Easter is the time of year to celebrate new life – the countryside is packed with chirpy chicks, bouncing bunnies and leaping lambs. However, even if you live in the centre of town, you can still get into the spirit of things by assembling a collection of suitable creatures in your home.
It’s amazing how many toys and ceramic items feature rabbits, chickens and sheep, and they are also popular as decorative motifs on clocks, tins, glassware and cooking utensils.
A look round the kitchen will no doubt produce a few chicken-decorated pieces, a cruet maybe, or a jug, eggcup, kitchen timer or mug. Rabbits and sheep are often featured too – farmyard animals seem to be very much the in-thing at the moment. You might have some cockerel-decorated Torquay ware. Popular in Edwardian times, this pottery, often referred to as motto ware, features a homely sentiment written in freehand, such as ‘Top of the Morning’ or ‘Rise and Shine’. Torquay ware is sought after nowadays, especially the cockerel design; recently an Aller Vale teapot, sugar bowl, cup and saucer sold for almost £100 on ebay.
Naturally, hens and chicks are a popular theme on ceramic eggcups. Sally Henny-Penny appeared on an eggcup in Wedgwood’s discontinued Mrs Tiggywinkle series, while hundreds are hen-shaped. Often found are brittle plastic eggcups – green seems a popular colour – in the shape of hens, ducks and other creatures, which date from the 1940s. Years ago, large pottery chickens were enormously popular for storing eggs and during the 1960s and 70s they became fashionable once more. These can be found quite cheaply; being large are impressive in a Easter display, perfect for hiding your cache of chocolate eggs!
Toy chickens abound; look for the traditional wooden pull-along type which ‘clucks’ when a thin wooden or plastic tag hits a cam as the wheels turn, or those wooden Russian hens that peck when a hanging weight is swung. Laying hens are fun – they deliver plastic or edible eggs when their backs are pushed down. The American company J. Chein and Co., founded in 1903, issued a range of colourful, very collectable, lithographed tin rabbits pushing egg-shaped barrows, while clockwork drumming rabbits have long been favourite toys. In the 1980s, pink battery-operated drumming bunnies appeared, made by Duracell to advertise their batteries. Later, they issued other designs, such as a rabbit carrying a camera.
Perhaps the most famous toy lamb is Larry the Lamb, who made his radio debut in the 1930s. Larry was created by Sydney George Hulme Beaman, and amused thousands of children in pre-television days with his bleatings. However, the most famous sheep is surely Shaun who creates so much ha voc in Nick Park’s animated film ‘A Close Shave’. Lambs, chicks and rabbits also live amongst sets of toy farm animals, whether you choose the traditional kind by Britains, or prefer the new creatures made by the German company Schleich. Stunningly detailed, these plastic models are sold in many toyshops.
Ceramic spring creatures are easy to find, maybe a 1960s Weatherby lamb, a delightful ‘Chick Girl’ figurine by Hummel or Royal Doulton’s Bunnykins series. In the 1950s, Hornsea made a range of posy troughs with lambs and bunnies attached, while amongst Wade’s rabbits, lambs, chicks and hens is the rare Madam Mim, a character hen who appeared in the first Hatbox series in 1962. She stands just under an inch and a half high, and sells today for around £75. The Peter Fagin Colour Box company produced a range of small creatures in their ‘Hopscotch’ and ‘Miniatures’ ranges during the 1980s and 90s. Meticulously modelled, these tiny animals are well worth looking out for.
Another item which you might include in your Easter collection is a delightful Sowerby Carnival glass hen with her chicks. The hen lifts off to reveal a small glass butter dish. This wonderful, iridescent glass, dating from the early twentieth century, is very collectable and seems to reflect rainbows. Similar hen dishes are made by other manufacturers, while companies such as Wedgwood, Swarovski and Caithness make charming glass chicks, adding a sparkle to any display.
Sometimes craft shops sell wooden Easter ornaments intended for an indoor tree – a few hazel twigs in a vase, adorned with these ornaments and tiny chocolate eggs can look stunning – while early, delicately tinted Easter cards, decorated cardboard or tin eggs, and perhaps a fluffy lamb or chick will make a perfect display to welcome the spring.
DID YOU KNOW?
Beswick issued superb cockerels designed by Arthur Gredington which look ready to crow.
1 Wemyss have long been famed for their cockerel and hen decorated pieces, amongst them a two-handled white vase showing a group of brown chickens.
2 Kelloggs cornflakes use a cockerel as their logo, and sometimes feature token-collect offers of tempting items featuring the bird.
3 Character chickens abounded in the animated film ‘Chicken Run’ by Nick Park and were produced as soft toys..