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Figures of gods and goddesses, examples drawn from literature, famous political and military men and above all, representations of royalty, all found homes in England and America.Figures destined for mantelpieces were known as flatbacks, with modelling and painting confined to the areas facing outward.Most of the Victorian-era Staffordshire figures were painted overglaze; colours were applied after the first white glazing, enabling the piece to be fired at lower temperatures and allowing a wider range of colours.Popular characters from literature (Uncle Tom, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet) were identified on the base, as were political figures of the day (often the only way we remember them).Underglaze cobalt blue was discovered in about 1830, and began to be applied to Staffordshire figures.Before this discovery, there were no colours that could stand the high temperatures of the glazing kilns.
Most of the Staffordshire moulds of the 19th C historical and political figures were not produced in later years, so examples are likely to be old and more costly.
After 1865 cobalt blue was no longer in use; and overglaze enamel colours were used exclusively. By the1870's most figures were produced in white, and a less expensive form of gilding was introduced, which was painted on after firing which made it a much cheaper method of production.
The gilding used is also a good guide to dating; the early form of gilding is called "best gold", a softly coloured gold, applied at the same time as the overglaze enamels; later gilding, "bright gold", is harsher and shinier. Flatback Staffordshire figures crowned their fireplace mantels; transferware dishes lined plate racks and sideboards in their large dining rooms.
Few Staffordshire figures bear makers marks, although some experts can identify similarities of style that might come from an individual factory (for example, the style of the base may provide a clue).
Potters copied figures and even produced variants of the same figure.