Tips of the Trade
Staffordshire potters make a wide variety of figures.
Staffordshire pottery often depicts animals.
Inconspicuous damage to pottery has little effect on price.
Original Staffordshire potters didn't use the blue glaze found on this cat.
This little sheep inkwell is worth about $100.
One of the most common types of Victorian pottery seen on ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is the Staffordshire figurine, made in the English county of the same name for over 200 years. "Of all the Victorian pottery, it's one of the most available," says David Lackey, of David Lackey Antiques and Art in Houston, Texas. "And they're easy to collect." Medium-sized pieces in good condition often sell for less than $600, he notes.
More on Staffordshire figurines, one of the more common types of Victorian pottery
250 Years of History
During the late 18th century, potters created figurines with fine detail and rich colors. However, the figures that most people collect today were manufactured in factories during the Victorian period of the mid- and late 19th century.
The laborers in these pottery factories, coming from the England's working class, often worked for six days a week and 12 hours a day. The skilled pottery painters of the day, by and large men, worked on higher-end pottery and porcelain. Unskilled women and children painted the Staffordshire figurines. "These were painted quickly and freely," David notes. "They have an almost folk-art feel that gives them a certain charm."
Staffordshire figurines were made inexpensively and sold at reasonable prices to middle class buyers. "You never would have found one of these in the home of royalty," says David, noting that people began collecting Staffordshire figurines in the 20th century.
Staffordshire figurine factories have manufactured pieces depicting animals, politicians, and even buildings, but all are not equally prized by collectors. David says that famous people are often the most valuable, whether they are royalty, politicians, actors, or even sports figures. However, in cases where there are numerous copies of one person, such as Queen Victoria, the value drops markedly. Cats and rabbits, as well as exotic animals such as elephants, zebras and tigers are usually more valuable than Staffordshire dogs because they are harder to find, David notes.
Quality Matters Too
The sharper a piece's molding and detailing, the more valuable it is. Collectors also pursue pieces with rich, dark colors. "A Staffordshire man with bright green pants, a bright blue jacket and a rich black hat is the type of piece that's worth more," says David. "The same piece that is brightly colored is worth two or three times more than one that isn't."
Condition Is Not So Important
"Damages and manufacturing flaws are much more acceptable on Staffordshire figures than in most other areas of collecting," David says. "Very minor chips, cracks and manufacturing flaws don't effect the price very much."
David says that flaws only matter when they become visually distracting. "If a woman's nose is broken off it will have more effect on the selling price than if the same chip is on her back," David explains, noting that people who usually buy the figures care most about their appearance. Staffordshire figurines often have damage because they are made with low-fired pottery, making them less durable.
20th Century Reproductions
Manufacturers have made Staffordshire reproductions throughout the 20th century and they are still being made today. Pre-World War II pieces are very decorative and are usually of higher quality than the ones made in the latter half of the 20th century.
One way to distinguish old pieces is by their lack of marks. David notes that if you see deep gouges or scrapes on the bottom of a piece, it probably means some marks were scraped off to make them seem older. "It's usually very obvious and it should raise a huge red flag," David notes. Also, look to see if the gold trim is worn, which is often the case in older pieces. New pieces often are painted with a bright and brassy gold as well as other more garish colors.
Many forgers try to make Staffordshire figurines that look older than they really are. "One of the most confusing things is the dirt," says David. "They put fake dirt on these. It's sprayed over a piece like a brown film to look like old smoke. Sometimes they rub the dirt into the cracks and into the glaze. They even rub bits into the unglazed portion on the bottom of a piece."
Colors can also be a give-away. "You'd never see this blue on a real Staffordshire figure," says David, pointing to the modern-day cat shown here. "These transfer-decorated roses are very suspicious as well." The best way to become familiar with authentic Staffordshire figurines is to look at them—and handle them—with a dealer or collector you trust.
"The older ones tend to be much heavier than the new ones," David notes. Still, detecting new from old can be difficult. "The old ones were made by hundreds of different factories and they all had different ways of painting and molding their pieces, so there's no one rule for assessing them. You have to look at all the features to make a decision about a piece's authenticity."
Price to Pay
While there are exceptions, most Staffordshire figures sell for under $1,000. All other things being equal, larger pieces usually sell for more than smaller ones. Some of the largest, in good condition, usually go for $500-$1,000, with medium-sized pieces going for between $300-$600. Small ones, such as the sheep inkwell shown here, start at about $100. For the reproductions made after the late 19th century, David says you should pay whatever you are comfortable paying for purely decorative pieces.
More ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Tips from the Pottery & Porcelain category:
Firing Miss Daisy: What Happened at Wedgwood? (Houston, 2006)
Next of Kiln: The Overbeck Sisters (Houston, 2006)
What's the Word: Garniture? (Houston, 2006)
School of Mines Pottery
The Tafoyas: Legends of Pueblo Pottery (St. Paul, 2005)
What's the Value of Research? (St. Paul, 2005)
How Much to Buy "Spring"? (Portland, 2005)
How to Be a Porcelain Pro
Detecting Fabergé Fakes
Dennis Gaffney is a freelance writer in Albany, New York. He has been a regular contributor to ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online since 1998.