Staffordshire DogsBy

Staffordshire Dogs

If all the dogs sold as English Staffordshire were really made of English clay, the island of England today would be about the size of a tea caddy. No other Victorian-era collectible--with the possible exception of Currier and Ives prints--has been so heavily and steadily reproduced as these simple faced cottage canines. In Antique Fakes and Reproductions, one of the first books devoted exclusively to fakes first published in 1938, author Ruth Webb Lee devoted six pages of photographs to new Staffordshire figures.

Copies of Staffordshire dogs are still popular items and stocked by almost all present day reproduction wholesalers. The reproduction dogs have apparently changed very little over the years. Photographs in 1990s catalogs are virtually identical to pieces pictured in catalogs from the pre-WW II years, the 1950s and 1960s. In fact, present day copies look very similar to the fakes Lee described in the 1930s. Although there are always exceptions, this article offers some general guidelines to help separate 20th century copies from pre-1900 originals.

Basic differences

The main difference between old and new is that old figures (with virtually no exceptions) were made in press molds; new figures are made in slip molds in the process called slip casting(Figs. 2 & 3). The dime size or larger holes left in the base of slip cast pieces are an easily detected sign of a modern reproduction. Although some original figures were produced by slip casting, they are extremely few in number.

The main difference between old and new is that old figures (with virtually no exceptions) were made in press molds; new figures are made in slip molds in the process called slip casting(see Figs. 2 & 3 below; extensive detailed information on both methods also appears in ACRN January, 1994). The dime size or larger holes left in the base of slip cast pieces are an easily detected sign of a modern reproduction. Although some original figures were produced by slip casting, they are extremely few in number.

Other specific points and areas to inspect are:
1.Paint and Decoration--old pieces generally show at least some fine strokes of a paint brush; modern pieces are often colored by swabs or sponges. Most old dogs show at least some painting on the back side; many new pieces have no painting on the back. Old dogs also generally show more detail in the overall molding especially in the tails, legs, ears and modelled hair.

2.Gold Trim--old gold nearly always shows some wear; new gold usually shows none. Most old gold is relatively soft colored with a dull luster; much of the new gold has a mirror-like highly reflective surface.

3. Side by Side Comparison-- Although many old dogs were originally sold and have survived in pairs, they are very seldom exactly the same. Slight variations will exist in size, painting, mold detail and signs of normal wear developed over the years. Reproductions, on the other hand, are frequently identical matches because each is a result of modern mass production and uniform quality control. Be suspicious of a pair of dogs that match perfectly in every respect.

4.Underside of the Base--In addition to holes left by slip casting, the underneath side of the base can provide other helpful information. The glaze, for example. Does the glaze on the bottom match the glaze on the rest of the piece? Glaze on old pieces is usually the same over the entire figure. Glaze on many new dogs, however, is intentionally "aged" or "stressed" on normally exposed areas but frequently left unaltered on the under side. Old bases also generally show some signs of the fairly crude, low cost production methods and relatively unskilled labor that made them. Such signs include bits of debris, firing lines and burst bubbles in the glaze and paint drips or runs extending from the sides down and around to the bottom.

Don't make the mistake of using only one test to base your judgement of age. Be thorough and examine the entire figure. Keep in mind that Staffordshire dogs have been reproduced for many years. Reproductions of the 1920' and 1930s--now 70 to 60 years old-- may show some confusing signs of age. Following the guidelines above should enable you to identify the older as well as more recent types of reproductions.

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Fig. 1 Staffordshire dogs have been reproduced for years. This group of reproductions is from Antique Fakes and Reproductions by Ruth Webb Lee published in 1938.

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Fig. 1-A New 8-inch Staffordshire-style dog. New dogs are made in many poses and styles.

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Fig. 1-B New Staffordshire-style dog made as a figural pitcher. Not all new dogs are statues. Some are covered jars, pitchers, humidors and other shapes.

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Fig. 2 First, molds were separated (A); then damp strips of clay called "bats" were pressed into the parts of the mold by hand (B). After drying, the pieces clay were removed from the mold and joined together (C) forming a smooth surfaced hollow clay figure ready for decorating. With rare exceptions, almost all Victorian-era figural Staffordshire was made in press molds.

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Fig. 3 Slip mold Slip--which is clay and water mixed to a consistency of cream--is poured into a two-part plaster mold(A). Water from the slip is absorbed by the plaster mold (B) leaving a shell of clay next to the mold wall. The remaining liquid slip is then poured out, the mold opened and the clay shell is removed. The shell has one or more holes where the slip was poured in and out (double arrow, C-D.)

Paint & Decoration–side by side comparisons

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Fig 4 New dogs, 10"

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Fig 5 Old dogs, 10"

The new dogs in Fig. 4 and the old dogs in Fig. 5 illustrate typical differences between old and new. First, note that the painted decoration is exactly the same on each of the new dog. The clusters of dots on the rear haunches, the back, the breast and the X-like designs on the legs are identical on each dog. Now look at the decoration on the old dogs. The large areas of paint are different sizes, in different places and unequal in number on each. Also note the different number and arrangement of the broad stripes of paint on both of the old dogs. The old dog on left has a large group of stripes at the top of the front leg; the old dog on right has more groups of fewer stripes. Gold neck trim on the right dog also shows more wear than the old dog on left.

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Fig. 6

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Fig. 7 The close up of the muzzle on the old dog in Fig. 7 shows fine brush strokes; the muzzle of the new dog in Fig. 6 is plain with little detail. Large daubs or streaks may also appear on old dogs but they are usually part of the entire decoration which includes at least some fine strokes. Decoration on new are usually only large spots or daubs.

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Fig. 8

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Fig. 9

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Fig. 10

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Fig. 11

Figs 8-11. Many new figures do not have any paint on the back, Fig. 8. Backs of most old dogs have at least some paint but firing holes are not a test of age (Fig. 11). Daubed paint on new dog, Fig. 9. Combined fine strokes and daubs in typical old dog, Fig. 10. As reproductions have become better, though, some new pieces include both daubing and brush strokes so this is not a guarantee of age.

Comparison of bases

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Fig. 12 Typical large holes formed by slip casting in the base of a new dog (black arrow). These dime-sized holes were originally covered by felt pads (white arrow). Generally, you should ask the seller to remove any pads so you can inspect the base. Also note flawless, perfectly smooth and even surface.

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Fig 13. The base of this new dog has a single casting hole bigger than a quarter. Casting holes may appear singly or in multiples. Note also the smooth flawless white surface.

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Fig. 14 Typical old base does not have casting holes. Note typical flaws such as firing lines, glaze frizzle, bumps and pitting. Paint from the sides has dripped down over the edges of the base. Raised numbers appear on some old dog but are not a guarantee of age.

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Fig 15. Don't mistake firing holes, arrow, for casting holes. Firing holes were made to release expanding gas which builds up inside hollow figures during firing. Typical firing holes average about one-eighth inch in diameter. Firing holes may or may not be present in original dogs. They may appear in the base or other lcoations such as the back (see Fig. 11). Firing holes are not a conclusive proof of age or quality.

Gold Trim

Most gold trim used on original dogs has a softer appearance than new gold trim. New gold is generally very shiny and bright with a mirror-like reflective surface without wear. The new gold on the padlock in Fig. 16, for example, easily reflects a newspaper. Old gold, Fig. 17, rarely has a mirror-like reflection, is dull and almost always shows some random wear.

Most gold trim used on original dogs has a softer appearance than new gold trim. New gold is generally very shiny and bright with a mirror-like reflective surface without wear. The new gold on the padlock in Fig. 16, for example, easily reflects a newspaper. Old gold, Fig. 17, rarely has a mirror-like reflection, is dull and almost always shows some random wear.

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Fig. 16 New gold

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Fig. 17 Old gold

Comparison of glaze

The crazing in the glaze on this new covered box has been darkened at the factory to suggest age. Fig. 19 shows the unaltered crazing underneath the base. Fig. 20 shows the artificially darkened crazing on the exposed lid. Crazing in new glazes is often darkened with shoe polish, dark paint or vegetable stains either at the place of manufacture or after a piece has entered the market. Although many old pieces do show crazing, crazing is not in itself any guarantee or an indicator of when, where or how a piece of pottery was made. If you look back to the photos of the old dog in Figs. 7, 14 & 17, you'll see that the old glaze (and crazing, if any) remain consistent from the underneath of the base through the body and face.

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Fig. 18 New 4" cvd box

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Fig. 19 Close up of base

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Fig 20.Close up of dark crazing on lid.

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Fig. 21 The inside of the lid from the box in Fig. 18. Figures on original boxes were almost always formed as separate solid figures and applied to lids. Figures on new lids are cast as one piece with the lid. The casting process leaves the figures on the lid hollow, not solid.

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Fig. 22 New dog, 8 1/2". Can be identified by the bright mirror-like gold trim on the collar and a dime-sized casting hole in the base. The base is a perfectly white smooth flawless surface.

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Fig. 23 New dog, 3 by 5 inches. Bright gold collar and bright gold tassles on corners. Two dime-sized casting holes in the base.

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Fig. 24 Two versions of the same new 6-inch figure. These pieces do not have the typical large casting holes. They each have the small firing hole shown below. However, by looking at all the features discussed in this article, the buyer can confidently conclude they are new. The collar and other gold trim show no wear and have a bright mirror-like finish. The base is without flaws and is a stark white color. When sold in pairs, both pieces have the identical molded details and are painted exactly the same way.

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Fig. 25

What is "Staffordshire"

In original use, the word "Staffordshire" was only the name of a county in England. The area was rich in potting clay and coal for fuel and became a center for manufacturing pottery over 200 years ago. There were six main potting towns including Tunstall, Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Fenton, Hanley and Longton. Today, "Staffordshire" is a generic term for brightly decorated white clay figural pottery of that region, made ca. 1840 to the early 20th century, ca. WW I.

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This includes portrait statues of persons and a variety of animals especially dogs. These pottery figures were inexpensive wares made for modest country cottage parlors rather than as works of art for stone mansions. Pieces were intentionally designed to be very shallow from front to back because they were used primarily on fire-place mantles. These figures are also commonly called "chimney pieces" and "flat backs".

Figures were easily made by relatively unskilled labor; many were done in workers' cottages on a piece rate basis. Low production costs meant the pottery could be sold very cheaply at open air markets and small village shops. Figures were so low in price that they were also given as prizes at fairs and carnivals. Like other low cost mass produced items, original 19th and early 20th century Staffordshire figures are very rarely marked.

Modern manufacturers, however, knowing that "Staffordshire" is respected and desired, frequently use the word to imply age, quality or other values to their modern products. The word is frequently used on transfer decorated dinnerware. When "Staffordshire" appears in a mark as a pattern name or descriptive name, it virtually guarantees a piece is modern (see example below). Using "Staffordshire" as a place name doesn't necessarily mean a piece is old, but using it any other way is certainly a danger sign of a modern piece.

Confusing Staffordshire Marks

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Fig. A A typical modern mark which includes the word "Staffordshire" as a pattern or generic product name. Similar usage of Staffordshire in modern marks include "Genuine Staffordshire," "Staffordshire Pottery," and "Authentic Staffordshire."

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Fig. B Example of a modern mark using Staffordshire as a place name. Such use does not mean a mark is old.

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Fig. C Fake gold anchor mark used on reproductions of Staffordshire made ca. 1930-1950s. This mark appears over the glaze. No similar mark was ever used on original mid-19th century Staffordshire pottery figures.

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Fig. D This red ink mark appeared on many Staffordshire reproductions made ca. 1920-1939. In 1938, Ruth W. Lee, author of Antique Fakes and Reproductions, wrote that this mark was commonly being ground out or painted over. Be suspicious of circular worn spots on bases which may indicate this mark has been removed. Black light will catch many repainted bases.