the restoration will show.
Things look best displayed in groups and always odd numbers. Groups of 3 or 5 attract the eye, while even numbers bore it. And if you have the space go all out, there's no limit to the number in a grouping.
When working with an unfamiliar dealer, if something about a piece that nags you, ask the dealer if s/he will buy it back at a future time. Most reputable dealers are happy to take back their merchandise. If the dealer won't, reconsider.
Bottom line: if you love something, buy it. If it makes you smile, it may just belong in your home.