It is very sad that Royal Doulton’s Beatrix Potter Figurines are no longer in production.However it is very illuminating to discover how it all began.
It is interesting to note that it was Beatrix Potter herself who first sought to have her creations lifted off the printed page and into other marketable products.Around about 1907 she modelled some clay figures and contacted Royal Doulton’s Lambeth factory.However nothing came of this project as an agreement had already been made with a German firm to produce nursery ware based on her characters.Beatrix did not like the German product and attempted to have the agreement cancelled or altered.
Some ten years later another attempt was made to produce Beatrix’s character figures.A Stoke on Trent firm, Grimwades, created a model of Jemima Puddleduck and sent it to Miss Potter.She did not like the model but was interested enough to pursue the idea further.
She sent the Company some clay figures she had modelled herself.It is not at all clear if these were the same figures that she had presented to Royal Doulton ten years earlier.Some of the figures were damaged in transit however enough survived to allow Grimwades to see what Beatrix had in mind.Another model of Jemima Puddleduck was made and Beatrix was much happier with this result however she was not happy with the colouring.It was suggested that Grimwades and Royal Doulton should collaborate as Royal Doulton had more experience in colouring figurines and it is recorded that Miss Potter was very favourable of the idea.Unfortunately nothing came of it.
It was to be several years before any of the wonderful characters from Beatrix Potter’s books were to be produced as figurines. Sadly by this time however Beatrix had died.
The Beswick Involvement
The Beswick factory was founded in 1894 and initially manufactured domestic wares.It eventually became very well known for its animal models.The idea to create a range of Beatrix Potter figures came from Lucy Beswick, wife of the chairman and Managing Director of the company.Mrs. Beswick was from Cumbria and the family often returned to the Lake District for holidays.It was on one such excursion that Mrs Beswick visited Hill Top Farm, the home of Beatrix Potter.
When she returned to Stoke on Trent she suggested to the company’s chief modeller, Arthur Gredington, that Jemima Puddle-Duck would make an attractive figure.A suggestion from the chairman’s wife was obviously not one to be ignored and a clay model was duly produced.Having secured the approval of Mr. Beswick and other Directors, and copyright permission obtained from Frederick Warne and Co., further characters were modelled.
The first collection consisted of ten of the most popular characters: Jemima Puddle-Duck, Peter Rabbit, Tom Kitten, Timmy Tiptoes, Squirrel Nutkin, Mrs. Tittlemouse, Little Pig Robinson, Benjamin Bunny, Samuel Whiskers and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. Great care was taken to be true to the original illustrations both in terms of modelling and colouring.
The figures were ready in 1948 but because of war-time restrictions on the sale of decorative china in the home market, the figures had to be launched abroad.The reaction from customers was tremendous, with much comment on how accurately they had been transferred from the printed page.More models were added to the collection but it was not until 1977 that all the Beatrix Potter tales had contributed characters.The first figure to be discontinued was in 1967.This was, of course, the 1955 introduction Duchess which now commands a noteworthy price on the secondary market.
Royal Doulton Take Over
The Beswick Company was sold to Royal Doulton in 1969 but the Beatrix Potter Figures continued to be marketed under the Beswick backstamp until 1989 when they were transferred to Royal Albert. The change to Royal Albert proved to be relatively short lived and in 1994 the Beswick Ware backstamp ran alongside the Royal Albert backstamp for 4 years until Royal Albert was discontinued in 1998. The Beswick Ware backstamp continued to be used until production ceased in 2002.
Beatrix Potter Figurines today
The Beatrix Potter Tales continue to be loved by children and adults alike all over the world. Border Fine Arts now produce a series of Beatrix Potter figurines and there are those who enjoy collecting them. However Beswick and Royal Albert Figurines, because they are no longer in production, have become very very collectible items. The secondary market is very active as enthusiasts continue to enjoy building up their collections.
When she wrote and illustrated that first letter to Master Moore could Beatrix Potter have imagined what she had created?
Excerpts from: The Bunnykins and Beatrix Potter Price Guide – Francis Joseph