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Victorian Staffordshire Figures

Victorian Staffordshire  flatback figure of Paul and Virginia
I started buying Staffordshire figures when the collecting bug got me after buying three at an auction. I don't think there could have been any Staffordshire collectors in the room at the time as I got them rather cheaply.

Flatback figures as they are known were made without decoration on the back, as they were usually placed against a wall or chimneybreast in Victorian houses, to add some colour.

Underglaze cobalt blue was discovered in about 1830, and began to be applied to Staffordshire figures. Before this discovery, there were no colours that could stand the high temperatures of the glazing kilns. Prior to this discovery, only overglaze enamel colours, applied after glazing, were used on figures, a method that was to continue alongside the use of cobalt blue. Cobalt blue is an indicator of the period between 1840 and 1865, and was widely used.

After 1865 cobalt blue was no longer in use; and overglaze enamel colours were used exclusively. Eventually, very little colour at all was used. By the1870's most figures were produced in white, and a less expensive form of gilding was introduced, which was painted on after firing which made it a much cheaper method of production.
Pair of Staffordshire cow creamers
The gilding used is also a good guide to dating; the early form of gilding is called "best gold", a softly coloured gold, applied at the same time as the overglaze enamels; later gilding, "bright gold", is harsher and shinier.

If the figure is dirty, stand it in a plastic bowl of warm soapy water and use a small sponge or soft toothbrush to clean the crevices. Taking care not to get water inside the figure through the air escape hole in the back. Drain well if you do.

More information on Staffordshire figures.

Middle class Victorians loved clutter. Flatback Staffordshire figures crowned their fireplace mantels; transferware dishes lined plate racks and sideboards in their large dining rooms. On every table stood figures, animals, vases, and other ornaments produced in the thousands by the Staffordshire potteries.

A combination of the right clays, inventive potters such as Josiah Wedgwood and available labour, often children, made the Staffordshire district in the centre of the china industry. Many small forgotten factories as well as the giants such as Spode, Wedgwood, Adams, clustered in the towns of Burslem, Cobridge, Fenton, Longton, Stoke and Tunstall, now incorporated in the present day town of Stoke-on-Trent.

Thousands of transferware patterns printed on dinnerware poured out of factories and across the Atlantic to eager American buyers. But it was the colourful production of painted and glazed Staffordshire pottery figures that captivated Victorians on both sides of the Atlantic.

Most Staffordshire models of animals and historical figures that we see today are the work of the 19th century craftsmen; earlier 18th century examples by Ralph Wood, father and son, Whieldon and Pratt are scarce and costly. The earliest figures, now known as Astbury or Whieldon are more correctly salt glaze figures with glazes resembling tortoiseshell. While not nearly as attractive as later models, these primitive examples can sell for many hundreds of pounds.

Englands Industrial Revolution coincided almost exactly with the start of Queen Victoria's reign in 1837, creating wealth from industry. The new middle classes were eager to emulate their betters by decorating their homes with objects similar to costly Meissen and Chelsea figures, and Staffordshire potters obliged by turning out painted and glazed pottery sheep dogs, cattle and more exotic animals such as zebra and elephants. Figures of gods and goddesses, examples drawn from literature, famous political and military men and above all, representations of royalty, all found homes in England and America.
 Pair of Staffordshire fruit sellers
Figures destined for mantelpieces were known as flatbacks, with modelling and painting confined to the areas facing outward. Others were modelled in the round; earlier examples often leaning against a stump or some sort of support to eliminate sagging during the firing process. Some figures were so complicated they required three moulds to complete. Most of the Victorian-era Staffordshire figures were painted overglaze; colours were applied after the first white glazing, enabling the piece to be fired at lower temperatures and allowing a wider range of colours.

Popular characters from literature (Uncle Tom, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet) were identified on the base, as were political figures of the day (often the only way we remember them).

The popularity of Queen Victoria's reign spawned hundreds of examples of the Queen and Prince Albert and all their large family. Princes and Princesses were shown on horses and on goats or rams. Royalty of her European countries were represented, as well as American presidents and occasional female figures, such as Florence Nightingale. Actors and actresses were portrayed in their most familiar roles.

Few Staffordshire figures bear makers marks, although some experts can identify similarities of style that might come from an individual factory (for example, the style of the base may provide a clue). Potters copied figures and even produced variants of the same figure. Small factories frequently went out of business and sold their moulds along with the remaining stock.

Most of the Staffordshire moulds of the 19thC historical and political figures were not produced in later years, so examples are likely to be old and more costly. If you are interested in collecting these charming pieces, buy from a reputable dealer or study a number of examples before you take the plunge. Animals, particularly the popular King Charles spaniel dogs, sometimes called "comforters" are the most often seen. Just be aware of what you are buying.


crisp modelling of figures
detailed painting
colourful decoration
finger marks inside - from press moulding
thick heavy walls
uneven widely spaced cracking in the glaze
soft coloured gilding, look on the base for gold line decoration
kiln grit and glaze on the base of the model


poor and flat definition
lacking in detail
not a lot of colour or completely coloured
smooth inside - from slip casting
thin walls giving a light feel in weight
false cracking in the glaze, uniform in shape
bright shiny gilding
rough unglazed base

To identify your staffordshire figure Click on FOR THE STAFFORDSHIRE ENTHUSIAST

Staffordshire Figures 1780-1840. A very useful site with lots of information regarding early Staffordshire figures.
My Staffordshire

If you would like advice on Victorian Staffordshire Figures, please get in touch by completing this short form. I am located in Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK.