Crowding the shelves across from my desk are books covering every era of collecting including dolls and toys, all types of glass, ceramics and silver. Some are more helpful than others, but I use them very little (which considering I was a library aide for years, is maybe a bit odd).
Much of the reason for my ignoring of this treasure trove of reference books is the Internet of course. Virtually anything can be found for sale online, and this wealth of information is invaluable to anyone who needs to know the concise history of almost anything, in addition to answers to questions such as what is it? and the ever important how much is it worth? As young collectors pay large sums for mid-20th century items and increasingly ignore traditional decorative arts, the knowledge and identification of those items that are no longer in fashion becomes increasingly difficult. This is very true for Victoriana, from impressive carved furniture down to the smallest decorative item.
All of this leads me to the item to be evaluated a humble Victorian tchotchke. When our chief operations officer, Lynn Keynon, picked up a small porcelain figure group and asked me to write about fairings, I had to ask her what a fairing was. I had examined the item a week earlier, and because it was small and frankly not of the highest quality, I had decided to send it to our weekly estate auction where we sell household goods an collectibles not quite right for a specialty or premier auction. After I could not find much information on the Internet on the history of fairings, Lynn led me to the bookshelf and we flipped through a few Schroeders price guides. Sometimes we just need to pull away from the Internet and do research the old-fashioned way!
Fairings are figure groups that were made at Staffordshire for the English market as carnival prizes beginning in about 1840. They usually include sly witticisms commenting on the scene at the base. Early more complex and artist-signed examples garner the highest prices, as much as $700 USD in the English market. In about 1890, production of fairings ceased in Stafforshire and fairings dated from 1890-1914 were made primarily in Germany until the First World War began. Reproductions appeared from then until the 1970s, likely to accommodate the rage for Victoriana during that period.
The example Lynn found depicts a bed and the figure of a sleeping man; a woman is standing at the foot of the bed holding a pair of pants. The motto at the base reads ROBBING THE (MALE) MAIL. Much of the decoration is in good condition, but the gilding is rubbed off in areas where the piece was handled, which is a good indicator of age. The motto is not hand-printed, but the detail is good, and Im sure this is an early 20th century German example. Though the American market was realizing about $200 for antique examples in 1996 (the year the Schroeders guide Im referencing was published), I would estimate this item to sell at auction in the $20 to $40 range, because fairings are simply not popular with buyers at this time.