China Fairings

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Fairings first made an appearance in the middle of the nineteenth century as prizes to be won at Victorian fairgrounds (hence the name), and remained popular until the start of the First World War. They are small china statuettes (about four inches tall and two inches wide), all decorative and mainly with inscriptions on the base, some humorous, often saucy ,occasionally moralistic or even political Many of them feature animals, sometimes dressed as or behaving like human beings.

Fairings were once known as "bedpieces" as beds feature heavily in the domestic scenes. While most are simple ornaments, some take the form of small containers ("pinboxes") and others are match strikers or watch holders . Original china fairings are now keenly sought as collectors items.

Strangely, for something that seems so quintessentially English, fairings were mainly produced in Germany by Conta and Boehme of Pössneck. This manufacturer developed a mass production technique that no other manufacturer could match. Confusingly, many of the more common fairings exist in numerous variations, such as the most common one- the last into bed to put off the light. Others appear with different captions, and the same caption can appear on different fairings. Some fairings have no caption at all, particularly the pinboxes.

Collectors of any form of antiques must always be on the look out for fakes or reproductions. Fake fairings outnumber the real thing severalfold. Although they make pretty enough decorations, serious collectors regard them as trash. While it takes an expert to be absolutely certain, here are a few tell tale signs that let you spot the more obvious fakes a mile off.

  • Look for two holes, each about the size of a fingernail, on the underside of the fairing.

  • On a genuine fairing, the caption is usually (although not always) inscribed in cursive script. Reproductions often have captions printed in block upper case black letters, and these captions may be sloping downwards rather than horizontal. Such a caption is no guarantee that the fairing is not genuine as some originals also have poorly printed captions.

  • Reproductions often appear cheap and shoddy. Is the gilding of poor quality? Do the colours seem too gaudy?

  • Many fairings have a four-digit manufacturer's number printed underneath. Avoid any fairing bearing a number starting with "18" - it's a phoney!

  • A covering of grime on the fairing makes it look like an antique. Does the dirt on the fairing look genuine or recently applied? Of course, many genuine fairings have been carefully cleaned, so dirt is no foolproof guide.

Bear these points in mind when buying a fairing. If in doubt - leave it.

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