What is so enchanting about Staffordshire figurines? Their humble, hand-painted, nostalgic shapes are so easy to love. I distinctly remember the Staffordshire Spaniel displayed in our home from childhood. We had just one, not a pair. It was special a one though, for many reasons. It belonged to my maternal grandmother who had passed away before my birth. It was a symbol of her presence for both me and my mother in our home. My mother’s family had a series of Cocker Spaniels as family pets and for many years I thought our Staffordshire spaniel was a Cocker not a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel- not that it really mattered!
Staffordshire, an inland region in the middle section of England, is rich in fine clay soil. Potters have been making fine bone china and ceramics since the early 1700’s in this region. Stafforshire figurines achieved their heyday in the Victorian era. Figurines included both domestic and wild animals, architecture and people, both common and historic. Figurines were typically not signed and were made for the common home to adorn the mantle (notice the the fronts are more stylized and adorned than the backs). Animals include mainly dogs (King Charles Cavalier spaniels, Dalmatians, pugs, greyhounds, etc.), hens, parrots, zebras, elephants, lions, leopards, deer and cows. The King Charles Cavalier Spaniel was the chosen pet of Queen Victoria and thus the most popular and produced. Human figurines included royals, including Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, historic figures, figures from popular culture and from exotic lands like Turkey and the Far East. English cottages and historic buildings were also popular.
It is pretty easy to discern original figurines from more recent reproductions. The older figurines were made using press molds and the later reproductions were made using slip molds. It is easy to tell the difference between the two as the press mold-made figurine will have a small hole and the reproduction will have a dime-size or large hole on the underside. Older ones have hand-painted characteristics, noticeable brush strokes that are not an exact match across pairs of figures. Gold lustre paint was used on older figures but is dull with age, not shinny and reflective like newer reproductions. Older figures typically do not have any potter’s marks or factory stamps. Newer figures have “made in England” or “Staffordshire” stamps on the underside.
So back to my ‘special spaniel’, which now resides with me. The finish is shinny but slightly dulled by age. The hand-painting is carefully done and shaded in some areas. The whiskers are individually painted with a small brush, as with the outline of the eyes and eyebrows. The spots on the back (not typical on reproductions) are purposefully placed and the lustre paint on the collar and chain leash has some ‘love’ to it – worn in some areas and beautifully dull. My dog is tall – almost 11″ and very heavy. It has no marking or stamp on the bottom, only a small hole. But, as mentioned above, this is not the main reason why this is the favorite of my Staffordshire figurines.