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Staffordshire Dog Figures

English potters, particularly those of Staffordshire, were most versatile. In addition to a wide variety of useful wares, they also produced ornamental pieces of all kinds. Among their decorative objects, figures of dogs were favorites, probably because the English have always been an animal-loving people.

Dog figures in either porcelain or earthenware were made at most of the important potteries. Finer ones of porcelain were produced in somewhat restricted numbers and in small sizes at Bow, Chelsea, Derby, and Worcester. At Staffordshire, on the other hand, those of earthenware were turned out by the thousands. These figures included spotted coach dogs, greyhounds, poodles, and whippets, but it was in their representations of the floppy-eared spaniels that the Staffordshire potters excelled.

They made them in all sizes, from miniatures not over an inch high to practically life-size ones as much as thirty inches tall. They were usually modeled in a sitting position and often made in facing pairs. Many had an all-over brown glaze without added decoration, but the majority were produced in white with faces, fur markings, collars, and leaders in colors and gilt. The most popular colors were brown, red, or a deep shade of purple known as aubergine. Touches of gold were often added.

Smaller spaniels were made solely as shelf or cabinet ornaments; larger ones sometimes had a practical use. When modeled with the dog sitting on an oblong base, the figure was designed to be used as a door stop. Since the base was always a little larger than the dog, it protected the glaze of the latter from being scratched or chipped in the course of its somewhat hazardous use. Largesized ones without bases were intended as mantel ornaments or for the tops of tall pieces of furniture, such as a flat-topped secretary or bookcase.

During Early Victorian years-about 1830 to 1860-spaniels were fashionable as lap dogs and most Staffordshire spaniels were produced during these years. They were always modeled in a somewhat artificial pose with the head turned at right angles to the body. There was also an almost human cast of countenance to the face. This accounts for much of their appeal and charm to collectors today.

At first glance, these Staffordshire spaniels may look alike, but closer study reveals many slight variations. A physician of my acquaintance is very proud of his collection of over fifty pairs, all different. He gathered them over a period of years and is still on the lookout for another pair unlike any in his possession now. His spaniels are from three inches tall to nearly fourteen inches.

Probably because they were made in such numbers, the spaniels were not marked. So it is impossible to identify them further than to say that they are Staffordshire, made sometime between 1800 and 1860. Those of finer modeling and color are usually the earlier examples.

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