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( Originally Published 1963 )
Rogers' statuary, referred to as "Rogers' Groups," was an American origination that became as customary in a parlor, as the horsehair-covered sofa, from the late 1800's to about 1915. Probably many of the 100,000 estimated to have been made are still in the closets, attics, cellars, and barns where they were shoved to get them out of sight in the 1920's.
John Rogers was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1829. He studied sculpture in Europe, but became discouraged and returned home. Not long afterward, his first group of small figures called "The Checker Players" was so well received that it started him on a new career. Rogers' Groups are not great sculpture, but they are good folk art. The reproductions-the original was not sold-were made of plaster of Paris and painted a sort of mud color. Rogers created some 80 to 100 different groups in all. One of the largest was "Council of War," which depicted President Lincoln, General Grant, and Edwin M. Stanton. Many were based on sentimental and homelike subjects, as their names-"The Cherry Pickers," "School Days," and "The Town Pump" -imply. "First Love" showed a boy and girl with arms entwined. Rogers' Groups were too large for whatnots, and so were usually displayed on a small high table or possibly the sideboard.
Plaques to hang on the wall had been made by European and English potteries since the mid-1700's. These were porcelain, luster, and various kinds of pottery such as Delft. Wedgwood made handsome plaques of jasperware. Wall plates, which became popular in Victorian days, ranged from scenic Delft to less distinguished ones with paintings of fowl, fruit, and flowers. Finally, in the 1880's, came the smaller china plates with a pierced or lacy edge through which ribbon was threaded. The centers usually had an innocuous hand-painted design.
Bric-a-brac included highly colored pottery or porcelain houses in miniature. These were often quite complete scenes. A doghouse would have a dog peering out of the door and his dish attached to the house at one side, or a miniature farmhouse might have a girl looking out of a window at animals around the doorstep. Miniature porcelain houses were made at Meissen and at English factories noted for porcelain. There were many Staffordshire ones. Some of the smallest houses (4 1/2 by 2 3/4 by 1 1/4 inches) had a slot in the roof so that they could be used as banks, and these were often given to children as gifts, instead of other toys.
Porcelain and many kinds of pottery were made into cases for mantel and shelf clocks. A good many of these cases were Holland Delft and charming floral ones were made in other countries. Believe it or not, a certain number of china picture frames were made too. Oval ones in mottled brown Rockingham glaze duplicated the oval frames of mahogany and black walnut. This mottled brown glaze also was used for mammoth curtain tiebacks, different but not nearly so attractive as the pressed glass ones.
Bottles with matching stoppers were made for cologne and perfume. Corks usually stopped stoneware bottles and the pottery ones in various "character" forms. Majolica bottles might be shaped like a duck or parrot, among other forms. Not yet old enough to be antique are the attractive Delft bottles in which bols, a Holland gin, was put up now and again, and the Royal Copenhagen decanters for Denmark's Cherry Heering.
It's easy to recognize a Rogers' Group or Staffordshire spaniels. However, reproductions and outright fakes are plentiful in the field of porcelain and pottery. So-called antique Meissen may prove to be quite recent Meissen, or not Meissen at all but from another Dresden pottery. The porcelain expert is guided by coloring, glaze, character of the body, modeling, and decoration. Whether a piece is marked or not, he can tell whether a figurine is eighteenthcentury or twentieth-century Royal Worcester, whether a Toby jug is English, American, or a copy made in Europe or Japan. The number that so frequently is the only mark on the bottom of a vase, figure, or other china ornament is little or no help in identification.
The criteria for judging figures, groups, and other ornamental ware correspond to those for table china. A statuette or a porcelain group may have a hand, finger, or head broken off, or the piece may have been knocked over and shattered. It's unusual if some small part has not been broken and glued back in place on any figure a century or more old. In the opinion of expert George Savage, a broken figure or group that has been put together so that the damage hardly shows and that has required only minimum restoration of parts does not have to be discarded. It not only can be sold but would be worth buying. If a hand, a finger, or the rose a ballerina held in her hand has been replaced with a new one that has been carefully modeled and colored, the value of the piece should not be lessened to any great extent. The skill with which restoration or repairs have been accomplished determines how seriously the damage must be rated from a financial standpoint.
China has such a universal appeal that almost anything can be sold. A pancake dish may bring less than $5 at a country auction, but might be sold to a collector for a little more because these dishes are not common. If you get together a miscellaneous lot of pieces, including perhaps a couple of platters, a large soup dish, and a couple of cereal dishes from late-nineteenthcentury tableware sets, it may be better to offer the assortment to an auctioneer or dealer. Throwing in a hatpin-holder or hair-receiver that you don't know what to do with may spell bonanza to the individual who eventually buys the lot. This is not a money-making way to sell old china, but it is a good way to get rid of odds and ends and receive a few dollars in return.
Remember that there are people who collect hatpin-holders, mustache cups, and pitchers. Any one of these that can be classed as rare or scarce because of its decoration or the type of pottery is worth hanging on to until a customer who collects that sort of thing comes along. A shaving mug that shows a bookbinder at work could be sold right now for $40. Other occupational shaving mugs bring prices from $20 to $100 or more. Collectors also are extremely interested in cups and saucers, butter chips, mugs, tiles, and small boxes.
Platters are quite common. Tureens are not, and consequently even plain ironstone or white granite ones bring comparatively good prices. A white granite tureen can be sold for $10 to $35 depending upon the pattern - that is, if it can be authenticated as having been made during the 1800's. Staffordshire tureens start at about $50, and a rare pattern or a commemorative design sometimes can be sold for two or three times that amount.
Sets of tableware with only one or two of the dinner plates and perhaps a couple of sauce dishes missing can be sold too. Haviland sets in the dainty floral patterns so popular during the 1880's and 1890's arc not fashionable in this decade, but because they are porcelain eventually find buyers. In a small city such as Glens Falls, New York, a Haviland dinner set of approximately 100 pieces might bring no more than $50. In metropolitan areas, the same set might well sell for between $100 and $200. This is a likely example of appraisal and selling price being far apart.
A single piece or a two- to five-piece set for a washstand is readily salable. Prices will depend on the kind of china, its decoration, and condition. A five-piece set, however, could bring $25 to $3>. A washbowl in good condition should be worth $5. A plain white ironstone washbowl and ewer might be sold for as much as $15, but a pair with floral decoration should bring $20. Again, prices at country auctions may be lower.
A Delft inkwell made before 1875 should not be sold for less than $20. A Royal Worcester porcelain pitcher, 5 inches high, decorated with flower sprays and honey gold, is currently worth between $25 and $30. Tobacco jars bring $15 and up, according to the kind of pottery, form, decoration, and size.
Jasperware has been made since 1775, so be sure of the span of years before making up your mind how much you want for a piece. A green jasperware wall plaque made in the nineteenth century should bring about $15 if it's 4 inches long, $25 if it's about 7 inches long. Either a blue or green jasperware box in good condition can be sold for $15 to $20 or so, depending on its size and shape. A jardiniere is worth at least $40, as would be a pair of candlesticks 5 inches or so tall.
A bust of a girl in bisque that has been colored should be worth $10 to $15 to someone. Parian ware is worth at least as much, although the price varies with the subject. A Parian bust of President Garfield probably could not be sold for more than $15, although one of George Washington or Napoleon would bring between $20 and $30. Figurines start at about $15 and can be priced much higher depending on their intricacy.
A selling market is developing for Rogers' Groups, which have been ignored for a long time. So many were produced that prices are still modest, but at least they can be sold. Rogers' first group, "The Checker Players," brings no more than $25 in this first revival of interest in his work. His largest one, "The Council of War," is quoted at $75. The average selling price for most of his groups remains between $20 and $35.