Way back in 1893, a clever fellow called Charles Noke tried his hand at modeling several large display vases and figurines for Royal Doulton to be shown at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago that same year. Many of these first figurines depicted court jesters in a variety of poses and were decorated primarily in pink and green. Since these were exhibition items and never went into commercial production, few surface for resale today, according to the late Ralph Kovel and his wife Terry in the Illustrated Price Guide to Royal Doulton.
Royal Doulton Figurines
In 1909 Noke took another stab at developing a line of commercial figurines. By 1913, he and several other sculptors had designed 20 new models. It wasn't long until Harry Nixon, the gent in charge of the figure painting department in the Burslem, England factory, suggested that the different figurine shapes and colorations be given numbers. A series of HN – short for Nixon's moniker – numbers became an integral part of each item produced shortly thereafter. Even later figurines have Nixon's initials and a corresponding number stamped under the glaze on each piece.
These HN numbers mean the world to dealers and collectors. They allow even the novice who picked up a piece at a rummage sale or the fortunate fellow who inherited a figure from a relative to easily identify and value his treasure. Whether it's Leslie Harradine's delightful depiction of motherhood Contentment, marked HN395, or his classic The Old Balloon Seller, HN1315, buyers and sellers can communicate through these convenient numbers. There was even a line of Elvis Presley figurines produced in 2005.
Some of the most popular figurines produced by Royal Doulton don't involve people at all, however. They depict dogs, kittens, wild animals and game birds. These interesting and often realistic portrayals generally bear an HN number although some have a K number instead. The sizes on these pieces range from miniature dogs, cats, birds and rabbits just a few inches long to big cats perched upon rocks measuring just under a foot long.
A perusal through a list of marks for this company, like the one compiled in the Kovel's reference, may seem a little confusing at first. Sometimes the company's lion mascot is perched atop a crown on the mark; other times the lion stands directly on the Royal Doulton wording. Don't let these distinctions throw you. Think of these subtle differences in the mark as a way to date a piece and use a collecting guide to help things along until you're very familiar with the variations.
Character Jugs and Toby Jugs
Not to get the two confused, keep in mind that a character jugs and mugs mimic a bust of sorts including only the head and shoulders of the subject. A Toby jug or mug features an entire body including arms and legs in a crouched position. Jugs have a spout for pouring, mugs do not.
The exact origin remains uncertain, but Toby jugs may have gotten their name from the carousing Shakespearean character Sir Toby Belch or from a 16th century song about Toby Philpot. Since both men were legendary drinkers and these vessels had been popular in English taverns for centuries, either theory could have merit.
Regardless of the naming source, Royal Doulton first made Toby jugs in 1939. These delightful handled vessels vary in size and depict real-life characters such as Sir Winston Churchill and fictional favorites from Charles Dickens classics. A nice collection of Royal Doulton Toby jugs can be gathered, but the selection of character jugs available far out numbers their full-bodied cousins.
Charles Noke first came up with the idea for the character jug in 1933. Again, we see Dickens characters as a central theme for these whimsical mugs denoting Noke's fondness of the English writer. His willingness to pay tribute produced a line of very lifelike and detailed mugs in varying sizes. Many times the figural handles on these pieces provide another detail about the character, such as Sairey Gamp's umbrella or Long John Silver's parrot. Most jugs received factory marks, just like the figurines, but with the prefix D instead of HN.
There are many run of the mill character jugs worth very little today, but there are also some rarities that can sell for thousands. Each one must be researched independently. There’s no generalization, even with the aforementioned figurines, in this genre of collectibles when it comes to value.