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Pair of Poodles, circa early twentieth century, slip-cast earthenware with glaze, Staffordshire, maker unknown, 11 x 6.5 inches. Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, Gift of Fletcher Stiers, R ¿48, R2009.10.013.
Apr 09, 2010
throughDec 09, 2011

Best in Show: Staffordshire Dogs from the Collection

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Best in Show: Staffordshire Dogs from the Collection will be on view at the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums, from April 9, 2010, to December 9, 2011. The exhibition highlights the museum’s collection of porcelain dogs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The decorative dogs originated in Staffordshire, England, a county in the west of the country with a rich heritage of successful potteries. Molded porcelain figures were mass-produced in late-nineteenth-century England, at a time when the production techniques of the Industrial Revolution combined with the decorative style of Victorian England.

About the exhibition

Staffordshire potteries produced a huge variety of wares, from china plates to figurines of historical figures to dogs. The middle class became the primary market for reasonably-priced Staffordshire dogs. Different breeds, sizes, and styles were produced, though the Staffordshire spaniel remains the most widely produced of all dog breeds. The exhibition, featuring Staffordshire dogs ranging in height from four and a half inches to fourteen inches, and dating from 1845 to the mid-twentieth century, are selected from a recent gift to the museum’s permanent collection from Fletcher Stiers, Richmond College class of 1948, University of Richmond.

In the nineteenth century, many small potteries were molding porcelain dogs. Most figures bear no markings to indicate the original maker, which suggests that potters did not differentiate their wares from that of other potters once it was being marketed to the public. Staffordshire County is home to widely successful potteries like Wedgewood and Minton. But it was a group of smaller potteries, including Sampson-Smith and Parr-Kent, which made a decorative phenomenon out of porcelain canine companions that were considered by the buying public to add warmth to the interior of their homes.

The exhibition features a selection of dogs that illustrate variations in style over time. Several “fairings” are included; these small simply molded figures got their name because of their use as prizes at fairs. These little spaniels are contrasted with figures like the larger Sadler-Burslem pair, which has the unusual characteristic of a factory mark, dating them to sometime after 1899, the year the Sadler-Burslem factory opened. Many dogs in the museum’s collection are single figures that are meant to be paired with a symmetrical dog and placed on the mantel. A few pieces contain groupings, such as the mantelpiece decoration depicting a clock with three dogs surrounding it, which dates to around 1855.

Today, Staffordshire dogs have regained popularity with collectors and antique dealers. Because most of the dog figures do not indicate the date of their production, several important characteristics of a traditional nineteenth-century spaniel are emphasized throughout the exhibition. Several changes in production methods in the twentieth century led to notable changes in the appearance of Staffordshire dogs, including type of molding, coloring, and style of facial features. Collectors and antique dealers use these characteristics to place Staffordshire dogs appropriately in history.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition was co-curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums, and Grace Leonard, ’12, anthropology major, University of Richmond, and Collections and Curatorial Assistant, University Museums.