Sunday, 3 March 2013

Porcelain Favours

Funny how things go sometimes... 

Not being a great lover of newspapers (I generally only see them as fodder for papiermaché pulp, and my artistic creations), I was surprised recently, when in a Dutch local rag (Nieuwsblad van het Noorden), I came across a photo of a 19th century porcelain dog - a Staffordshire Spaniel to be exact - a popular ornament in the Victorian era. The article was entitled: 'Turfstekers en Hoerenhondjes; - 'Peat cutters and Whore dogs'.

Nothing remarkable in that, I hear you bark? Well, co-incidences of co-incidences, I have recently inherited a couple of said beasts, which now sit proudly, if somewhat arrogantly with spoilt little expressions, facing each other from the corners of adjoining book shelves, in my living room.

It is interesting to discover that throughout history, Spaniels (the living ones), have been the pet of choice with royalty. Ladies of the court would often hide them under their skirts to keep their legs warm. Apparently, a black and white, toyCavalier King Charles Spaniel, was found under the skirts of Mary Queen of Scots, shortly after she was beheaded, in 1587.

By the 1720's onwards, the porcelain variety began to be manufactured in Staffordshire potteries, with their popularity increasing throughout Queen Victoria's reign. As a result extra labour - children - were hired to keep up with demand; they helped in the decoration by painting on the whiskers and splotches on the spaniels backs. Generally made in pairs and with no two Spaniel faces alike, the Staffordhire Spaniel became:

...the quintessential Victorian bourgeois status-symbol knick-knack: no mantelpiece was complete without a pair of 
spaniels standing guard.

Apart from their obvious decorative appeal, Victorian brothels would put a pair in their windows, pretending that they were in fact a porcelain shop! 

In modern day windows, hearsay has it that how the dogs are placed is of particular interest to potential clientele - If the dogs face each other, it is a sign that the husband is in the house; if they have their backs to each other, well I think you can guess the rest...

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