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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Old Cupids

( Originally Published 1913 )



Here are two groups of rare old boys, chosen out of a collection of forty. To talk of old Cupids seems a contradiction in terms, for Cupid, surely, is always a boy, eternally young. Yet not one in these pictures is less than eighty years old, and some of them are more than a hundred and fifty.

Cupids from Chelsea and Bow. I rather think this kind of boy originated at Chelsea; you hardly find him indigenous at Dresden or Sevres. " Cupids for desarts " they were called in the catalogues of early Chelsea auction sales, and also " large boys " and " small boys." " Desarts " meant dessert-services, and when the cloth was drawn these dainty little lads were marshalled in fours upon the gleaming mahogany, Joseph and Tummas setting them gently down to guard the Chelsea fruit baskets in the centre. You note that most of them hold baskets themselves, though the centre Cupid, pure Chelsea and finest of them all, holds a nest of birds instead, and the Bow boy at one end holds a dog in his arms. Flowers blossom between their feet, and spring up behind their heels in miniature bocages. The Cupid costume consists of a wreath of blossoms and a sash, but the two " small boys," you notice, do not wear even that. Yet they all have idyllic garlands on their heads.

You may know a Bow Cupid when you meet him by his angularity, in addition to the well-known usual signs of " Bow." The modelling at Bow was defective; the limbs are ungainly, the funny-bones are too much in evidence, the arms are awkward and too long. Notice also that the Bow boys hold their baskets at the sides; the Chelsea boys put one hand under the basket. You can tell the Chelsea boys also by the translucency and brilliancy of their glaze, the roseate tint of the flesh colour, and their dove-coloured hair. The Bow boys are dark-haired, or red-haired, some of them. Very seldom do you find a Chelsea Cupid marked, and only one of the Bow boys shows the red anchor and dagger. But they are all "soft" china, of course, and the green of the leaves and the red-pink of the blossoms are characteristic of " Chelsea " and " Bow."

Derby and Chelsea-Derby. The second and fifth boys, counting from the left, in picture number one, are Chelsea-Derby ; the third and fourth are Derby. With Derby and Chelsea-Derby Cupids you expect to find a numeral incised in the base, at the bottom of the pedestal (on the rim of the pedestal, I mean), just where the pedestal touches what it stands on ; the numeral, a " 5 " or a " 2 7 " or so, is in clumsy figures, hand-scratched. (Cupid the wig-maker (the first in this picture) and Cupid the barrister (the last) are old " Berlin," finely modelled and coloured; in the latter the W for " Wegeley " shows in blue just above the edge of the base. The remaining Cupid, all milk-white, is " Bow.") The central boy has a necklace of gilding, and his complexion shows the veiny brown discolora tion so characteristic of " Derby." The white boy with the dog at the foot of the tree is " Derby biscuit " ; to feel the base of that figure is to know the perfection of " soft " porcelain, exquisitely smooth, saponaceous, gentle, and yet firm; this particular example of the figure is quite perfect, and makes his owner proud; because Sir A. W. Franks thought an imperfect one, with the dog all broken away, quite good enough to rank in the central showcase of the English china room at the British Museum. He cost two pounds, however; he bears a workman's mark incised, that is like an X inside a square. Chelsea-Derby Cupids are usually high-coloured, the hair of Venetian red, and the greenery and flowers correspondingly brilliant. (The red of Cupid the barrister's muff is deeply crimson.)

Earthenware Cupids. Whatever Chelsea, Bow, or Derby sent forth in porcelain, Staffordshire, or other parts of England where there were humbler potteries, imitated in earthenware. If you look at the other picture you will see at its extremities two Cupids of potware that are imitative of Chelsea. I have seen Cupids like them which are marked " Cambrian Pottery," but I am not at all sure that some of their species are not " Leeds," for they show the blue glaze of the Leeds white-ware. Similarly, the very elaborate young person on a square pedestal may be " Leeds " ; the characteristic chocolate-coloured band is seen across the pedestal, and he evidently belongs to the family of the two I have just mentioned; moreover, I bought him in Belgium, where so much " Leeds " was sent. How absurdly and delightfully these figures caricature the china Cupids-unintentionally caricature them, while aiming to copy them-must be seen in the real and the large to be fully understood.The second from the left Cupid is Japanese, and earthenware. The Cupid on the dolphin's back is a flagrant imitation of a Crown Derby one, to be seen in the Derby Art Gallery. It was probably made by Ralph Wood, for the shell it holds consists of Wood's porphyritic paste, and the base in shape and colour resembles Wood's work. The dressed Cupid with the shepherd's crook and the dog is one of Walton's, for " Walton " is embossed at the back, and Walton's peculiar worm-like, or caterpillar-like, frontal ornament can be seen on the pedestal, which is of the true Walton green.

Prices and Counterfeits. In the average dealer's shop they will ask you thirty shillings for a smallish Bow, Chelsea, Chelsea-Derby, or Derby Cupid, and for the earthenware copies of them thirty shillings a pair. The earthenware pair here pictured cost seven shillings only, however; the Walton shepherd cost only half-a-crown ; several of the Chelsea and Derby Cupids cost 3s. 6d., 5s., 6s., or 7s. each only. For the Chelsea " large boy " fifteen shillings were given. The marked Bow Cupid cost a guinea. At any price you can hardly expect to buy an old Cupid that is perfect, for the flowers and leaves of the bocages and baskets are usually chipped away in parts: The Bow boy with the dog in number one, and two Chelsea-Derby Cupids cost twenty-seven shillings in one lot, by auction at Sotheby's. But I saw a friend of mine pick up two Chelsea-Derby Cupids for five shillings the pair, and there are still a few such bargains to be had now and then.

Chelsea Cupids are much counterfeited; you will hardly look in a pawnbroker's shop-window without perceiving a brace of such forgeries, offered at ten to fifteen shillings the pair. But they are " hard," the colour lies on the outside and does not sink in, the green is dull and brownish, the flowers are not lustrous, and the modelling is too Frenchy and not sufficiently simple.



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