I thought today I would write about something completely different from what I’ve written about before. No local scenery, no coffees or lunches in local hotels or cafes, and no books – well, just two.
Today I thought I’d talk about our animal friends, but not those we have to take to the vet occasionally, or feed each day, or even take for walks.
No, these are cats and dogs – and other animals – in pottery and porcelain.
Somehow, over the years, I’ve collected just a few, all by default, i.e. they were given to me (except one, which I bought for my mother). None is valuable or particularly handsome, but each holds within fond memories of the giver and a particular time of my life.
Now for a bit of history: Animals, in particular cats and dogs, have coexisted with man since time immemorial. In Egypt the cat was originally associated with the got Isis until the new cat goddess was adopted, namely Bast or Bastet.
Anubis was another Egyptian god, this time with a dog’s head. It comes as no surprise then that we have a penchant for collecting representations of cats and dogs, not only in paintings, sculpture, silver and glass, but also in pottery and porcelain.
Perhaps the oldest animals in my collection are these two representations of Cavalier King Charles spaniels. Like so many of my things they belonged to my late mother. One day in my parents’ shop – when we lived in the north of England – a woman customer was going to market where, each week, she would sell various items. This was around 1947/48. My mother asked what she had in her basket today, and she produced these two dogs. “Oh, I’ll buy those!” said my mother, and she did. I think she paid something like twelve shillings for them, which was quite a lot of money in 1948, but I still have them today, sitting by our fireside.
The Victorians loved collecting and dogs such as these – especially those in earthenware – for the most part they were inexpensively produced so that even the humblest of homes could afford them. They were known as ‘comforter’ dogs, extremely popular during the reign of Queen Victoria, their period of highest production matching her reign, from 1837-1901. From around 1835 they were also produced in porcelain by such factories as Copeland, Coalport, Derby, Rockingham, Chamberlain Worcester, Royal Worcester and Minton.
Fewer cats were produced, thus they are rarer and can sometimes command higher prices than their doggy friends.
I have only two cats, and they are most certainly not lovely Victorian ones, but produced in the 1950s by a company called Wade which produced miniature animals called Wade Whimsies. These cat faces are not the Whimsies, but are slightly larger.
Although they aren’t exactly pretty I find them quite appealing. They were given to me by a neighbour in our village when I was a girl and they hold such happy memories of those times. They are actually small wall plaques, as they have a recess at the back so you could hang them from a picture hook on the wall.
Several breeds of cats and dogs were depicted by the Victorians, from pugs (which were brought to this country from Holland by William and Mary in 1688 and were originally called ‘Dutch’ dogs) to hounds; and from tabbies to tortoiseshells. Not all the factories are easily identified but for the most part, the unidentified Staffordshire potteries’ wares are markedly inferior to the comparable products of the leading and identifiable factories.
I think we must all be familiar with the children’s stories of Beatrix Potter. In the late 1940s, the pottery company, Beswick, began producing some of the characters from those stories and my uncle gave me this dear little Timmy Tiptoes for Christmas when I was five years old. I can’t imagine giving a piece of china to a five year old child today, but such things were given to me, and I loved it and carefully looked after it, so that I have it today.
A favourite piece, although I never set out to collect animals, is my porcelain pig. It doesn’t look much here, it really needs to be seen and held, or even looked at from all directions, as it’s a wonderful example of the potter’s art. It is by Royal Copenhagen, and my mother bought it for me as a Christmas present in the early 1980s. This is on piece I really do love. Sadly, I have been unable to capture the quality of the glaze or the delightful modelling of this often-maligned animal.
Above is a blue tit which was produced as one of a series of birds by the Royal Worcester factory in the 1980s. I bought this for my mother for a Christmas present and of course, it is now part of my collection. It is in biscuit, i.e. unglazed, and another fine piece of the modeller’s art.
And finally, a Victorian cow creamer with, on it’s body the legend, “A Present from Teignmouth”. It would’ve been produced as souvenir wares for holidaymakers to take home after a holiday in our little seaside town just along the coast from Torbay. It’s not pretty, indeed, it’s pretty ugly, but it has a sort of Victorian charm about it and I couldn’t part with it.
I wonder if you have any animals, ones that you don’t need to feed, or bath, or take for walks?
Further reading on this subject:
Cats in English Porcelain of the 19th Century by Dennis G Rice
Dogs in English Porcelain in the 19th Century by Dennis G Rice
both were published by Antique Collectors Club.