We all need a bit of light relief in our lives and the cheap earthenware ornaments called Flatbacks put a bit of romance and colour on the mantelpiece of most homes in the mid Victorian era. Modelled only on the front and slim enough to fit the narrowest shelf, Staffordshire potters used the word ‘images’ for these ceramics. The above ‘image’ is of the two well known boxers, Tom Sayers and John Carmell Heenan made around 1860. A scene like this would have brought a smile to the faces of both the master and the mistress of a modest home. I love it!
From sporting hero to National Hero – this one is of the Duke of Wellington – not exactly fearsome but very patriotic nevertheless.
Some heroes were a bit more subversive – how about the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin as your pin-up boy?
Maybe these two little drummer boys are more worthy of that title.
Or the brave explorer Captain James Cook?
Talking of seafarers, I think this sentimental portrait of a sailor and his sweet-heart is touching,
as is this one, The Widow, with its pathos and slightly racy feel.
There is a whole world expressed in these works. Huge numbers of these imaginary portraits were made to take pride of place in humble cottages all over the country. They seem now to have a childlike charm, perhaps because they were actually made by children, who produced up to 400 small figures a day for as little as two shillings (10p) a week. If you come across one at a car boot sale – give it a second look.