Staffordshire Dogs

By Karen Parr-Moody

Certain English design motifs — including the Union flag and Queen Elizabeth’s coronation silhouette against Wedgwood’s Jasperware — have traveled far across the pond. But perhaps none is more beloved than the ceramic Staffordshire spaniel.

 

Diana Vreeland, the legendary editor of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines from the ’30s to '70s, loved these homespun spaniels and featured them in her glamorous New York City apartment. Fabled interior designer Dorothy Draper was also a fan; she placed them throughout the illustrious halls of the Greenbrier Hotel. (Photo right: Pair of Staffordshire spaniels with lustre finish; $398 for the pair, Booth T-140).

 

The model of the Staffordshire spaniel was the purebred dog called the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a breed named for King Charles II of England and beloved by the upper class and British royalty. During the Renaissance, they were called Comforter Spaniels or Spaniells Gentle; ladies of the court kept them under their huge skirts, where the dogs warmed their legs.

 

 For the most part, the ceramic version of these spaniels possess an iconic sameness: They are seated, wear a gold chain and locket and have a creamy white base coat. They were originally produced in pairs, but no two dogs are ever the same due to their distinctive hand-painted fur. Antique and vintage Staffordshire figurines can be found from time to time at GasLamp; in fact, there are currently more than a half dozen pairs at GasLamp Too. (Photo left: Pair of black Staffordshire spaniels with glass eyes, by Sadler Burslem, manufactured circa 1910; $385 for the pair, Booth T-140).

 

Staffordshire spaniels emerged from the pottery kilns of Staffordshire County, England, in the mid-1800s and were produced there until the early 1900s. The potters of Staffordshire produced an array of animals, both wild and domestic, and enough dogs to populate a Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. But it is the Staffordshire spaniel that reigned supreme, most likely due to the popularity of the Queen Victoria’s well-known and beloved pet spaniel, Dash.  

 

 While Staffordshire spaniels continue to win the hearts of today’s chic, when they first came into fashion they were found in the cozy cottages of the poor or middle class, not in sleek city apartments or grand hotels. At that time, the fireplace was considered the heart of every home and families would place a pair of Staffordshire spaniels on both ends of the mantel. (Photo right: a pair of Staffordshire dogs, with reddish-brown accents and glass eyes; $348, Booth T-140).

 

Today, Staffordshire spaniels typically range in price from $200 to $300 a pair up to $1,000, depending on their age and shape. Rare styles include spaniels with a basket in their mouths. Rarer still are the spaniels smoking tobacco pipes (one such pair is currently for sale online at 1st Dibs for a whopping $4,720).

 

In the trade language of pottery, any of the shallow figures that came out of the Staffordshire kilns — including dogs, lambs and famous rulers — were called “chimney pieces” or “flat backs.” They were inexpensive and were even given out as carnival prizes, much as chalkware was some time later. A bit of trivia: In one episode of the popular TV drama “Downton Abbey,” a character plays a game of ring toss at a traveling carnival and one of the prizes was a Staffordshire pottery spaniel. (Photo left: A single dog with reddish-brown accents; $185, Booth T-140).

 

It is so easy to see why Staffordshire spaniel figurines have won hearts ever since the Victorian era. With their simplistic lines and folksy style of painting, theirs is an unmistakable look that will not soon be forgotten. And they bring a heaping does of charm to modern rooms, just as they once did to the cottages of Victorian England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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