Doggy Décor: Staffordshire Mantle Dogs

By Karen Parr-Moody

May 1, 2017

 

Few items of décor are more charming than Staffordshire pottery dogs, which emerged from the kilns of Staffordshire County, England, in the mid-1800s and were produced until the early 1900s.

 

Today, antique Staffordshire dogs can often be found at antique stores, including GasLamp and GasLamp Too. They typically range from $200 to $300 a pair, depending on their age and shape. (Photo, right, a single Cavalier King Charles Spaniel at GasLamp Too Booth T-101; $135.)

 

In general, Staffordshire figures of all stripes – musicians, classical deities, portraits and more – gave the English middle-class a reasonable alternative to costly Meissen hard-paste porcelain, which was a staple of aristocratic homes.

 

During the reign of Queen Victoria, it became the fashion for middle-class families to place Staffordshire pottery dogs on their mantles, hence their nickname of "mantle dogs” among modern-day collectors. (They are also called "flatbacks" due to their flat backs that were designed so that they could be placed against walls.) 

 

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel was the breed most popularly depicted in Staffordshire ceramic pottery (photo, left, a pair of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with glass eyes; $268 at Booth T-140). Such designs were inspired by Queen Victoria’s pet spaniel, Dash, who was so beloved that the queen dressed him in a scarlet jacket and blue trousers. Today, at least a half dozen paintings of Dash exist from that era.

 

Although Cavalier King Charles Spaniels were the most popular dogs to emerge from Staffordshire kilns, others were also produced, including poodles, which were also popular pets. (One of the earliest decorative depictions of the poodle dates to 1537; one sits in the hem of Queen Consort Jane Seymour’s skirt in The Whitehall Portrait of Henry VIII by Hans Holbein.)

 

These Staffordshire poodles, photo right, are adorned with "frit," which consists of small pieces of porcelain fused to create the appearance of curly fur (circa 1920s; $295 at Booth T-101).

 

Staffordshire dogs have had a place in decorators' hearts since the early 1900s. The legendary interior designer Dorothy Draper placed them throughout the fabled halls of the Greenbrier Hotel. And Diana Vreeland, the grand dame of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar magazines from the '30s to '70s, was a lover of Staffordshire dogs. A kennel’s worth of the dogs, gifts from her late husband, were placed in her famous apartment that was designed by Billy Baldwin.  

 

Beloved canines have roots in the decorative arts that go back as far as a purebred's bloodlines, but they remain a thoroughly modern object of décor. Today, one can place Staffordshire dogs on a mantle, an end table or a bookshelf to create some barking chic design in any room.  

 

 

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