I attended a rangy antique’s fair a few weeks ago.
When I was asked what I thought of the event I moaned long and loud to a patient dealer about the lack of 20th century pieces that were not ho-hum, middle-class lounge-Deco.
On reflection, there was an area of pieces heading up the field in vintage ornaments a decade or two outside strictly antique — a many-legged herd of small animals. Lustrous, small and mid-sized ceramics by Beswick, Wade, Royal Copenhagen and lesser know Russian masters, frolicked across half a dozen tables. Proud shire horses trotted by melting-eyed spaniels.
Kittens crouched in tightly ribboned huddles, proud Scotties threw out their hocks in show, and scattered small as peanuts throughout were the tiny Wade Whimsies in their little cardboard cases that we once rescued from the local shop with our pocket money.
These are the sort of creatures your auntie might have kennelled ear by jowl in a polite china cabinet, tenderly dusted but largely ignored until she died and the items were broken back down to individuals for sale or familial grab.
My daughter made glaze-shattering squeals at the sight of a Danish seal in a sinuous nose-high, whip-lash. On closer inspection I was reminded just why small animal earthenware and porcelain have remained such popular collectibles.
Each and every piece of this outwardly twee menagerie is a small work of zoological art and some of the larger ones are nothing short of potting show-stoppers, in soft and hard paste porcelain in particular. With a full back-stamp and signature you can often find out exactly who designed and even painted an animal.
Names to look out for include UK companies Beswick, famed for all sorts of domestic and wild animals and its Beatrice Potter series, Pendelfin’s buck tooth cuties (acquired taste), Royal Doulton, Denby and SylvaC’s stylised rabbits, squirrels and dogs (heavily reproduced from old moulds), Royal Copenhagen of Denmark, and Lomonosov (formerly the Imperial Porcelain Factory of Russia) with an LFZ USSR back-stamp).
if you’re serious about collecting, buy perfect examples, free of chips, cracks and restoration. Look for a lively representation of the animal with good attention to detail and an interesting pose. All the major factories for antique and vintage pieces have fan clubs online abuzz with the latest word on sources, purchase and emerging markets.
Favourite animals and characters are often re-issued by surviving factories or their successors, so it’s vital to determine the age of the piece you are buying. A reputable, informed dealer will give you a written receipt verifying their appraisal. You can start a modest collection at as little as €30 for mid century Beswick. Above all, buy what you like, something that makes you smile and that you long to run your hands over. Chances are, until you pop your slippers and the beneficiaries head for your glazed cabinets, they’ll stay with you forever.
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