Cats & Dogs and Other Animals

by Margaret Powling-

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.


Margaret Powling


  1. Susan

    Hello! I also have some animal figurines. I have three Royalt Daulton (sp?) Beatrix Potter Bunnies as well as a squirrel holding acorns that my Great Grandmother gave me; a set of porcelain Dachshunds my best friend gave me for Christmas in grade school; and a wren that belonged to my husband’s grandmother. All are meaningful to me.

    Last but not least, I have three real kitties!

    09 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I am sure I’d love the three real kitties! But what lovely items you have and what lovely memories (Royal Doulton is spelt thus; Sir Henry Doulton was the first and only potter to receive a knighthood, not even Josiah Wedgwood managed that!)

      09 . Mar . 2017
  2. Eloise

    It is so nice to have these small pieces that have meaning or a special connection with one’s past. I remember having several Wade whimsies. I wonder what happened to them. My mother had a set of white horses in different poses which were about 3″ tall and I think they were Beswick. Again, I have no idea where they ended up but I used to love peering into the china cabinet and was always convinced that I saw them move! As a little girl I loved going to my aunts house because she had a huge collection of Pendelfin rabbit ornaments (I only know this because I just looked it up – I wasn’t a child connoisseur of china!) and she used to let me play with them on the floor – how trusting!
    The ornaments which I still display which have special meaning are a few small pieces which my mother brought back from Japan where she was stationed during the Korean war.
    I wonder if my daughter will keep any little treasures of mine. I’m pretty sure that my sons won’t!

    09 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Oh, I also had a Pendelfin rabbit – indeed, my mother bought it for me, I think it was called Mrs Rabbit or something like that, when she first knew I was pregnant with our elder son. I parted with it years ago and now wish I hadn’t! Beswick also produced those lovely Palomino horses, and I had three of those, a large one and two foals, but they had their legs knocked off several times and were mended, but in the end I parted with those, too. Maybe your daughter will save some of the things, the things which resonate with her.

      09 . Mar . 2017
  3. Jo

    A few of your pieces really stand out to me. Firstly, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, having a real life one myself, I’d love a pair like those. Your porcelain pig really caught my eye as I have a thing for pigs, I’m not sure why. Anyway, I have a couple of pig ornaments myself and some much larger garden ornaments too. It’s funny you can’t imagine china being given to children today as both of my children were given china ornaments when they were very young. Like you, Daniel has a small collection of Beatrix Potter animals which he was given for christening, birthday and Christmas gifts when he was small and Eleanor has a collection of Old Bear figures. Eleanor’s also got a collection of teddy bear ornaments which she inherited when my sister died. Your elephants remind me of one my mum used to have, I wonder what happened to that.

    09 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      I like pigs, too, Jo! Much-maligned creatures that they are. And as far as the Cav King Charles comforter dogs are concerned, the ones with separate legs (as mine have) are of a better quality than those with moulded together legs. The elephants were at my parents’ hotel when they bought it in 1962; they – the elephants – had been left by the previous owners but they are without their tusks, no doubt lost in the mists of time.

      09 . Mar . 2017
  4. Pieta

    I have a collection of Beatrix Potter figurines including 4 as music boxes and two Royal Doulton. I did have quite a few ducks at one stage but have gradually disposed of them; too much dusting! My mother, who is 93 this year, has a vast collection of dogs. All breeds and are held in two large display cabinets. Unfortunately her short term memory is very short these days and she keeps asking what is going to happen to the dogs when she passes. I expect they will be advertised on Ebay as none of the family want them. She can’t remember what prompted her to start the collection but I have the two original dogs. They belonged to my father and mother and are two black ‘scottie’ dogs. The larger one has a red scarf around his face as though he has a toothache.

    09 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Hello, Pieta. Your mother’s collection of dogs sounds lovely, and perhaps she can remember more about those, where she bought them, or who gave them to her, than what happened yesterday. It’s sad no one wants them, but this is often the case as collections are such personal things. No one will want all my books and magazines, that’s for sure! Oh, the Scottie with the red scarf tied around his face sounds adorable!

      09 . Mar . 2017
  5. simpleliving31.blogspot.co.uk

    Lovely to see your collection, apart from a little resin robin I bought we don’t really have any animal ornaments, I would like to get some bird ones though.

    10 . Mar . 2017
    • Margaret Powling

      Although I have these ornaments, Marlene, I don’t actually have any on display, apart from the little Royal Worcester blue tit, which is on the bookshelves at the back of the dining room and is with other small things, such as a miniature cup and saucer (a Meissen copy) and some small glass paperweights. All the rest, are in the Resources Cupboard … oh, no, the porcelain pig is in a cabinet upstairs … I thought he might enjoy being with the little dogs also in the cabinet!

      10 . Mar . 2017

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