Figure of the month

Sailors with cannon

J & S Mottashed Collection
August 2023

This is a rare Crimean War figure representing two naval gunners with a cannon. One sailor stands upright with his right foot on the cannon, and his right hand to his head as if saluting.  The second sailor is kneeling while priming the cannon.  This figure is about 9 ½” tall and dates to around 1855.  Pugh’s latest edition of Staffordshire Portrait Figures of the Victorian Era illustrates this figure on page 281, figure 233. Harding’s Victorian Staffordshire Figures Book One, page 243, figure 857 also shows the figure.

J & S Mottashed Collection

Why did the Staffordshire potters make Crimean War figures?
by Sarah Gillett

The Crimean War (1853-1856) was a brutal conflict that took its name from the Crimean Peninsula on the Black Sea. The war, which claimed an estimated 650,000 lives, pitted Britain, France, Turkey and Sardinia against Russia. It started with Russian Tsar Nicholas I’s invasion of the Turkish Danubian principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia (now Romania). Britain and France wanted to prop up the ailing Ottoman Empire and saw Nicholas’s power grab as a danger to their trade routes, so were determined to stop him advancing. French and Turkish troops far outweighed the British troops, and the War Office was forced to send in militia men to support the army and navy. The war’s most enduring symbol of failure is that of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaklava.

The Crimean War is considered to be the first modern technological conflict, making use of mass-produced rifles, armoured assault vehicles, telegraphs to communicate messages and railways to transport supplies and ammunition across Europe. The war was also one of the first to be documented in photographs, drawings and reports, as newspapers sent correspondents and artists to the battlefields for ‘live’ updates. The Times, The London Illustrated News, and other papers recreated these sketches and watercolours as woodblock illustrations, often pairing them with vivid written accounts, bringing the impact of the war home to ordinary people in Britain.

From these images the Staffordshire potters immortalised many Crimean War personalities including Florence Nightingale, Omar Pasha, Lord Raglan and General Simpson. Two popular French generals portrayed by the potters were Canrobert and Pelissier. They made figures of the famous British Admirals Napier and Dundas who sailed the fleet of ships to the Crimea, carrying not only soldiers but also horses, artillery and weapons. The resulting drawings and paintings inspired figures of naval gunners and many other patriotic figures of sailors, soldiers and allied forces groups. You can also find Staffordshire figures of Fort Malakoff, commemorated as the battle where the French held off Russian troops in 1855, leading to the end of the war.

In 1854 a Greek tortoise named Timothy was found on a Portuguese ship by a captain of the Royal Navy. Timothy served as a mascot throughout the war, living to 160 years old. He died in 2004 at Powderham Castle in Devon, where he had lived since 1892. As far as we know, there is no Staffordshire figure of Timothy, but we are keeping our eyes open!


More Figures of the month

Prophet Elijah and the Widow of Zarephath

May 2024

This is a fine pair of early Staffordshire figures of Elijah, the Old Testament prophet, and the Widow of Zarephath. This pair of figures is attributed to Obadiah Sherratt, the table bases, bocage, and flowers being typical of Sherratt.   

Boys playing cricket

April 2024

This is a pair of Staffordshire figures of unidentified boys playing cricket, standing 6 ½” and 6 ¾” tall, dating to around 1850. 

Tom King and Dick Turpin

March 2024

This is a fine pair of Staffordshire figures of Tom King and Dick Turpin, probably originating from a theatrical production.  Note the four separately moulded legs on each horse. 


February 2024

This is a theatrical figure representing an actor in the role of Artabanes, from the opera Artaxerxes. The figure stands 11 3/4” tall, dates to approximately 1830-1840, and is very rare. There is a dagger in his right hand, part of the blade being hidden beneath his sash.  The interior and the edging of his coat are fully lined with ermine.

Napoleon III with Prince Albert

January 2024

This is a figure of Napoleon III with Prince Albert, each with a drum on the ground and to the side.  The figure stands 10 ¾” and dates to about 1854.

A pair of clowns

December 2023

This is a fine pair of Staffordshire clowns, both standing 6 ½” tall, dating to circa 1860.  Each is wearing pantaloons, with the figure on the left holding a cane. 


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