Royal Doulton: More Than Just Collectibles? (Part 2)

At the time of this writing there are approximately 58,000 active listings of Royal Doulton on Ebay (30,000 items have sold there since February), 16,000 pieces are listed on Ruby Lane and more than a dozen specialist auctions happen annually with rare and unusual pieces, worldwide (it would be impossible to track how many regular auctions and estate sales have at least one piece of Royal Doulton for sale each time).

So is the Royal Doulton market alive and well? Most definitely! Even though in the last decade the Royal Doulton company has been in and out of bankruptcy and lost its independence to become part of the WWRD group. Their production levels are down and most of the pieces are now produced in Thailand! The reason for their demise is mostly attributed to poor management, proliferation of too many new lines in the 90s and the bad economy, but clearly not due to a lack of interest. As Steve Mullin, curator of the Toby Jug Museum says in his new supplement (I paraphrase) ‘though Royal Doulton’s situation is disappointing and their marketing teams disregard for the lines such as character jugs that have promoted their brand over the last 100 years there is no reason to see this as a debilitating blow to the Royal Doulton collector world. On the contrary there are many makers which seized operation in the last two centuries whose character and toby jugs continue avidly to be sought after’.

It is true that the sheer volume of online sales has affected the availability of Royal Doulton pieces thus lowering their price. In my research though this has only been the case with the more common or regular production pieces. The truly rare pieces actually now have buyers all over the world looking and bidding for them, ever increasing their value. In addition the ability for collectors anywhere in the world to now easily purchases pieces (even if there is no active market in their country) has significantly increased the number of global collectors. I for example am in Israel and buy practically nothing locally.

As I mentioned in part 1 of this blog, as a collector one should always buy what appeals to them but if possible why not do so with pieces that hold their value at the very least, or better yet appreciate? If there is an ordinary piece you love by all means buy it, but get it for a great price.

Before I go any further, if there is one thing as a collector, or dealer you should take from this blog it is to buy a Charlton Standard Catalogue. It is the most widely used guide in the industry and lists all pieces produced and their current retail price. When dealers or collectors say book value they are referring to the Charlton Catalogue. There are specific guides for Character & Toby Jugs, Figurines, Animals and Collectibles (which covers bunnykins and other collectibles such as Harry Potter, Disney characters). In addition if you intend to focus on Character & Toby Jugs, The Century of Royal Doulton Character & Toby Jugs by Steve Mullin is an absolute must (if you purchase it from the author directly you will receive a price guide and the new supplement that came out in February, please email me and I will pass on his contact details). Those focused on Figurines should purchase the Royal Doulton Figurines book by Louise Irvine (the author has also published a number of books on Series Ware should that be your area of interest).

A short note about fakes. They do exist and to the seasoned collector they are pretty obvious as they usually lack quality and their stamps are always wrong in some way so check those carefully. Luckily the items that were generally copied (in most cases) were not valuable to start with. Some character jugs have been converted into lighters outside of the factory, these are identifiable by their heavier weight and often paint marks around the lighter. Please also be careful about items being sold that have been restored as damage (anything that is not a minor firing flaw or crazing) can drastically lower the value of the piece (no matter how professional the restoration). There is also a lot of discussion about color trials. It is possible in some cases that unfinished items were removed from the factory and painted outside. There will always be some debate as there is no complete list of trials from the factory but generally if the colors are too exotic it is a bad sign (many designers painted pieces in fabulous colors for their own practice or use and these were often noted by visitors to the Doulton factory and these were not authorized releases). The stamps and writing on the base should be checked to be sure that it is all beneath the glaze and has not been applied later. Lastly since black, red, silver and gold are the colors most used over glaze please view these items with extra care. Bisque items (mostly character or toby jugs) are pieces that were never painted (either due to war time restrictions or some slight defect) these pieces often sell at a premium to the regular production pieces. Lastly a Royal Doulton second can be identified either with a cross scratched through the lion and crown symbol (as was done with earlier pieces) or with the four D’s being drilled through.

In part three of this blog I will go into what specifically makes some pieces rarer than others and where the opportune new collector might wish to start.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest

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