Many times I've walked into an antique shop and ask, "Do you have any Victorian Fairing pieces?" I usually find the shop owner or clerk looking at me like I've said a foreign or bad word. It's very unusual to find an antique dealer who even has fairing pieces in their shops. Since I live in California, I've had a difficult time finding much of anything that you could call a fairing. Perhaps that's because these small porcelain figurines traveled to the east coast from England or Germany from 1850 to about 1920 by boat. They came with families immigrating to the USA or perhaps relatives sent them to the USA as gifts. Special fairings could be found at World Fairs and Centennial Celebrations like the one in Philadelphia in 1876. The very fragile fairing probably had a difficult time traveling safely to the California coast.
What is a Victorian Fairing?
Definition: Small porcelain pieces originally available at European country fairs or gift shops. They're often representational scenes of every day life. Examples included inscribed trinket boxes, match strikers or purely decorative pieces. If you visited a fair during the mid 19th Century until the early 20th Century, you might have come home the proud owner of a little ceramic figure now referred to as a Victorian Fairing. They were originally given away to the working classes as prizes at fairs, and were usually about 3.5 inches long and about 2.5 inches deep and 3 inches tall. They were mounted on a rectangular base with a flat back so they could be shown sitting against a wall. They were normally made from white, glazed, hard-paste porcelain and were intended for display on mantelpieces.
Twelve Months After Marriage
Themes and Titles Victorian fairings capture the humor of 19th Century Europe and can be risqué, political or even just plain funny. Each one has a saying or a title. They are usually painted only on the front with the back being left white. They were considered mantelpieces and most homes in England had at least one sitting on a mantle. Since the front and sides were the only part seen, the manufacturers decided not to waste time and money to paint the backside. These porcelain pieces have become one of a favorite for Victorian collectors. Fairings can be grouped into a number of key theme of marriage with examples such as Twelve Months After Marriage (see picture above), Three O'clock in the Morning, When a Man’s Married his Troubles Begin. They show a scene that might happen in a Victorian home. For example, the title, Returning at one O’clock in the Morning shows a man tripping over a chamber pot in the middle of the night clearly inebriated and being chastised by his wife.
Fairings also come in the form of a trinket box. The picture below shows a child holding a spoon with his/her arms around two cats with a bowl in the center. During the Victorian Era many people objected to the use of live animals for medical experiments. Those people were called, Anti-Vivisectionists and they believed it was cruel to use live animals for laboratory experiments; they felt other research techniques might be much better. It is believed this box may have been sold to raise money for the Anti-Vivisectors Society that was founded in 1876.
Where Were They made?
Although they are often assumed to be British because they emulate English humor, a company called Conta & Boehme usually made them in Germany. Conta & Boehme, Pössneck in Saxony, Germany exported huge quantities to the United Kingdom and other countries. Established in 1790, the company exhibited at a number of key events through the 19th Century: the Melbourne, Australia exhibition in 1880 and at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, Great Britain in 1851, and in in 1876 the Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Additional Fairing Manufacturing Companies
Conta Boehme was merely one fairing manufacturer. Additional companies included Dresden, Teplitz, Goldscheider, Heubach, Bing & Grondahl, Hutschenreuther and Rosenthal. I assume there are even more manufacturing companies than those on my list.
I do hope this guide has helped define the world of Victorian Fairings or Flatbacks.