Collecting Articles and Features

Victoriana, Victorian Staffordshire and Victorian Collectables


staffordchimneyfiguresThe term Victoriana covers a vast and interesting group of generally low-priced, mass produced wares, typical of the period.

Pictured left: A pair of mid 19th C Victorian Staffordshire spill vases. Image Copyright Bonhams.

Such wares as Staffordshire chimney ornaments and printed pot lids can still be found at a relatively low price and have a certain unpretentious charm, lacking in the costly porcelains of the period.

A wide range of Staffordshire earthenware figures was produced throughout the Victorian era. These figures were manufactured by means of simple plaster of Paris moulds, the original design being kept as simple as possible to facilitate the rapid and cheap production of these pieces. All Staffordshire figures of this type were made in a white earthenware body, with the exception of some rare early models occasionally produced in porcelain. It is an exception to find a marked specimen.

staffordshire cottagesDuring recent years many collections have been formed and research carried out on the many named historical portrait figures in this category. The named portraits cover almost every field, from Queen Victoria down to notorious murderers and included a long series of War heroes and politicians. Many of these can naturally be dated to within a few years. While these historical figures have a special interest, they also have a drawback in that they are being keenly sought after and tend to be correspondingly expensive.

Pictured right: A pair of mid 19th C Victorian Staffordshire cottages and covers. Sold at Bonhams for £348, Knowle 2010. Image Copyright Bonhams.

Vast scope still exists for the collection of the untitled purely Victorian sentimental figures and groups which prove so decorative, even in the most modern decorative schemes. Charming animals, cottages and castles (often watch stands) were also produced and can still be acquired at a modest price.

Although these wares are generally attributed to the lesser Staffordshire potters, many examples were produced in other regions some of the Scottish manufacturers issued many models, including typical Scottish fishergirls. Of the Staffordshire manufacturers, Messrs. Sampson Smith were undoubtedly the foremost producers of these cheap decorative wares.

victorian staffordshire chimney dogs

Pictured left: A pair of mid 19th C Victorian Staffordshire spaniel chimney dogs. Sold for at Bonhams for £96, Knowle, 2007. Image Copyright Bonhams.

Other types of Staffordshire earthenware include the wellknown dogs made in various patterns. These ” Staffordshire dogs” were made over a long period, the chief manufacturers being Messrs. Sampson Smith of Longton and William Machin of Hanley some late examples being produced by John Sadler of Burslem.

In the late 1840’s various patents were taken out by Felix Pratt (and others) for the rapid manufacture and improved method of decorating pot lids, etc., and multi-coloured underglaze printing was introduced successfully for the first time on a commercial scale. The process called for a series of different copper plates each transferring one particular colour on to the transfer paper until the complete picture was built up. This method naturally depended on accurate registration or positioning of each successive copper plate.

The Pratt coloured prints quickly became popular, a range of objects decorated in this manner was included in the 1851 Exhibition. Perhaps the best known examples are the ” Pot” Lids, to be found decorated with a vast number of different patterns.

staffordshirecatsDessert sets, vases, teasets, tankards, etc., were also produced and decorated by this method and offer interesting scope to collectors seeking colourful and reasonably priced wares. Specimens are to be found bearing the signature of Jesse Austin (b. 1806 d. 1879) who was Pratt’s chief engraver for over 30 years and who worked on this specialised type of multi-coloured printing.

Pictured right: Mid 19th C Victorian Staffordshire recumbent cats.  Sold at Bonhams for £312, Edinburgh 2013. Image Copyright Bonhams.

Jesse Austin had earlier been apprenticed at the Davenport Works. He joined Messrs. F. & R. Pratt & Co. at Longton circa 1845. For a brief period he joined Messrs. Brown-Westhead, Moore & Co. after a misunderstanding with Pratts, but soon rejoined them and continued to engrave for F. & R. Pratt until his death in 1879. Apart from original compositions by Austin, many celebrated paintings from both English and Continental sources were reproduced on Pratts earthenware. Other manufacturers made use of this process, noticeably Brown-Westhead, Moore, T. J. & J. Mayer and G. L. Ashworth.


The heading” Victoriana “permits the writer to digress and mention some of the other interesting aspects of Victorian ceramics. Parian figures and groups can often be found bearing inscriptions relating to ” Art Unions.” The most important of these was the ” Art Union of London ” founded in 1836. In return for an annual subscription each member was entitled Parian bust of the Prince of Wales, issued by the Crystal Palace Art Union, Circa 1864. to participate in an annual draw the top prizes being works of art (chiefly paintings from Royal Academy Exhibitions) valued at some hundreds of pounds. Other prizes of low value designed by the foremost designers were awarded on a large scale.

Pictured left: A Collection of Pratt Ware Pot Lids and Other Victorian Pot Lids. Image Copyright Bonhams.

The Art Union movement gained in popularity and was legalised by Act of Parliament in 1846 having previously contravened the laws relating to Lotteries. Various smaller Art Unions were formed, notably the Crystal Palace Art Union. Prince Albert gave the Unions every encouragement. “feeling assured that these institutions will exercise a most beneficial influence on the Arts.” This was indeed the case; the Art Union of London was instrumental in popularising the new parian body, the reproductions of famous sculptured figures and groups in this body being especially suited to the requirements of the Art Union as the copies were cheap and easy to reproduce in quantity.

Many special works were commissioned by the Art Unions who, at the peak of their popularity, had vast sums of money at their disposal. Their ceramic interests were not limited to parian wares, prizes in ” Majolica” and the normal pottery and porcelain bodies were commissioned and numerous examples may still be found, marked to this effect. ‘

summerlyfiguresA similar effort to bring welldesigned utilitarian objects within the reach of all was the ” Summerly’s Art Manufacturers” founded in 1847 by Henry Cole who, under the pseudonym” Felix Summerly ” won a Society of Arts prize for a simply designed teaset in 1846. For some three years Henry Cole caused to be designed various objects by the leading artists and designers of the day. These pieces were then commercially produced, in the case of ceramics, by Messrs. Minton and Wedgwood. Examples bear marks or inscriptions denoting their connection with the Summerly scheme and can be dated 1847-50.

Pictured right: A pair of Parian figures of Joan of Arc Mid 19th century – Produced from 1848 from moulds by John Bell R.A. Commissioned by Henry Cole for his Summerly’s Art Manufacture, the first modelled in bare feet and with a bundle at her feet, the second with her in armour, 35.5cm high, inscribed John Bell/February 1848 and date code beneath for 1851. Sold for £624 at Bonhams, Edinburgh, Dec 2009.

In contrast to the high quality painted decoration on Minton and other factory porcelain the collector of Victorian ceramics will often come across examples with a decidedly amateur appearance, lacking in design and drawing and painted with dull muddy colours. These are indeed amateur decorated pieces, for during the 1870’s and 1880’s a craze swept the country for the home decoration of pottery and porcelain.

The vogue was further encouraged by the publicity given to Minton’s Art-Pottery Studio in Kensington Gore and by the popularity of the Doulton wares decorated by young female students from the Art Schools. The London retailers, Messrs. Howell & James, held annual exhibitions of amateur works from 1876. These exhibitions were extremely popular and were patronised by Queen Victoria and other members of the Royal Family. ” This exhibition of 1878 contained upwards of 1,000 original works, mostly by ladies, and was frequented during its two months duration by nearly 10,000 visitors.” Examples of amateur work can occasionally be found still bearing the Howell & James original paper label giving details of the painter, source of design, date, etc.

Similar exhibitions were held up and down the country and numerous books were published Amateur decorated plate, painted by Miss Woolfe. Exhibited in 1886. Note absence of gilt border. giving instruction on ceramic painting. Various manufacturers catered for this trade by supplying undecorated blanks and many of these bear Minton’s impressed mark. The amateur artists invariably signed and dated their efforts which have a special interest in that the paintings were not influenced by factory traditions or by commercial requirements. Gilt edges, etc., associated with factory products are noticeably absent on amateur decorated pieces.

Among the many unusual Victorian wares typical of the period, mention must be made of the small unpretentious porcelain plaques moulded with a recessed pattern. On holding these pieces up to a strong light, the picture comes to life in wonderful effects of light and shade. These porcelain plaques, called lithophanes or transparencies, were very popular in the middle of the nineteenth century and were mounted in windows, clipped in front of candles or mounted in sets to form lamp shades, occasionally examples were tinted for added effect. The vast majority of these lithophanes were made on the Continent, but various English manufacturers produced them under licence.

Mention has been made of but a few of the varied, inexpensive classes of Victorian ceramics that may still be found without undue trouble and which afford interesting and decorative subjects for collection.