One of my favorite antiques to buy and collect in England are the wonderful Staffordshire figures from the 19th and 20th centuries. The simplicity of these figures give then an almost folk art quality. I think that is what makes them so charming to the avid collectors all over the world.
Brief History of Staffordshire Figures
The Staffordshire figures get their name from the county where they were made, Staffordshire which is located in the West Midlands of England. Most of the major potteries in England are located in this part of the country. The figures that most people collect today are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. There were beautiful figures made in the eighteenth century, but these more expensive figures are not what most people collect. Some of the figures from the earlier part of the 1800’s were more detailed and also more colorful. But this article is going to focus on the figures most of us collect. Most of the really skilled workers, which were men in Victorian times concentrated on more expensive and higher quality pottery. The Staffordshire figures we are discussing were usually decorated by women and children. There were no child labor laws and child labor was cheap. These figures were designed to sell to the middle class of Victorian England. You would not find these charming figures in the households of the nobles and upper class. Here is a video to show many different examples of Staffordshire figures.
One reason these figures are so popular is because they are readily available. There were millions of these figures made. Because many of these were decorated by children, there is a wide difference in the quality of the decoration. You will often see the same figure painted in many different ways. Some will be mainly white with some black highlights while others will be much more colorful. These older pieces of Staffordshire will not have any makers marks.
What Determines Price of Staffordshire Figures
Before I get into the specifics of what determines values of the various Staffordshire figures, let me issue a warning. Shop carefully when you want to buy a piece of Staffordshire. I see more price variations on the same pieces of Staffordshire than almost any other English antiques. In Dallas, I have seen the basically same pair of Staffordshire dogs be priced anywhere from $495 to $1295, and everything in between. That is quite a difference for the same item in the same city. So you have been warned, especially if you are an impulse buyer, shop carefully.
Also these guidelines are general guidelines, and there are many exceptions. I mentioned the differences in color above. As you would expect, the more colorful Staffordshire figure will bring more than the plain one. A popular example is the figure Robin Hood. Many times you will see this rather large figure in basic white with some black highlights and a little orange for color, like the photo You can also find a more colorful version ,but not nearly as many of these. See the colorful example in the header of this site. So not only do you have color, but also the scarcity of the item being a factor in pricing. As with most antiques, the more rare a piece the more valuable.
Condition is important, but not as much so as with other collectibles. Because the pottery figures were not of the highest quality, there were often imperfections in the manufacturing process. The figures also chip easily. But small chips or hairline cracks on the back don’t bother some collectors.
People Collect Different Staffordshire Figures
The historical figures tend to be more expensive than animals. Some of these large historical figures can easily cost over a $1000. The large figure of Shakespeare shown in the photo is an example. Again, remember these are general guidelines. There are some rare animals like elephants and donkeys that can be expensive. Certain colors that are more popular with collectors affect the price. A great example of this are the very popular Staffordshire King Charles spaniels. The red ones are the most expensive, followed by black, then the copper luster ones, and finally the white ones which are the most plentiful and least expensive ones. There are probably more dogs than any other figures.
Many times collectors will specialize on certain Staffordshire figures. There are so many different subject matters. The Victorian English people were fascinated by famous crime figures and there are many Staffordshire pieces depicting these. For people that love the theatre, there were famous actors of the time. There were the lovely little cottages that were often made into money boxes. And I could go on and on with the list.
Since these were massed produced for the average people, accuracy was not always a top priority. The photo of the zebra shown is one of my favorite whimsical examples. Notice the long mane like a horse. They simply took the figure of a horse and painted it like a zebra instead of making a separate zebra figure. But these type of things are what adds to the charm for most collectors.
If you have never bought any of these charming figures before, I encourage you to start. You can find inexpensive ones for under $100. Hopefully you will join the ever growing ranks of collectors of those wonderful Staffordshire figures.