Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Does Anyone Know What These Are?

I would appreciate your assistance with something, Dear Reader.  I am in a bit of quandry, and I cannot—despite my best efforts—resolve it.  Many years ago I bought a pair of earthenware figures that have some sort of functional purpose that I have not been able to determine, at least definitively.  I've consulted books and reference materials, I've asked specialists, and I've nosed my way around museums and collections, but it has all been for naught.  Can you help me, please?


I bought these figure heads in a group shop where the (absent) dealer had them marked as "window supports," supposedly used to prop open windows to allow fresh air into a room.  I've also seen them referred to as furniture supports.


Neither of these descriptions makes sense to me, though.  I suspect they were made for some other purpose, but what it is I have not been able to ascertain.  Do you know what they are?

His Royal Highness, Prince Albert of Saxe-Gotha

My little fellows are, I believe, English Staffordshire pearlware figures.  I suspect they are commemorative images of Prince Albert of Saxe-Gotha, and were made in or around 1840 at the time of his marriage to Queen Victoria.


When I brought them home I opened a window to try them out as window supports, but when I did so I realized they are the wrong shape for that supposed purpose.  In order for them to function effectively as window supports, the frames of the windows would need to be constructed without the interior weather stripping that all windows (at least those that I am familiar with) have.  Such weather stripping is not a modern, energy-saving convenience—our window frames at Darlington House are original to when the house was built in 1817.  Were window frames made differently in England?


They were clearly made to hold something.  The top has cross-hatching on it to help stabilize whatever it was they held.  I suspect they may have been originally intended to hold potted plants, either in terracotta pots or cachepots, and would have been sold in groups of three or four for that purpose.  Related examples are available today, in terracotta.

A terracotta pot foot available on Etsy
from mygardengoddess

Tell me, Dear Reader, what do you think my little figure heads are?  Do you think they are, in fact, window supports, as the dealer identified them?  Are they furniture supports, as some have said?  Or do you think they are pot feet as I suspect they are?

Any guidance or thoughts that you may have would be greatly appreciated.

All photographs by Boy Fenwick, except for the one of the terracotta pot foot, which is courtesy of mygardengoddess, whose site on Etsy can be found by clicking on the link above

35 comments:

  1. They're window stops, for a sash window. Here are some more from the same period, being sold at Bonhams.
    Window stops

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  2. RD.they are charming whatever they be! pgt

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  3. VB: Thank you, and thank you for this link to a similar pair of figure heads (why are they almost always in pairs, I wonder?). As I pointed out in my essay, the construction of sash window frames calls such description into question, due to the weather-stripping all such window frames have to prevent drafts from blowing in under the sash when closed, and which makes it impossible for the supposed window stops to sit on a flat surface. Our windows are original to when the house was built, before these types of figure heads were made, and were not retrofitted for such weather stripping.

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  4. Reggie,
    I am curious about their size? I rememebr as a child, my grandfather used some similar items to keep a roll top from smacking down on the desk surface.

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  5. A&A: They are about three inches, maybe three and a half inches tall (to the top of his head). It is an interesting use that you describe. Thank you.

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  6. Whatever, they are fabulous. They almost look like chess pieces.

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  7. Thanks for the link to mygardengoddess. I particularly like the blue feet.
    xox Camilla

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  8. Vir certainly seems to have closed the discussion given his excellent bit of proof, but Reggie's observation brings things back to the table. Yes I think you may be right, Reggie, when you say American sash windows might be microscopically different than those in England, enough to make these items English window props after all, the "sold in pairs" being another clue. I was going to go with the possibility of your fellows being decorative and protective feet for those beautiful antique porcelain foot baths, the function being to protect fine finishes below from temperature variance/condensation/steam/whatnot.

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  9. Must be something about American windows Reggie. Draughts really are what we English are best at!

    You peaked my curiosity so I've been looking around. I've found dozens of different sorts of these things out there in a variety of auction contexts, and they're always described as window stops. I've lived with many rattly old sash windows in dear old Blighty and could imagine these would work. Even if the sash is housed below the level of the sill, the majority of the stop's underside would have a flat surface upon which to lie. Unfortunately, I can't find a pic of one in action.

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  10. You are surely correct in ruling out window sash supports. The lower sash always extended below the sill, so the bottom of the supports would have had to compensate for that difference in planes. But they do appear to be supports of some type. I can hardly wait for your brilliant readers to tell us the correct original intent!

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  11. I, too, think they are wonderful and serve some useful purpose -- but I don't have any idea as to what. I would definitely say they ARE NOT pot holders -- would you have Prince Albert at the bottom of a pot, I ask you? I don't think so!!!! And since they are English, it would have to be something English that they would go on.

    Perhaps, instead of a regular window a casement window that swings in -- so that you could hold the window in place on the sill? Just a guess -- we have a few of those at Linderhof but ours swing out -- I do know of some types that swing in.

    They are wonderful pieces whatever they're for!!!

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  12. Oh I just love a design mystery and can't wait until you get to the bottom of this conumdrum!
    They do have a resemblance to the young Prince Albert.

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  13. They are without doubt sash window props. Incredibly useful - we used to use them in the spring to hold the windows open - without them the windows (being Georgian) tended to rattle in the breeze.

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  14. They're charming what ever they are. Might be one for the "Antique Roadshow" to figure out for you! ;)
    True Brit sounded pretty sure though...and I agree that windows during that period in England were probably less weather proofed than in America and were probably able to be supported by little Alberts such as these.
    xo J~

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  15. Dear Mr. Darling,

    Definitely window stops. I grew up in an early Victorian home in London but we never owned such whimsical window stops to prop up our cranky sash windows. Would have been delighted to had my family owned such little gems.

    Here is a photo of a window stop complete with hatch marks similar to yours:

    http://www.ernahiscockantiques.com/view_product.php?product_id=471

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  16. My Parents had an antique business as a hobby...mostly Amish stuff...quilts and dry sinks, pie safe and butter molds...
    But I have seen these type of items before at shows and flea markets...my Dad told me they were to hold open windows...

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  17. Dr. Warren Baker and W. D. John co-authored the book in 1951, "Old English Lustre Pottery". Examples of such items are discussed and on p. 123 and depicted in Illustrations 92.a & 92.c.
    The authors call them furniture rests. The example shown in Illustration 92a is identical in form to Mr. Darling's pair, except being glazed in gold/copper lustre. The authors suggest that this is an image of the Duke of Wellington.
    Permit me to quote the text --

    LUSTRED FURNITURE SUPPORTS
    The Staffordshire potters made many earthenware supports for furniture, and apparently they were the sole producers of these interesting, homely accessories.
    It is believed that originally the earthenware supports were intended to stabilize delicately fabricated musical instuments such as spinets, and to assist in damping down any vibrations which might be picked up by the contact of their tapering legs with wooden floors.
    The supports which were usually round or oval, and about 4-5 inches in height, were soldily constructed, and to render them more ornamental the fronts were attractively modelled with the busts of celebrities or with the heads of animals and birds, in bright enamel colours. Near the top was a protective protuberance and the small platform so formed was corrugated to prevent any slipping of the instruments. They were made in sets of four and with great variety of frontal ornamentation, but owing to their susceptibility to damage, few have survived: they can be formed into an attractive specialized collection.
    A pair of rare silver lustre furniture supports in the form of lions' heads from the collection of Dr. Warren Baker is shown in Illustration No. 92. c. and the frontal and side aspects reveal the structural modelling. (H. 5 inches). c. 1815-1820. A third example in bright gold lustreing with a male mask head, probably the Duke of Wellington, is reproduced in Illustration No. 92. a. (H. 4 1/2 inches). c. 1820. END

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  18. Yes, what Anonymous wrote! I have three of these things in treaclware (non-matching), and I can't tell you how many people have told me they're sash stops. But as Reggie noted, for that ppartucular urpose, these things just are't functional. I've even seen one misidentified in this fashion on The Antiques Roadshow, but no,they are indeed furniture rests. And now I'm jealous because Reggie's are nicer than mine.

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  19. Well.......I escaped humiliation.......by reading this late........I would have said......."pot feet"!

    In California we need them under antique terra-cotta pots......(maybe the new ones have bigger drainage holes)?

    I have to ponder how these keep the windows open.

    Penelope

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  20. Flo: A number of the other commenters also believe they are furniture supports. But what kind of furniture, I wonder?

    VB: Thank you for your return comment. This is getting very interesting, indeed!

    TDC: The plot thickens!

    Martha: Many apparently agree with you that these are not pot holders.

    True Brit, Liza E, and MLS: More consensus building as to these being window supports...

    Anon 8:56: Thank you for your illuminating, detailed, and lengthy response! Greatly appreciated. I find such description of their use as furniture supports of great interest, particularly as it relates to musical instruments. Intuitively it would seem that such use could contribute to reducing stability of heavy instruments (such as spinets) rather than enhancing it. However, these authors write with such authority that it is impossible to discount the validity of what they claim. I had thought that the bust might have been of the Iron Duke as a young man, but came to prefer Prince Albert as the more likely source when consulting portraits painted of them both. My original draft of the essay posited that it could be either. If they are of the Great Duke, then they are indeed earlier than 1840, which makes sense since by then pearlware, which these are made of, was in much diminished production versus ten and twenty years previously.

    Ryan: What a lucky boy you are to have such a collection.

    Penelope Bianchi: You and Reggie were whistling down the same road it seems...

    ALL: This has been most edifying and illuminating dialogue, thank you very much for all of your comments! Right now I think it is a "draw" between window supports and furniture supports (and most decidedly NOT pot feet!). For now I'm going with "multi-purpose", to be used at the owner's discretion for supporting such things as sash windows or furniture as described by Anon 8:56.

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  21. In 1991, Geoffrey A. Godden and Michael Gibson, co-authored "Collecting Lustreware", pub. Barrie & Jenkins, London.
    On page 315, plate 251 depicts "A pair of silver lustre lions' head feet or shoes to be placed under the legs of a dresser or table to raise it from a damp floor. (Sotheby's New York)
    The photo is credited to Sotheby's New York, because this photo is from the Sotheby's archives and was from the auction catalogue of the Collection of Dr. and Mrs. Warren Baker, York Avenue Galleries, Thursday, January 28, 1982, lot 93.

    I am certain that this pair sold to Mary Louise (Wheezie) Gutman at the Baker sale which she attended. Mrs. Gutman of Baltimore would eventually give her pair to Winterthur Museum. This pair are again shown in Michael Gibson's, next text, singularly authored, "19th Century Lustreware", 1999, pub. by Antique Collectors' Club, p. 72, pl.53.

    Once any unusual item in earthenware survives its initial purpose, it is understandable that other uses develope decades later. Imagine the wine coolers that became flower pots. The more utilitarian the object, the easier to place it in a lesser role. I have no doubt that these rests were for spacing furniture off damp stone floors, etc.. I have often thought that they could be useful to support a mirror resting against the wall on a mantel.

    I have read that examples with lion faces and more human features such as the nose, were satirical. It has been suggested they mocked George IV.

    I might add Reggie, that there is an example in the Baker catalogue like your pair and in copper lustre glaze. It is again suggested that this is the Duke of Wellington.

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  22. What debonair window stoppers for propping a window open for a bit of fresh country air. I cam only imagine that if I had to wear a laced up corset, I might need a bit of air!
    pve

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  23. Reggie, I am indeed a lucky boy...and after taking a look at my previously published comment, it appears that I may also be a dyslexic boy. Sorry for the plethora of typos (or typoes?) within my comment. I don't recall being drunk at the time I wrote it, so maybe I, uhhh, maybe I gave up spell-check for lent? Yes, that must be it!

    Although I am absolutely convinced that these objects are designed to be furniture rests rather than having something to do with window sashes, I've googled this subject many. many times and have yet to find a single image of these unusual ceramic pieces in actual usage. If anyone here does run across such an illustration, I'd love to see it. I'm still somewhat puzzled by them.

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  24. Dear Anon 5:07: Thank you for your information-packed and scholarly comment. You are clearly very well-informed in such matters. So, if I get this correctly, you are of the view that their initial purpose was to support furniture, and has evolved over time to include other uses, such as to support sash windows. Assuming you are not the same Anon commenter as Anon 8:56 (am I correct?), there appears to be growing consensus among scholarly types here as to these being furniture supports. Thank you, and please do come back and comment again in the future!

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  25. PVE: I am sure that there are specialty shops that would be more than happy to fit you to such a garment as you describe!

    Ryan: Reggie sympathizes with the sometime typos one finds in comments, which is something he is guilty of himself, often due to his desire to rush out what he is writing, but more often than not due to his fondness for commenting with a cocktail shaker at the ready. Regarding your certainty that these are furniture supports, there are others--quite scholarly it seems--who it appears agree with you.

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  26. Both Anons are one in the same fine friend, so I will make bold to
    suggest that Reggie's furniture rests do not depict the Lst Duke of
    Wellington. The Duke's nose was decidedly aquiline, nor had he that
    wispy mustache depicted by a stroke of lustre.

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  27. Mr. Reggie Darling,
    You are correct to assume that I am the same commentator who responded twice before as "Anonymous". I have never provided any feedback to any blog, but received an alert about your inquiry from a friend who often refers his clients and friends with questions about ceramics. I apologize for being "Anonymous". It seemed easy for the moment.
    I happen to have five of these furniture rests, two pairs of lion-faced in splashed pink lustre, and a single pink lustre example with a more human appearance in the lion's face, with flesh color to the face and a pink lustre moustache. It is quite eccentric and I do think this rest is an example of a utilitarian object to which a potter added a folk quality.
    A previous writer mentioned having three with treacle glaze. I also have seen such examples. I presume treacle is another name for Rockingham glaze.
    It is most possible that eventually these items were used to keep a window sash in an open position and someone recorded such a use, but I know of no such documentation. And it is stretching interpretation to think that anyone would always want their window open to a minimum height as all of these rests represent.

    It is my pleasure to share any knowledge about ceramics with careful comment. Ceramics are generally the oldest and most found artifacts which give interpretation to our human existence. Being a ceramic collector and enjoying their social history, not being an archeaoligist, nor a ceramic curator, I am careful with speculation.

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  28. Permit a comment about identifying the male depicted on your pair of furniture rests.
    It helps to consider the date of the ceramic items. Circa 1820 seems a fare date for these rests, supported by Dr. Warren Baker, W. D, John and auction catalogues from Skinner and Sotheby's.
    If we agree to the general period, who could possibly be the inspiration? Certainly the Duke of Wellington would have been a popular subject, having become a vice admiral, earl, viscount and duke. It was an extraordinary rise because I do believe he was born a common man. "Title" was Wellington's reward for defeating Napolean who battled England for a longtime and was the King's great enemy.
    While not excluding any other celebrity of that period for being depicted on this pair of rests, it is difficult to suggest another of such importance and so revered.
    Another aspect of the potters who produced these commemorative wares, is their frequent disregard for correct images in molds or in transfers. Without visual images being available except for the privileged, great freedom was taken with depictions. I have a jug with a transfer of LaFayette, yet the transfer's lettering identifies the image as Andrew Jackson--The Hero of New Orleans. The potteries were more interested in selling wares, than correct depictions which were not always important or possible to find.
    So, it is safe to say that any portrait on a utilitarian piece of pottery might not be a correct depiction or guide for exact identification.
    Understanding social history and revered individuals of the period is more suggestive.
    Not being an expert on clothing of the time, I can only speculate that the high collar might suggest a military uniform.

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  29. Toby: Thank you for your comment. I agree with you--when I compared the heads I own with portraits of the Duke and the Prince as young men I concluded that my heads were more likely of the Price and not the Duke, for the very reasons you cite.

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  30. Oh yes they would be perfect for one of my sash windows, the cord had broken and I have it propped open with a book

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  31. Anon 1:03 and 9:20: For some reason these two comments were caught by Blogger spam guard, so I am just coming across them now. Thank you, again, for your erudite and informed commentary! I agree with you, that if the heads were made around 1820 then they could not be of Prince Albert, for that is right when he was born. They would, indeed, be most likely the Iron Duke. But as Toby W. notes, and I agree, the physical resemblance to Wellesley is virtually nil, which is why I concluded they were likely later, and made in a likeness of Victoria's consort, who they credibly resemble, and done at the time of their marriage. But then, that is stretching it, too, since pearlware was no longer being made in much quantity by that point! In this case, kind sir, I respect your opinion and guidance, and am more than happy to defer to your knowledge and experience. Thank you, indeed, for enlightening us all! Reggie

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  32. I just ran across some info that relates to these things. An Englishman who evidently has the world's largest collection of these objects, Peter Garland, has written a book called "Ceramic Furniture Rests." There is also a website, by the same name, with info about the book. I didn't buy it because I thought it a bit pricey, but if a local library could get it, you might finally be able to positively identify your pieces.

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  33. The book "Unique Lalique Mascots" by G.G. Weiner published by The Book Guild Ltd. UK

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  34. They are definatly furniture foot rests and window sash rests. See the excellent book on them by Peter Garland.

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  35. I have a pair almost identical except mine are painted. I'm pretty sure that's the Duke of Wellington.

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