Articles At A Glance
Chalkware Figures Gain Respect and Higher Prices
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, March 2007
Humble chalkware objects considered a form of folk art, once sold from peddler’s packs , are still modestly priced when they come to auction at $200 or more. However the more unique and rare the form the prices can be over a thousand dollars. Don’t confuse them with the Carnival chalk ware figures made from 1900 to the 1920s. These have a pinkish cast.
Those made in the 1930s were trimmed with glitter and turn up at garage sales and flea markets.
Though chalkware was first made in America as early as 1768, it has come to be associated with Italian immigrants who peddled it in American cities in the mid-19th century. When unpainted the surface resembled chalk. The hollow figures were made in a mold of gypsum, the main ingredient in plaster of Paris. Because of their light weight early pieces were weighted. The figures were cast in a two piece mold by pouring the “batter” into the oiled mold. Rapid stirring quickly hardened it. The cured halves were cemented together and the rough edges smoothed before it was painted.
Thousands of figures were made for 19th century middle-class Americans because of it’s resemblance to the more expensive English Staffordshire figures.
Even though they were mass produced they were hand painted and no two were exactly alike. Early pieces were painted with oil and sized (protecting the surface, smoothing before painting with a fabric or gelatinous glaze). Later pieced were not sized before being painted with watercolors. They weren’t glazed or fired. Originally the colors of gaudy reds, yellows, etc. had mellowed. Many were made and sold around Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
They were first sold by Henry Christian Geyer who advertised them as plaster figures, in the Boston News Letter of January 25, 1770.
CLUES: Turn the piece upside down and examine the inside of the hollow body. Look for evidence of glue. Reproductions are heavier than the old pieces. While authentic pieces still may have their original bright colors, often they have been “touched up”. That lessens the value.
Restoration by professionals is acceptable. Nodding-head figures are the rarest. However there are reproductions from Europe. If they have been repaired and have restored mechanisms that lowers the value. Rarest is a nodding woman’s figure.
Most common are non-moving chalk ware figures of animals, fruit and flowers. Often made in a variety of sizes, the largest are most expensive.
The religious figures of angles, saints and cherubs were predominantly made by Italians. Often niches were made so that the owner could display a favorite religious figure. Collectors would consider a creche with figures of the Christ child, Mary , Joseph and animals a real discovery.
Though hundreds of watch stands were made to display pocket watches they are now rarities. They were left undecorated on the back since they were meant to stand against a wall.
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