Dear Helaine and Joe:
This statue of Shakespeare was a wedding gift to my husband’s great-grandmother in the 1800s in England and has no flaws or visible markings. We would appreciate anything you could tell us about this piece, including its value.
J.A.V.H., Palmdale, Calif.
There is absolutely no question in our minds that this figure of William Shakespeare was made in Staffordshire, England, sometime in the third quarter of the 19th century. We were not told, but we believe this piece is between 17-1/2 and 18 inches tall, which makes it a most imposing piece of pottery.
Staffordshire is a landlocked district of England east of Wales. Its main city is Stoke-on-Trent, which is known as the epicenter of the English ceramics industry. Staffordshire is also known for the Staffordshire bull terrier.
Staffordshire figures started being made in the 18th century, but the vast majority were made in the 19th century, and the 1800s is the time frame that is generally referred to when Staffordshire figures are mentioned by most collectors.
Such figures were not meant to be grand and displayed in fine houses, castles and mansions. Instead, they were inexpensive cottage ware and the English consuming public seemed not to be able to get enough of them. Modern collectors should be aware that reproductions of these figures -- particularly of dogs -- abound and today’s buyer must beware.
Depictions of Shakespeare were made in several different styles. There are simple busts of the Bard of Avon, or depictions of him standing under a pointed arch. Other pieces show the great poet-playwright leaning against a half column with manuscripts on top. Some of these latter groupings are better than others.
In some, the column is ornate with masks around the base and fine enamel work. These figures tend to be valued for insurance purposes in the range of about $1,500, but the example in today’s question is simpler, less well-painted and less valuable.
We have seen this particular model of Shakespeare attributed by an English auction house to Sampson Smith of Stoke-on-Trent and dated to circa 1864. This date may or may not be correct for the piece belonging to J.A.V.H., which may have been manufactured as late as the 1870s or even a tad later.
The value of Staffordshire figures has dropped in recent years, but this one is worth -- for insurance replacement purposes -- $300-$400 currently.
Helaine Fendelman and Joe Rosson are the authors of “Price It Yourself” (HarperResource, $19.95). Contact them at Treasures in Your Attic, P.O. Box 18350, Knoxville, TN 37928. Email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.)