A box of stories

Last weekend I went with some friends to a local auction; I love auctions but hadn't been to this auction house before. I didn't see anything special to bid for, in fact a good proportion of the lots were boxes of 'mixed collectables'. 

However it's no fun to be at an auction without bidding, so I had a punt on one of the boxes in which I'd spotted some things that might be interesting ... and I got it for £16.10 (including the commission).

 Lot 135 - A quantity of clearance items to include 19th century ceramics

When I got home I had a rummage: boxes of cutlery, tourist souvenir plates, a Snowman clock, car bookends, cottage ware, Victorian cups and saucers, 2 sheath knives, a bag of commemorative spoons, a bag of cigarette cards, a pressed glass decanter, a millennium souvenir coffee cup ...

and these, which have interesting stories to tell ...

 A small early 19th century lustre-ware teacup
An 18th century flatback ram with 'bocage'
A 19th century flatback of a girl riding a goat

In memory of a dead Princess

Princess Charlotte was the daughter of the Prince Regent (to become George IV) and the only legitimate grandchild of George III. In May 1816 she married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld, heir to the Belgian throne. In January 1817 her father threw a huge party at Brighton Pavilion for Charlotte's 21st birthday but 'the Coburgs', Charlotte and Leopold, didn't attend ... Charlotte has pregnant and having had a miscarriage 6 months earlier, they were being cautious.

The country was at fever-pitch of anticipation of the birth of a legitimate heir to the British throne. Would it be a boy? A legitimate male heir at long last. The baby was due on 19 October 1817 but it wasn't until 3 November that Charlotte went into labour ... and things did not go well.

 The inscription says: 
I like how the 'e' at the end is lower case and above the last T

On 5 November 1817 Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn baby boy. Charlotte survived for a few hours  but then she also died. The country plunged into inconsolable grief.

 Britannia sobbing into her hankie

On the other side of the tea cup is an intriguing scene ...

 Agnus Dei with the seven seals and trinity symbols

The lamb sitting on something with seven little round things hanging from it, is the 'lamb of god' or Agnus Dei sitting on a book with seven seals. This represents Christ (the lamb of god) returning in glory on the day of judgement as described in the last book of the Bible, 'The Revelation to John'. In the sky is a roundel with three triangles and circles, symbolic of god the father, son and holy spirt: the Trinity. The Knights Templar and Masons use these symbols, but I don't think the teacup has any connection to either; these are symbols that were common on late 18th/early 19th century memorials so are a visual code for 'gone to heaven'.

Someone bought the teacup as a tangible representation of their sadness, for dashed hope and a nation's collective grief.

Made in New Canton

Here's another lamb ... well, it's a ram ... 

Flatback ram with bocage c 1760

This was the piece that I'd spotted in the box and tempted me to bid, it looked quality and old, I was curious. I assumed it to be a Staffordshire flatback, but much googling drew a blank. So I dropped 'Staffordshire' and searched again ... and found a couple of identical rams and similar foliage or 'bocage' as flowers and leaves modelled in porcelain are called.

Detail of the bocage

This little ram was probably made, not in the potteries of Staffordshire but in Bow in East London. It all began when Thomas Frye, an Irish artist, came to London; he was not only a talented portraitist but he loved to experiment with china clay and he discovered and method of mixing clay with bone ash to make porcelain replicating the ceramics imported from China. In 1744 he took out a patent and opened a factory in Bow that he named 'New Canton'.

For the next 25 yrs the New Canton factory made affordable porcelain plates, cups, dishes and decorative figurines. The pieces are mostly un-marked but have a distinctive style, you can see a large collection in the V&A and predate Wedgewood which was founded in 1759.

About 300 people were employed at New Canton, I wonder how many hands were involved in making this ram? ... moulding the tiny flowers and leaves, assembling all the tiny components, glazing and delicately painting the colours on the tiny petals and that deftly painted eye. Thomas Frye's two daughter's worked in his factory as painters, one married Mr Wilcox an employee of Wedgewood at the Etruria factory, where she worked painting figurines from 1759 to 1776.

Detailed were painted by skilled crafts workers ... including Thomas Frye's daughters

The workaholic and ambitious Thomas Frye died in 1762 ages 52, he's buried in Hornsey churchyard in North London. Without Frye's drive the business floundered and the remnants of the factory was eventually sold to William Duesbury who transferred production to his factory in Derby. 

Princess Vicky and her pet goat

I wasn't sure what to make of the other flatback figurine in the box, a girl in a fancy hat sitting of a goat, but when I did a google search I discovered lots were made! In fact it's one of a pair. Then I found a fuller description and that was much more interesting ... 

Princess Victoria Adelaide Mary Louise, known as Vicky, riding her pet goat c. 1850

This figurine was made in Staffordshire, as were thousands of other popular 'folk-art' figures, it is of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert's eldest child Princess Vicky. The companion figure would have been of their second child and heir, Prince Albert Edward the Prince of Wales (the child looks like another girl, but little boys used to be dressed in frocks). There is an interesting documentary on BBC iPlayer about Queen Victoria's daughters including Vicky, who at the age of 17 married Frederick who became King of Prussia and Emperor of Germany.

Hastily painted details

But why is she on a goat?! Victoria and Albert had lots of pets including a herd of Tibetan goats from a pair that Victoria received from the Shah of Iran when she became queen, among the National Trust collections I found this delightful picture of the royal children in their goat-chaise. The descendants of these goats serve as regimental mascots. The royal pets were hugely popular, so there must have been a event or publicity about the royal youngsters and their goats that the pubic took to their hearts.

Mass produced fake bocage

Unlike the Bow porcelain ram, this figurine has been more hastily made, both the goat's mane and the fake bocage is created from clay pushed through a sieve or mesh and then splodged with random colours. The goat's hair looks as though it's been painted with a brush that's been cut to make several parallel lines in one stroke. One such brush dipped in orange, another in black ... swish swish swish, job done!

Princess Vicky 1840 - 1901, long-suffering recipient of her mother Queen Victoria's moaning correspondence, and Empress and Germany.

Knowing who this quirky, massed produced figurine depicts has made me appreciate it more ... and the goat is particularly bonkers!

Worth £16.10 of anyone's money ... now what shall I do, keep them or sell?


  1. Lovely little bit of detecting on your part, Celia.But I would not want any of them.

    1. I like their history and quirky 'folk-art' style.

  2. Celia, it's been great fun to discover what your auction bid delivered. I would love to be able to visit an auction with you on some future UK trip, and see what might turn up. The history behind the cup and statuettes were very interesting. xo

  3. Ooh some good finds. I do like the little teacup (Britannia sobbing into her hankie!!)


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