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The Look for Less: Staffordshire dog purebreds vs. HSN's new pups

February 22, 2011 |  8:40 am

Picnik collage dogs
A couple of summers back I wrote about the Los Angeles residence of fashion designer Johnson Hartig, a home filled with recent Damien Hirst paintings and a curious collection of antique ceramic figurines, including packs of Staffordshire dogs in almost every room. It seemed quaint and eccentric, even for the creator of the trendy Libertine clothing line. 

Named for the county of Staffordshire, where potteries produced these ceramic mantel piece canines, the dogs are Cavalier King Charles spaniels named for the British monarch, Charles II (1630-1685) who was said to give these royal hounds the run of the castle. In the early 18th century, the figurines were made from china and hand-painted in a labor intensive process of repeated kiln firings. They reached the height of their popularity in the late 1800s and were mass produced in the 20th century. 

Staffordshire Dogs - Green It turns out that Hartig's collection was ahead of the curve. As designers look back to the 19th century for inspiration, these pups have emerged as iconic symbols of Victorian decor.

They are now so hip that in 2010, young British designer Donna Wilson sweetly reinterpreted them in signed and dated limited edition pairs, right. Wilson, who is known for handmade animal dolls and vividly patterned pillows and blankets, has the figures made in Staffordshire and hand-paints a Fair Isle sweater pattern on the neck and chest. They sell for $400 per pair in the U.S. exclusively through The Future Perfect. 

Original Staffordshire dogs are far more expensive, starting at about the $1,000 mark and rising in cost based on age, condition and rarity. One of the above pairs is an antique, the other a new reproduction by Carlton Varney for HSN that's just under $40.  

Keep reading to see which dogs have the pedigree and which are fresh from the puppy mill -- I mean ceramics factory.

The bone china antique Staffordshire spaniels, above right and below, are believed to be from the mid-19th century and were purchased from a dealer who found them in Wales. Each dog is 13.5 inches tall and 11 inches wide. One indication that these dogs are long in the tooth is that the hand-painted gold on their collars and chain leashes has worn away. They are priced at $1,195 for the pair from Rue De Lillie in Summerland, Calif., (805) 695-8180.

Pch207

At almost 8 inches tall and just over 5 inches wide, you can think of the Carleton Varney Staffordshire dogs, above left and below, as miniature versions of the classics. They are part of a collection of five pieces including a jar and a lamp that the designer created for HSN and made from porcelain in China. The dogs shown here bear the closest resemblance to the antiques, but do not have the same details in the musculature and fur and have a bit of puppy fat in their faces. Not bad as far as reproductions go, with a fetching price of $39.99. Whether they will become more valuable in 100 years is debatable, but Varney's signature appears on the bottom, for future generations to discover. 

Varney dogs
--David A. Keeps

Photo credits: Ann Summa, HSN

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