Staffordshire figure

Staffordshire figures are a type of popular pottery figurine made in England from the 18th century onward. Most Staffordshire figures made from 1740 to 1900 were produced by small potteries and makers' marks are generally absent. Most Victorian figures (1837 to 1900) were designed to stand on a shelf or mantlepiece and are therefore only modelled and decorated where visible from the front and sides. These are known as 'flatbacks'.

Spring, from a set of the Four Seasons, Neale & Co, c. 1780, 5 1/2 in. (14 cm)
Collection of Staffordshire figures in a museum in Delaware[1]

Figures were mainly made in Staffordshire but also in other counties and Scotland; all these may loosely be termed "Staffordshire figures". The figures described by the term are normally in earthenware, though early ones may be in stoneware, and the more expensive porcelain figures by the larger potteries in Staffordshire and elsewhere in England are not normally included under the term. These reflected metropolitan and international styles, and were more carefully modelled and painted. For a period at the end of the 18th century the finest Staffordshire figures attempted to compete in this market, but gradually makers abandoned these attempts and settled for a larger mass-market buying cheaper figures.

Three pairs with parsons drunk or asleep in church, the latter known as Vicar and Moses, and deriving from a print by William Hogarth.[2]

Of the huge variety of figures produced, the Staffordshire dog figurine was the most ubiquitous, especially as a pair of King Charles Spaniels for a mantelpiece. Once cheap, Staffordshire figures are extensively collected in the English-speaking world, and modern imitations and forgeries abound. The rarest figures, mostly early ones, can sometimes fetch prices into six figures. A pew group of c. 1745 sold for $168,000 at a Christie's auction in 2006,[3] and in 1987 Sotheby's sold one for $179,520.[4]

The figures vary considerably in size: around five to seven inches tall is the most typical for a standing figure, though equestrian figures and bocage groups often reach ten inches. The largest figures, from about 1780 to 1810, can be 20 inches tall, and the smallest as little as 2 inches. They have been keenly collected over the past century, although even the late mass-market figures are now expensive, and there is a considerable literature devoted to them.