No one today can doubt that Leslie Harradine perfected what needed to be perfected in terms of creating commercially popular figures for Royal Doulton. Until 1920 few figures hitherto introduced can be said to have had the popularity we associate with Doulton figures to this day. Of course there was the ever popular HN1 Darling – the first figure in the collection and the first of many child studies, but there were no what non-Doulton specialists might term ‘pretty ladies’. The female studies introduced before 1920 tended to be sculptural and their differing sizes hindered their grouping to display them as a collection. In short a house style needed to be developed.
Harradine’s first introduction for the HN collection was The Princess – a dramatically stylish creation that set the tone for his first models for Charles Noke. Note the clear lines and unfussy detail – this is what set him and his models apart.
A colourway of The Princess.
A small group of other non typical Doulton figures were introduced in the following year, 1921 illustrating Harradine’s ability to interpret popular tastes and trends.
A group of early Harradine models, Fruit Gathering, Puff & Powder, Betty and Contentment.
Size was the most noticeable difference with Harradine’s figures as they diminished in size to what we even today are used to in terms of figure height, and this more standard size allowed collectors to create displays.
Harradine’s first series of figures from the Beggar’s Opera all illustrate this point and thus a house style was developed – something that would prove most successful among collectors whose appetite for figures is still going strong over 100 years later.
Handpainted vase signed H. Bettley and dated 1913.
The ’HB’ initials gracing early Burslem wares of the 20th Century often bemuse collectors today, but they are in fact the initials of this artist Herbert (Harry) Bettley. Adding to confusion is the actual spelling of his name as it is generally recorded as ‘Betteley’. Actual examples of his work are unusual.
Base of vase a handpainted by H. Bettley.
Harry was a former student of the Burslem School of Art before joiningDoulton at the age of 26 in 1886. He was given the responsibility of a ‘studio’ of artists within the Burslem factory, just like Robert Allen and the two studios ran in ‘competition’ to one another. Just like the RA numbers that are well documented there were HB numbers, but alas the records detailing the precise dates for the sequencing of these numbers have been lost over the years. Harry retired from Doulton in 1930.
Base of an early Spanish ware vase with HB number.
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In the mid to late 1930’s Doulton established a link with the Benedictines of Prinknash Priory, whereby Doulton produced a series of religious statues. In a 1936 catalogue from Doulton it states that “Benedictines have done much for liturgical art, in the Middle Ages and today…” And that if the items illustrated meet with approval the two will extend the range of subjects.
In total 20 pieces are recorded in the catalogue mentioned and I have to say that I have seen only few examples over the years. The most frequent of which are S. Francis and S. Benedict. The cross illustrated and pictured I have only seen this once.
Due to their religious nature and scarcity, they are not widely collected in the Doulton world but pieces still fetch three figure sums when they occasionally do turn up.
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Without doubt Top o’ the hill remains Doulton’s most instantly recognisable figure. Since her introduction in 1937, Leslie Harradine’s ever popular figure has been used as a demonstration piece at exhibitions and it was great to see this tradition continue at the recent ICGF in Florida.
Doulton’s figure was based on a picture by Molly Benatar (illustrated) whose rights for reproduction in china were bought exclusively by Doulton. Not a bad investment on Doulton’s part given her lengthy production.
Interestingly, from a collector’s point of view are the subtle changes to her over the years. The figures illustrated all date to 1937 and 1938 and are the original 3 colourways. Changes to her have included a deeper base, less detailed, delicate frills to her underskirt and a thicker brim to her hat – all of which were invariably made in response to collectors’ feedback as these early versions are all very fragile.
Another interesting note is the difference that occured in painting during the war years to the red version. HN1834 originally had blue streaks as many red figures from this time did, but after Doulton began producing figures again after the war, she became a solid red. Another change occurred in the 1950’s when she was modelled with an elongated face, no doubt a change to then fashions. This change was later reversed and I doubt people even realised there had been a change!
In more recent times there have been other colourways of this iconic figure introduced, including a yellow and green one HN2127 for Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988 and a deep blue one HN3735 in 1997. A miniature was also made in a few colourways including the popular red in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. Most recently a petite size has also been introduced.