Collector's Corner: This market is crackers for animals

Beswick has been making ceramic beasts since the 1930s, and now they're in demand

Many people wouldn't look twice at a ceramic cow in an antiques sale - and recoil at the thought of decorating their home with a figure of a little girl on a pony. But collectors ignore such items at their cost.

Beswick animal figures have been rocketing in value for the past 10 years, with prices now reaching several thousand pounds.

Bill Buckley began holding dedicated Beswick sales at Potteries Auctions in Stoke-on-Trent in 1997, and demand for the animal figures has taken off. "It was phenomenal, because none of the other auctioneers were touching it at that time," Buckley says.

"Since then values have gone up and up. A lot of money has come into the market in the last five years from investors, but now is a good time to buy as prices have slowed a little and you can pick up some good deals. Beswick is always going to be collectable."

One reason for the slowdown now is that the Beswick brand was recently sold by Royal Doulton. The new owner has promised that there will be no duplication of older figures, which is good news for collectors and investors alike.

So what do the Beswick animals have that other manufacturers don't? Alexander Clement at Bonhams says: "Beswick has always produced consistent quality - other manufacturers just don't measure up. They were always well modelled, cast and painted, so pretty much anything they made could be a collectable in the future."

Buckley adds: "People usually just collect a certain type of pottery, but they collect Beswick animals either because they love horses or because they farm cows or breed birds. They understand the animal. Not many other manufacturers can say they created real ceramic replicas, but Beswick gets the modelling and the colouring right."

Currently, the highest prices are reached for the rare early cattle such as a Hereford in roan, a more unusual colour for these models. Items can fetch £4,000 to £5,000. Sheep are popular, too - the Merino Ram always makes between £1,500 and £2,000. Mounted horses such as the cowboy Canadian Mountie, racehorses with jockeys and huntsmen and women also fetch big money, especially for the more unusual colours of horse and if they are among early models signed by Arthur Gredington.

The black-and-white version of a little girl on a pony, which would normally would have been in brown and white, has just been sold by Potteries Auctions for £3,500. Last year, it sold the girl on a rocking horse grey pony for £5,000. Five years ago, you would have paid about £600 for one of these pieces.

Buckley suggests looking at ordinary horses and even dogs. "The main colour for horses was brown, and then they did colourways like palomino and greys, which I think are underrated," he says. "While three or four years ago they started creeping up, they are still quite reasonable - for £30 to £60 you can pick up a good 40- to 50-year-old horse or dog."

Clement also thinks there are some sections of the market worth further investigation. "The very good fish figures that Beswick produced, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, such as Leaping Trout, haven't really marched on a great deal," he says. "They also did lovely bird figures, particularly the larger birds of prey, which again should be fetching more than they are. The main thing is condition, which is vital; many of these pieces were very fragile."

But Buckley has a word of warning on this subject - beware the professionally restored pieces. These can be hard to spot, but the resale price would be substantially lower, and therefore they should be avoided for investment purposes.

The market definitely has longevity and in spite of the recent slowing in prices, it shows no sign of coming to a halt. "More people have become aware and more are buying," Buckley says.

"People are still surprised by the prices they can fetch. I had a chap from Cumbria call me and say he had a cow in a bucket in his yard, which he thought could be Beswick, but its back leg was broken so he didn't think it was worth anything. We sold it for £1,900 because it was a roan Hereford."

Contacts

Potteries Specialist Auctions: 01782 286 622; www.potteriesauctions.com. Next specialist Beswick sale, 17 May

Bonhams: 01244 313 936; www.bonhams.com. Next sale, 20 April

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