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Cottage Ornaments

( Originally Published 1905 )



THERE are collectors, or perhaps I should say there are persons, who would be glad to be collectors if they could find some class of objects which would not take too much space to house, nor too much money to buy. They would not mind if the acquisition of their treasures was slow and difficult if, when found, each object was a joy and a delight.

" Cottage Ornaments," as they were called, fills such a want; and as many of them have histories, or were made in connection with some event of importance in England, there is much agreeable study connected with an intelligent grasp of the subject.

These small ornaments were made by the early potters to serve as mantel decorations ; and while figures of great worth and beauty were put out by such famous potteries as Bow, Derby, Chelsea, Plymouth, and from the German, French, and Copenhagen factories as well, it is with the Staffordshire products chiefly that I propose to deal.

These earthenware figures were made not alone in Staffordshire, but at Leeds, Bristol, Fulham, Liver-pool, Newcastle, and Sunderland, Swansea, Caughley, and several other places; but they are all classed under the head of Staffordshire. As they are generally quaint in their old-fashioned style and strong colouring, they are interesting as giving pictures of the costume, manners, and customs of the time when they were put out.

Many of them deal with homely, everyday subjects ; and when in pairs it was the fashion to have a man and a woman as may be seen in the pretty dairyman and milkmaid which are given in Figure 321. These are of the old creamy colour which is so characteristic of bone paste, and, as is also common with this class of figures in a cheaper grade, there is a sparing use of colour in the figures themselves, although the bases are made to represent green grass and a brook which runs blue water. The milkmaid has a pretty little pattern on the bottom of her petticoat, in that rich, dark shade of blue which is ever such a favourite with the potters, and the hair of both is brown. As you hold in your hands the satiny paste, note its extreme lightness, and feel how smooth the bottom is worn with frequent movings when the shelf was dusted, you do not mind that there is not much colour, and thank your stars that you happened along in time to secure it, and that it was absolutely perfect.

In answer to correspondents in both this country and England as to what is my special hobby, I will now admit that it is Staffordshire Ornaments, and when you have had the pleasure of gathering a dozen or two of these treasures you will admit that the hobby is one which is full of pleasurable surprises.

The earliest of these figures, and a kind which it is almost impossible to find in this country, were made of a coarse pottery and covered with slip and then deco-rated. Indeed it is hard to secure such even in England, for while it is true that this branch of pottery has not attracted many private collectors till recently, it has been in demand by museums, and it is generally in repositories such as these that you run across these queer old pieces. To tell the truth many of them are too grotesque to be attractive, particularly the cats and owls which were such favourites.

The salt glaze are as rare as the slip figures, but there are many museum figures which may be studied. I have seen them with both single and double figures, a favourite type being two lovers sitting under a tree and holding hands. These salt glaze figures have no colour, and have the curiously pitted surface like an orange peel, which is a marked feature of this ware. There are several collections of salt glaze figures in England, those of Mr. Willet and Dr. Sidebotham being peculiarly full of interesting specimens. These figures are generally small, colourless as has been stated, except the eyes, which are represented by round bead-like dots of black or brown, giving a very startling effect. Many of the salt glaze figures are charming, since they are usually modelled by hand, the prettiest which I have seen being the seated figure of a boy, drawing a thorn from his foot. The figure is quite perfect, though tiny, as it is only three and seven-eighths inches high.

Marbled figures, called " Astbury marbled figures," are quite as rare as the salt glaze, particularly in this country. They were produced frequently in two-coloured clays, with the same beady eyes as the salt glaze ones, but they have a softness of colouring and a smoothness of feel to the touch that is most attractive. These figures were first made in about 1743 by the elder Astbury, and then by his son Thomas, and probably by other potters as well.

Thomas Wheildon, who potted about 1750 and made mottled and agate ware, also put out many different figures, busts, officers on horseback, a man and woman on a horse, she seated on a pillion, and many dogs. If you find any of these figures in this country, set it straightway in the centre of your collection, let no profane hand dust it, and keep it as long as you can. I know one such dog, seated on a fine green cushion, but alas he is not mine; he was far too costly for my collection. Like the other styles mentioned, these mottled figures were made at other potteries, and their harmony of colouring, soft browns and yellows, always made them attractive. Busts of Milton, fourteen inches high, the " Market Girl," Alderman Beckford, and several groups are all fine and eagerly sought by collectors.

In order to give some idea of what prices the choicer figures from the celebrated old potteries are worth, I will give a few figures showing the prices which they have brought at auction sale within the last few months at London. " A Chelsea figure of Lord Cambden, £30. A pair of figures, Derby, shepherd and shepherdess, £63." In February, 1904, the collection of a Mr. Kidd, who had been collecting for fifty years, came under the hammer in London. Among many hundreds of examples I take the following: " Seated figure of a lady holding a basket in her lap, two lambs at her feet, richly decorated scroll, Chelsea, nine inches high, £21."

" Pair of statuettes, shepherdess and shepherd, richly coloured, Chelsea, eleven inches high, £38 17s."

The Staffordshire figures run much lower, of course, the range of prices within my own experience going from thirty-five cents for a tiny group of two children, to seventy-five dollars for a six inch bust of Shakespeare, one of the rare and fine ones by Wood, beautifully modelled and coloured, and in perfect condition.

The choicer china and porcelain figures are no more artistic and pretty than the pottery ones from Stafford-shire. The mode of manufacture was the same, for when the figure came from the mould in the fresh paste, it went into the hands of the " repairer " as he was called, the head was stuck on, as were the legs, arms, dogs, lambs, vases, and other accessories, the lines of the drapery were sharpened up, the colouring applied which covered many defects, and then the object was glazed. This glazing destroyed many of the finer lines by filling them up, and in many of the examples which I have it can be seen that only certain colours were applied under glaze, — vivid orange, apple-green, pink, all of them favourite colours, being applied over glaze. Sir Charles Napier shows plainly that he was cast in a mould, for the lines of the edges show clearly (see Figure 322) The oldest figures are hollow throughout and are open at the base; those that have a closed base always have a hole in them somewhere. Sir Charles has it in the middle of his back.

That collector of Staffordshire who aims to have his collection as choice as possible, will tell you that these figures are roughly divided into two periods, the Early and the Victorian. He speaks with much contempt of the latter. The Early pieces were made by such potters as the Woods, Ralph, Aaron and Enoch, Wood and Caldwell, Neal, Voyez, who at one time worked for Wedgwood, Wedgwood himself, Wheildon, Walton, Adams, Lakin and Poole, Wilson, Bott and Co., Turner, Edge and Grocott, Hall, Salt and I. Dale, and many others. Besides the pastoral groups which were made, there were many religious and classical as well as domestic subjects. The marked specimens are exceedingly rare, since it seems to have been the general custom not to mark them.

" The Flight into Egypt " was a great favourite. One example of it is given in Figure 323, top row at the right. Pray observe the rotundity of the figure of Joseph, and the abundant cut of his trousers! The English potter was nothing if not fanciful in his portrayals. Falstaff was another popular figure. He is in this same figure opposite " The Flight," and below him on the left is one of those classical figures so much in demand during the last years of the eighteenth and opening decades of the nineteenth centuries. The central group at the bottom of this picture is not Staffordshire properly, but Bristol, and exceedingly charming and dainty it is.

High class figures were often copied in Stafford-shire. Compare the Falstaff in Figure 324 with the one just seen. The latter is Crown-Derby, and worth in pounds what the other is in pence. This is but one of the many instances to be found. In this same picture the middle figure is a well-known old one, called " The Hunter." It is one of a pair, is hollow and marked " Walton," one of the eighteenth century makers, who was known for his excellent work. The third figure is also charming. " Andromache weeping over the ashes of Hector." This subject was treated by the works at Leeds as well as by the Crown-Derby porcelain works. All these three pieces are exceptionally fine as might be expected, for they belong in Salem, Massachusetts, that repository for so much that is rich and rare.

In Figure 325 are a number of subjects, and two of the portrait busts. The large figure in the centre was for a bunch of flowers or dried grasses, and there were many double figures or single ones for this purpose. I have a group of two seated in a bower with the vase part between them. They are not very choice since they lack colour, but a nice dog makes part of the group.

A double figure group is shown in Figure 326, charming in colour, and it is too bad that his hat is chipped off, for otherwise the figures are perfect. In Figure 325 may be seen two figures with tree-like backgrounds. This class of specimen is called " boskies," from the French term bocage. Such backgrounds are more common among the porcelain and china figures from the high class potteries than among the Staffordshire ones. Few figures with them can now be found in a perfect condition, for these twigs and sprays are so fragile that they were easily broken, as were the swords and spears with which so many of the figures were armed. Both of the Falstaffs had swords originally in the right hand.

In the next Figure (327) is shown a miscellaneous group of figures, the soldier in the centre being the oldest and best. The watch-holder to the right is now mine, and is marked on the base " Milton." Imagine that poet in a sprigged matinée dictating " Paradise Lost " to his weary daughters ! The next best piece in this group is the rooster. He is old and good, and this bird has al-ways been a favourite with the potters. Next in order of value and interest are the dogs, and the collecting of these animals alone occupies the attention of many distinguished collectors, some of them choosing only what is known as the " spotted dog." One collection already numbers two hundred and fifty pieces, each one different. The dogs shown in Figure 327 are to my taste the least interesting of all the varieties. In the next picture, Figure 328, are shown two of my own which are spirited and fine. The spotted one is by far the elder, and is perfect with the exception of a crack near the base. He is of bone paste, light and soft, and every time I look at him, particularly if it be near the full of the moon, I expect to hear him howl. He looks all ready to bay the moon. The recumbent dog is a fawn-coloured greyhound, a lovely creature lying on a dark-blue cushion, in which is a small opening for a pen, as he is an inkstand.

There are several other patterns of greyhounds, also guardians of ink, which I hope to acquire to make my collection complete. There is also a standing one with a hare in his mouth which is very nice, and one may get at least eight different patterns of greyhounds. There are also some small Pomeranians, like those to be seen in Figure 325. Indeed, the collecting of dogs is a most inviting field, for when you have the greyhounds all complete, there still remain the pointers, of which there are many patterns, before you come to the spaniel, which is in reality the " spotted dog." After you have all the dogs, whole dogs, which you can get, you can then take up the faces and masks, a branch of the subject which, though difficult, is engrossing. These heads of dogs and foxes were used as whistles, or for handles to canes and hunting crops, for paper-weights, and apparently for wall ornaments as well, since some of them are to be found life size. Sir Walter Gibney has a collection of seventy-three of these, nearly all of them of Stafford-shire ware, ranging from the early mottled and agate or tortoise shell wares, to those of later times, which were coloured to life. There was hardly a firm of potters, whether of porcelain or pottery, which has not turned its hand to the making of dogs. Go where you will, at Worcester, at Bow, at Battersea, where they enamelled them, at Rockingham, at Chelsea, at Burslem, they all made dogs. Go to Holland and you will find the Dutchman had his favourites too, though he will colour them blue to keep his blue cows in company; but they are attractive for all that. Even from our own potteries came dogs of many colours and sizes, but those will be mentioned later.

In Figure 329 of course the most eagerly sought figure is the Franklin, nine inches high. This is one of the old pieces and always attractive. Franklin has the credit for being more often produced in porcelain and pottery than any other one person, not even Washington excepted. His long residence abroad, his picturesque personality, particularly the fur cap which he was so fond of wearing, made him a welcome figure to the potters; and there is no drinking vessel too grand or too humble but that you may, perchance, find his face on the inside or out, nor was there any pottery too coarse for a statuette of him. The figures of the cobbler and his wife are well-known and good examples, but the " Omer Pasha," which also has on it " Success to Turkey," and the Uncle Tom and little Eva are too modern to be very valuable.

The next group (330) is from my own collection, and the figures are of varying degrees of merit. All are well coloured and most of them well modelled; but one only is old, and even that is not more than eighty years of age. This is the Cricketer, on the upper row. His head has been broken off and glued on; and when the owner sent it to me she apologised for this defect, and also for the damaged nose, by saying that for years it had been the chief treasure in a lively family of thirteen. It seems strange that any of it survived such wear and tear. The three figures in the top row are the stars of the collection: the Cricketer on account of his age, the middle figure on account of the tragedy which led to her being perpetuated in pottery, and the seated figure on account of the story connected with my getting it.

The middle figure says on its base Emily Sandford, and you might not think to look at her grim expression that she had ever had a lover. She did, however, and his name was Henry Rush. He was the tenant of a house called Potash Farm, and his landlord was the owner of the Stanfield Estate, and lived in an imposing mansion called Stanfield Hall, which was a regular " moated grange." For some reason or other Rush attempted to murder his landlord, the latter's wife, and, indeed, the whole family. He did succeed in killing some of them and wounding others, and he disposed of the bodies in the moat. Emily knew all about it, and, finally told the whole dreadful story; and Rush was hanged in front of Norwich Castle, his being the last public execution to take place there.

All England rang with the horror of these deeds, which took place more than fifty years ago; and a set of Staffordshire ornaments, were made, five pieces in all, consisting of Emily, Henry, Potash Farm, Stan-field Hall, and Norwich Castle. These latter three pieces were of the style of ornaments, which were used to burn pastiles or scented tablets in, the perfumed smoke coming out of the chimneys in realistic style. I show some of these houses in Figure 331. The only collector who is known to have anything approaching a complete set of the Rush pieces is Prince Frederick Duleep Singh of England, who has four of the five, the Norwich Castle being wanting. In my own case, I am on the lookout for Rush himself; and when I secure him I shall be content to let the other pieces go, as the houses are bulky and not pretty in colour or form. I have never come across one of these houses in this country, though there are of course plenty of them here if one could find them. The castle with the clock is the oldest; but the middle one shows that class of ornament which appealed to peasant humour, the pitch-fork being particularly in evidence. All of these three examples have little sprigs and bunches of flowers scattered about the base, and these were also put on most of the figures. Many of them are highly coloured, and they add considerably to the gay appearance of the ornaments.

Coming almost into this branch of pottery were jugs, such as is shown in the following Figure (332) . It is easily recognised as a caricature of Napoleon, the hand over the breast and the uniform being perfectly distinctive. It is an old and rare piece, but is in proof condition and shows its careful handling.

So popular were the Cottage Ornaments that more than one firm of American potters endeavoured to supply the market with such a class of articles, which they managed to sell for fifteen and twenty-five cents. The ornaments made at the Novelty Works, Bennington, Vermont, were made from 1847 through the next ten years, and have now become so rare that they command extraordinary prices. They were sent about the country by means of pedlars; and while the more useful articles made in this brown mottled ware have long since been reduced to bits by hard usage, some of the ornaments, like the dog and cow shown in Figures 333 and 334, are still treasured in remote farmhouses as well as in the cabinet of the collector. The dog is an example of the best class of work produced at the Bennington works, and similar ones are also to be found in white. I saw a pair on sale in New York this last summer. They were of very heavy white pottery, and have weird blue eyes, which give them a Dutch look, and make them far less attractive than when made in the homely but rich-tinted brown ware. The cow answered for a cream jug as well as an ornament, the lid on her back admitting the milk, while a hole in the mouth was used to pour it out.

All the patterns from which these articles were made were destroyed by fire in 1873, and since that time their value has steadily increased. These little potteries up in the mountains of Vermont acquired a wide fame, and potters came from all over the world to work in a place where each man was allowed to work out his own ideas. The mottled ware like our two figures, to make it of value, must have stamped on it either the circular impressed mark, " Patent Enamel, 1849," or the mark " U.S.P.," which stood for United States Pottery. It is not safe to trust to your own judgment about unmarked pieces unless you know all their previous history. Be sure also that they, are in the fine shades of brown, green, and olive which distinguished this ware from the English Rockingham.

There are two or three collectors who have made a special hobby of getting these Bennington pieces, some of them living in Vermont, where they had special opportunities of securing authentic specimens.

Two other ornaments, more curious than beautiful, are shown in the last Figure (335). They are the work of Pennsylvania potters about 1860, and were found near New Oxford, in that state. One of them is a bird, which might belong to any species which is fancied by the potter, who seldom lets fidelity to nature interfere with his idea of what is ornamental. But the other shows an eider famous from mythological times for her habit of stripping her own breast to provide down to line the nest for her young.

In many of the museums of this country there is an excellent opportunity to study the figures which were once so common; and before one embarks on the delightful pursuit of collecting them he should become familiar with the popular patterns, the colours which were generally used, and the general appearance of the ornaments.



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