Know Thy Silver

Silver is wonderful isn’t it? Nothing quite makes a festive meal like silverware. Even though some consider it high maintenance, it is so worth it when that beautiful shine comes through.

Silver hallmarking boasts the claim (at least in England) of being the oldest form of consumer protection. The regulation of the goldsmith craft (the term “goldsmith” was formally used without distinction for both goldsmiths and silversmiths) dates back to Medieval times.

As with anything valuable or collectible, fakes are found. It always pays to buy from either a reputable dealer and/or check the items with acid (which can be bought rather inexpensively and can be used for silver, gold and platinum). That said the penalty for faking hallmarks on any precious metal has been severe for centuries in most countries. After all gold and silver since ancient times are in essence the purest form of universal currency.  

Knowing and understanding hallmarks and makers marks is really important, both in determining value and age. Take a glance at the candlesticks in the picture, would you have guessed they were French, circa 1738 just from looking at them? Much like with furniture and jewelry, styles constantly come back into fashion or never fell out of fashion like a classic silver goblet. The value and rarity though can vary tremendously.

I was recently asked by a few people only days apart what resources I use to check silver, especially when at a market or fair, and that has been the inspiration for this blog. I personally come across a lot of English, Irish and Scottish silver so I carry a small book called English Silver Hallmarks by Judith Banister. A truly excellent book that is easy to use and can be purchased for about $8. I love silver from the British Isles because it is so specific in its markings, which usually includes a makers mark, silver standard mark, city mark and date mark.Those who need to check up other hallmarks such as American, German or French and/or have smart technology with them when they go picking, here is an excellent reference website: to use and with a truly global reach.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest


Royal Doulton: More Than Just Collectibles? (Part 3)

So what makes some Royal Doulton pieces more valuable than others? Like with most collectibles rarity, scarcity, quality and in some cases the subject matter.

Most of the valuable pieces were produced in very limited quantity which happened for many different reasons ranging from war putting production to a halt (like with the rare WWII pieces), copyright issues (found with productions of famous people such as the Clark Gable jug), marketing concerned an item was to costly to produce (often only after the production was already underway which sometimes meant a remodeling took place like with the iconic Pearly Boy jug or it was discontinued completely), the companies financial problems, causing the restructuring and often the discontinuation of lines, concern an item could break too easily which meant the piece needed to be remodeled (making the earlier version far more valuable) and lastly prototypes or trials that never went into production at all.

Terms are often thrown around (in order to entice the buyer) so let us define the most important ones according to the general industry standards.

Prototype: an item that was commissioned but never put into production. This term includes any piece that was not put into production at all such as John Gilpin Jug or was the item was produced but with remodeling differences from the originally proposed version. These differences could be a remodeled handle or facial changes. Very few prototypes can be taken from the original clay mold and so with early prototypes usually only one or two samples were made and later pieces anywhere between two to four samples could exist.

Design Trial: these pieces are the standard model but have a very clear design difference often with such things as flags. Where as the standard production piece might have a Union Jack flag on the trial their will be a St George Cross flag. Many design trials are unique and at the very most there can be as many as three or four.

Colour Trial: these pieces have the same model as the production piece but were painted in different colors that were never put into production (these differ from colorways that were put into production such as the Jester which was released in multiple colors each with a different production number). As with early prototypes the older pieces in color trials are usually unique where as with later trials there are usually two to three and in some cases a few more. Please note that some items, though rare, are not color trials but are just missing the over glaze (such as with white Santa jug or blue flambe Genie jug).

Firsts/Samples/Photo Samples: these were the first mock ups of an item to be put into production. They are painted with greater attention to detail and are the pieces from which the catalog photos are taken. These pieces do sell for a premium and are marked sample or photo sample.

Unique: only one is known to exist, this means that no other piece like this has come to auction or been sold to the best of the knowledge of the dealer (who has checked thoroughly with all the known authorities and the specialist auctions). The Charlton and other guides will use the term unique or one known to exist (sometimes the term none known to exist is also used when an item was put into production but is only known due to the Royal Doulton archives listing it). With early pieces it is likely they are unique and with later items as many as three may have been made (whether all have survived is another matter entirely).

Extremely Rare: this is the term generally used to describe items that were put into production but of which very few are known to exist and have not been sold at auction often enough to establish a retail price in the guides.

Rare: this is the term given to items that were put into production and more than a few are known to exist but have not come up for sale often enough at an auction to establish a retail price in the guides.

Scarce: these are items that were created in sizable production numbers but are so beloved that they seldom come up for sale (of course this is also a fairly subjective term). One such example is the Character Jug of Marley’s Ghost that was a limited edition of 2500 pieces in 1999 which is so sought after that I have seen it currently retailing for double or triple the listed book value with known Doulton sellers).

Please note that in part two I mentioned that one of the ways of identifying if an item was made outside of the factory is if the stamp is over the glaze. This is not the case when the special property of Royal Doulton stamp is used (for prototypes and other trials).

Royal Doulton sadly never kept the best records. In fact the first complete list of the HN series was only published in 1978. Prototypes and trials that were never assigned production numbers were often not recorded at all! With the closing of the Royal Doulton offices in Stoke on Trent unique and previously unknown items now need to be authenticated by known dealers and auction houses (of which luckily there are many).

It is with these rarer items that the value gains have been seen. The prices are likely to continue to rise now that the production of character jugs & figurines has been so greatly shrunk or been halted entirely. There could not be a better time to start collecting or dealing!

Many of the Royal Doulton collectors are not keen about buying items produced after 1999, In the year 2000 Royal Doulton came out with a new stamp and soon after moved production of most items to Thailand. Though some of the models are exquisite it is clear that the painting quality has suffered and many of the jugs receive a lot of transfer paint The exception is the prestige series which is still produced in the UK and done, by the very best painters, by custom order. I am personally still purchasing later prototypes and some design trials as these items were also produced in the UK and are completely hand painted.

If you intend to focus on the rarer pieces I recommend keeping in contact with known dealers or purchasing from reputable specialist auctions. Though finding three fakes every few month out of the 58000 items listed on Ebay may not seem like a lot, when those fakes are valuable pieces selling for a couple of thousand or more the experience can be quiet painful so be careful. Those looking to just find the pieces they adore that are fairly common should indeed make use of the online auctions as one can truly find bargain prices.

One opportunity I am seeing at the moment for those wondering where to start is in the earlier pieces. Focus on the rare pieces of the WWII period. Many of the estates of early Doulton collectors have been coming up for sale in the last few years and pieces that were coming up for sale once every few years are now reaching the market at a fair price and with more frequency. These include items that were produced with very special back-stamps to mark special events often in very limited productions. This trend will definitely not last as the collectors that started in the 90’s are grabbing them up. It is important to note that many of the earlier pieces though originally produced in decent quantities have been damaged, lost or destroyed over time and this only makes those still around all the more valuable.

In conclusion, Royal Doulton collectors are indeed alive and well. Those who just want to amass a lovely collection with pieces they enjoy should purchase these pieces at a fair price and understand they will likely not appreciate. As for those wanting to see steady appreciation, the focus should be on the rarer and unique pieces as these will undoubtedly continue to increase in value.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest

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

Royal Doulton: More Than Just Collectibles? (Part 1)

Wide eyed, at the age of seven, I found myself sitting in the middle of a Sotheby’s auction, in Cape Town, South Africa, with my astute mother and a wide array of smartly dressed bidders. A story in and of itself as to how I got involved in ‘antiquing’ so young but for this blogs sake we accept the premise that such a thing happens and is normal. And what did I end up bidding on, what caught my attention enough to convince my mother to bid for an early birthday present for me? It was none other than a Royal Doulton Character Jug of Dick Turpin. And as they say the rest is history. As I got older I began to understand that though the first rule of collecting is acquire what you love and enjoy, there is in my opinion a bit of fine print to apply to that.

Like with many before me, Royal Doulton has managed to attract a loyal following, holding them for a life time, and have continued this cycle for over a century. One could say the reason for their success is due to the sheer range of items that they create. In truth there are many factors that have contributed but for me that day and ever since then the key has been that Royal Doulton Figurines, Character Jugs and Tobys have soul. Unlike many of the Austrian, Hungarian and even French potters and sculptures, Doulton did not try to create perfectly proportioned statuette pieces in the classic styles mastered by the Romans. Rather they wished to convey realness and feeling, which required them to use a far more abstract style. Their pieces are whimsical, beautiful, scary, strange and fun often all at the same time!

It is not surprising though that many of the same principles that apply to acquiring other forms of antiques and collectibles apply to Royal Doulton too…Yes you should buy what makes you happy, what you love and what you enjoy but if at all possible why not do so with items that in the very least hold their value and possibly even appreciate? Surely you will feel less guilty over the years (especially if the spouse or significant other thinks you are just an addict of sorts).

In my next few blogs I will be taking a look at the pieces of Royal Doulton that have done just that, appreciated (after which I will be moving to other collectible categories that I have seen do much the same). I will be addressing why and will hopefully leave you with practical ideas to follow and pitfalls to avoid (yes, there are fakes and dodgy items out there, but there ways to avoid them).

I am a strong believer in antiques and collectibles as an asset class that can be utilized to create and sustain wealth, while having fun! I hope through my blogs you will be able to see why. As my mother once said to my late father, ‘I would really much prefer a check on the wall (a valuable painting) to more bric a brac.

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Dylan of The Gryphon’s Nest