Sunday, September 25, 2011

Saucer of the Week: English Child's Punch and Judy Plate

Several weeks ago, while Boy was out and about doing errands and a bit of idle shopping, he came across a whimsical little plate in a pocket-sized antiques store that belongs to a family of pickers and that has been a most happy hunting ground for us.  It is the same shop, in fact, Dear Reader, where Boy found the souvenir portrait of the inestimable Robert Burns (identified as such by the eagle-eyed Corinthian Columnist) that now graces our dining room's pride of space (we have since had the painting cleaned and the frame restored).

The little plate Boy brought home was designed, I believe, to be used in a child's tea service, and depicts a scene from the Punch and Judy puppet show that was wildly popular in England from the late sixteen hundreds through the mid-twentieth century and continues to be performed in that country to this day.  The brown transfer-print design features Punch with his wife, Judy, who is holding their daughter, accompanied by a pipe-smoking frog nearby.  I had initially suspected that the figures depicted were based on illustrations done by George Cruikshank (1792-1878) in 1828, when a script for Punch and Judy was published for the first time.

A Cruikshank illustration from John Payne Collier's
The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Punch and Judy, published 1828

However, when I compared the figures on the plate with those of Cruikshank's, it is clear that they are based on later illustrations, perhaps of the 1840s.  The overall design of the plate, though, is unmistakably of the even later English Aesthetic movement, popular in the 1870s and 1880s.  My, what a hodgepodge of inspiration this delightful child's plate is!

When the plate is turned over, a mark is revealed identifying it as having been made by Charles Allerton & Sons, an English pottery active 1859-1942.  Based on what research I have been able to do, and taking into account the style of its design, I date the plate to pre-1889.

The plate's mark

While not technically a saucer, my diminutive little plate qualifies for inclusion in this series because of its size (it is only four and one quarter inches across) and because I choose to do so.

The Punch and Judy plate currently sits on a bedside table in one of our guest rooms at Darlington House, where it provides sweet pleasure—one hopes—to our guests and a most decorative and utilitarian repository for their keys, errant buttons, and the small bits of printed papers and spent candy wrappers that one empties one's pockets of when retiring at the end of the day.

I hope you find this little plate as charming as I do, Dear Reader.

Photographs by Boy Fenwick; Cruikshank illustration courtesy of


  1. I am, as the saying goes, as pleased as Punch to see this plate. I remember when a child seeing Punch and Judy and being scared stiff of Mr Punch's voice. I haven't liked harsh or loud voices since. That apart, Punch and Judy is brilliant to watch and, like pantomime at Christmas, one of those traditions that is so much part of my generation's background. Sheer nostalgia sent me to Wikipedia and a very interesting read it was.

  2. What an adorable plate. The somewhat manic look of the characters is brought back in proportion by the welter of Aesthetic detail.

    I am always a sucker for anthropomorphic frogs. These reached their apogee in Starewicz's silent animated film The Frogs Who Wanted a King (Les grenouilles qui demandent un roi).

  3. Boy found a little treasure indeed. Reggie, I love it and I am sure your guests will.

    Art by Karena

  4. It is my favorite! And I adore them all!!

  5. I find it very charming indeed. I actually had two of these little plates myself but sold them on eBay years ago. One had the letters of the alphabet lining the rim of the plate, while the other was just like yours. That alphabet plate sold for approximately ten times what the simpler plate went for. So, although they were both nice, I suppose I did find the alphabet plate to be a bit more charming:)

  6. I have loved all these saucers etc.; but this one is my favorite!
    Bravo Boy!!!

  7. When I was a pre-schooler, my next door neighbor had four place settings of a child size set of Blue Willow for luncheon parties with two other neighbors and me. It brings back a lot of good memories with Ovaltine in the teacups and such.

  8. I never liked Punch and Judy as a child and could not understand why adults thought it was such a treat. Nonetheless, the plate is very charming. Good find, Boy!

    xox Camilla

  9. Punch and Judy always scared me as a child but I loved playing tea, and the plate is adorable.

  10. I never took to Punch and Judy either, but your little plate is delightful! Is there a registration number? If so I can check it and tell you what year the pattern was registered.

  11. If you ever decide to open a B & B, it would be nice to serve little cookies on or present the bill to fine guests.

  12. I love children's tea services...what an adorable plate!

  13. Definitely one to serve Christmas mince tarts on during the holiday season. There's nothing quite as camp or as festive as English Panto characters at Christmas!

  14. SO charming!! Such a fitting post after just returning from London where I saw many Punch and Judy references!! Hope you're enjoying this marvelous day!!

  15. It is excellent. I just love your informative and well-written posts.
    A brown transfer-print is one of my favorites.
    Good find Boy!

  16. The palte is sweett, but what I really love is the photos of the imari! Can't have enough!

  17. Reggie, where are you? It has been two weeks since your last post! Concerned about you.


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