Many will recognise these distinctive ceramic models as ‘Staffordshire Dogs’, often seen in our grandparent’s homes, staring back at us from the hearth or on the mantlepiece. However, such a large collection of poodles is a little more unique than you might expect.
To understand the history of these figures, it is important to know a little more about poodles as a breed. It is thought they emerged on the Continent, probably in France or Germany as early as the 16th Century. While we all think of dogs as our furry loveable companions, we must not forget their original purpose was as a ‘useful’ dog, rather than a pet.
Prior to the 19th Century, poodles were known as ‘water dogs’ and used as a gun dog for duck. It is due to this working heritage that the poodle first sported its distinctive cut, ‘the lion clip’ as it was known, which came about not for cosmetic reasons but for practical ones. By clipping only certain areas of the body, the poodle could shake off water quickly as it emerged from the river leaving the knees and other vital organs protected from rheumatism.
Toward the end of the 18th Century, the poodle was adopted as a pet and quickly became popular as a
companion dog. Around this time, Staffordshire potters and factories saw an opportunity to profit from the
appeal of this distinctive dog and began producing small pocket-sized ceramic versions for people to place on their mantlepiece or on a window ledge.The earliest known models were produced in London by the Chelsea factory in around 1765, however the height of production came much later during a very set period between 1830 – 1850.
Why poodles were so popular during this exact period is unclear, but it is generally thought interest in the breed was stimulated to an abnormal extent by the appearance of poodles in travelling circuses and other places of entertainment. This made them particularly appealing to children and children were a very important market. In fact, they were so popular that during the 1840s a miniature or ‘toy’ version emerged onto the market of lesser and cheaper quality aimed precisely for small pockets and tiny hands. Generally depicted in white, these poodles were modelled either seated or lying down, some having pups but many modelled as circus dogs, in a comic pose, for example holding a black hat in the mouth or being ridden by a monkey. Interestingly they are rarely modelled with humans.
Better known factories such as Rockingham, Derby and Chamberlain Worcester produced their own range, but most came from unidentified Staffordshire factories operating at the time. These early models are hardly ever marked and despite their simplicity, are relatively well made with sharp modelling. They feel relatively light to hold but this also means they are fragile and rarely survive intact, commonly having chips, cracks, and restoration.
When Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837, a new celebrity dog took centre stage, her closest childhood companion, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel named ‘Darling Dashy’ Dash. Almost overnight, the popularity of Staffordshire poodles was forgotten as factories turned to modelling a more popular breed of dog, the spaniel. Soon, other dogs, often with royal connections also appeared on the market, for example Prince Albert’s favourite greyhound, Eos, was modelled seated and recumbent. Interestingly, although Staffordshire pottery poodles had only a brief twenty-year period of popularity in the 1800’s, poodles themselves continued as a popular companion dog in high society. Celebrity owners include Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Cary Grant,
Ellen Degeneres and Barbara Streisand. Even Sir Winston Churchill owned a poodle named Rufus.
Our Interiors, Homes & Antiques sale will take place on Wednesday 30 September. Please contact Head of Valuations, Liz Winnicott for more details: