Views: 12144 Added: 04/14/2009 Updated: 04/14/2009
|Will Rogers advised, many years ago, "Buy land, they're not makin' any more of it". This philosophy is easily applied to the number of true antiques available in any category. However, that does not mean that there are no more look-alikes, later versions, copies, or fakes. Staffordshire spaniels are no exception, and it is in the collector's best interest to learn how to tell the old from the new, the best from the mundane, and the winners from the also-ran.|
There are no hard and fast rules to follow; these charming canines were made by many different potteries in the Staffordshire area of England, they each used their own molds, and their wares were all decorated by hand. No two figures were alike. However, there are guidelines that should help the beginning collector.
AGE is of paramount importance, as there are many later copies and fakes. Most of the true antique spaniels were made between 1840 and 1870, but a few of the Staffordshire potteries continued into the 20th Century. The Kent Pottery purchased old molds and re-cast many models in the early 1900's, and even today reproductions are coming from England and Asia.
The later English versions are often stamped on the base "Staffordshire", "Ye Olde Staffordshire", "Staffordshire Potteries" or "Made in England". The Asian copies are tougher to spot. They enter the country with paper labels indicating their origin, but these labels often conveniently disappear. One must look for other signs that indicate more recent manufacture.
The most revealing aspects will be found underneath. Check to see if the piece is hollow cast (no base other than the foot rim). Early Staffordshire dogs were rarely made this way. Also, every dog has to have a small hole somewhere for heat to escape during the firing process, or the piece would explode in the kiln. The hole should be small, around an eighth of an inch. Later versions have needlessly large holes, sometimes the size of quarter. Last, examine the foot rim, the outer perimeter of the base. If no glaze is there, if it feels chalky, or if it is covered in grey ash, take these things as caution signs.
Take note of the quality of the painting. Is it appealing? Many later dogs show a sort of slap-dash paint scheme. Finally, look at the crazing on the dog. Crazing is the network of fine lines from the firing process. If you find dark crazing that appears evenly over the entire surface it is probably artificial. Another caution sign.
CONDITION is important, and a bit easier to determine. Look for chips, paint loss or obvious repairs in the vulnerable places; the nose, the tail, the tips of toes. Much of the paint on Staffordshire dogs was applied over the glaze after the firing process, and is subject to deterioration from normal wear. A competent restorer can easily fix the damage, but it should be a consideration.
MODELING should be considered. Many forms were produced; seated dogs are the most common, standing dogs somewhat more rare. Pay attention to the degree of difficulty involved in the making of the dog. A solid, of-a-piece dog was easier to produce, and less vulnerable to breakage than dogs with more detail. A dog modeled with one separate front leg is a somewhat better example, and two separate front legs raises the ante higher still. Some Staffordshire dogs had utilitarian lives as jugs, pitchers, and pen holders, or were fashioned as spill holders (spill was twisted paper used to move fire from the hearth to a candle or pipe).
Look for overall quality in the modeling of each piece. Dogs with flat backs are later and not as desirable as those that have been carefully modeled all around. The more detail in the model, the better. It means the potter took the time and effort to make a better mold.
Dogs modeled with families, or children alongside or astride are sought after and quite charming. Dogs with their puppies are appealing and sought after.
Spaniels were originally made in pairs and can sometimes be found that way. A matched pair is more valuable than two singles of the same quality. Sizes range from miniature (2" high) to large dogs often over a foot tall. Many of the potteries molded numbers on the bottom of the dogs, #1 (the largest) down to #6, but the sizes varied from pottery to pottery. Advanced collectors often try to assemble a matched set of six pairs, an expensive and daunting task.
COLOR is mostly a matter of personal taste, but the collector should be aware of what is most available and what is hardest to find. The commonest dogs are the red (or rust) and white. Black and white appears less. All-white dogs are to be found, but are not as much sought after. Jet black dogs, the only Staffordshire dogs fashioned from red clay and known as Jackfields, are rarer. Pink/copper lustre dogs can also be found, but even though relatively rare, they are not avidly sought out by collectors.
RARITY is the last of the important criteria. In addition to references above, there are variations to which the collector should pay attention. Groups of spaniels in a single mold are desirable. Spaniels with baskets are rare. Perhaps the rarest of all are the spaniels smoking pipes. We've had only two pairs in thirty years in business. If you find a pair hold on to them: they're not makin' any more of 'em.
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