3 Things You Should Know About Staffordshire Flatbacks

Curio IQ Series: Let’s take a short and sweet lesson in antiques! Today we are discussing collecting and decorating with Staffordshire flatbacks.

My collection of Staffordshire flatbacks

Staffordshire flatbacks are my favorite English antique beating out transferware ceramics and even Wedgwood. I just adore the folksy charm and history they reveal about popular culture of the Victorian era. Decoratively, the crisp white ceramic with brightly painted details are lovely perched in any traditional interior and as an accent to almost any color scheme.

There is such a diverse plethora to research and collect within this field. I personally collect flatbacks both figures and spaniels, but I am particularly drawn to the versions with children and spaniels in a bocage setting. I also find the farm animal figures to be enchanting, and I particularly like the cows and sheep. As you discover more about Staffordshire flatbacks and see a variety of figures, you will find your own collecting niche as well.

No. 1 On the Mantel Since the 1830s

Traditionally, Staffordshire flatbacks are displayed on the mantel, but don’t be tied to this. Medium to large figures make a charming tablescape centerpiece. Small spill vases are lovely decorating an end table or vanity, and bocage figurines look stunning when displayed sitting on a wall bracket grouped with period prints or botanicals.

Originally, spill vases were not intended to hold florals rather a spill was a thin wooden stick or a tightly rolled piece of paper for transferring flame from a fire to a candle or vice versa. Hence the small opening and cavity of the vase part of the form. The flat non-ornamental back was intentional to allow placement on a narrow mantel shelf.

No. 2 They Tell Stories

Many of the figures are narrative in nature, depicting folk tales and events current to the period using engravings from the Illustrated London News and other newspapers as inspiration. Popular plays, novels, and art of the time were also regularly depicted. Another popular inspiration were Aesop’s Fables as the caricatured animals offered moral lessons and values.

While the flatbacks’ decorative charm is undeniable, their placement around the hearth was also strategic because of their proximity to the fireside — a customary setting for family gathering and storytelling.

Some of the most depicted figures include:

Queen Victoria

Dick Turpin

Sir John & Lady Franklin

Florence Nightingale

The Duke of Wellington

Prime Minister William Gladstone

Admiral Lord Nelson

Sir Robert & Lady Sale

No. 3 They Have To Be Press Molded

Flatbacks were mostly press molded in two or three parts like the spaniels although some lack a closed base. You can often see the seam lines when the parts were joined together. Look for small air holes in the back or base, which would have allowed the hot air to escape.

The molds would have dulled with usage, so figures with crisp features and forms are a good indication the figure was produced early in the process, and this may increase the value.

You can learn more about Staffordshire figures and authentication in my e-book: The Grandmillennial’s Pocket Guide to Chic Antiques!

Katherine places Staffordshire flatback on mantel

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