Antiques & Collectibles: Inexpensive Parian art once graced modest homes

This Parian bisque porcelain figurine, circa 1880-1910, is estimated to be valued at $30 to $45.

Question: My pictured statue, 7 1/2 inches high and 3 1/2 inches wide, was owned by my in-laws for many years. The piece is ceramic but not as smooth and glossy as porcelain. "R&L" inside an oval is impressed on the statue's back. I am interested in knowing its origin, age and value. - W.S. Berlin

Answer: The charming circa 1880-1910 figurine shown in your photo is a slip-cast, Parian item. Introduced in 1842, Parian is a porous bisque porcelain originally produced only in unglazed form but later offered with a light transparent coating or highlighted with color.

Your highlighted Parian piece was made by Robinson & Leadbeater, prominent mass-producers of Parian ceramic statuary and ornaments. Located at Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England from 1864 to 1924, R&L was especially noted for its popular line of inexpensive busts representing British royalty, military leaders and politicians as well as famous authors, poets, composers and mythological subjects. In addition to affordable art often copied from works by eminent sculptors, the company made Parian tableware, doll heads and limbs, vases, brooches and decorative items including piano babies and figurines.

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By World War I, demand for Parian had ceased. However, from the 1970s through the mid-1990s, driven by intense interest in all things Victorian, collectors' attention once again was drawn to Parian pieces. Presently, items such as yours featuring young ladies clad in decollete, high-waistline Regency Period (1811-1820) chemise dresses and elaborate bonnets are collected by fans of English novelist Jane Austin's popular "Pride and Prejudice," "Sense and Sensibility" and other romantic tales she penned during that era.

Recent prices paid for old Parian busts are a John Milton $65, Paderewski $250, a Queen Victoria 1887 Jubilee $1,800 and a tinted woman posing as Spring $2,200. Figurines include a child praying $32, piano baby $45 and a small boy with ice skates $50. Estimated value of your figure is $30 to $45.

Question: I have my great-great-grandmother's 5-foot long, 4-inch wide wool dining room bell pull which she decorated with floral needlepoint during the 1890s. Wide brass tabs are sewn on the pull's top and bottom and it is lined with rose colored velvet. Informa-tion and worth are appreciated. - J.W., Brigantine

Answer: Invented during the mid-1700s, an interior mechanical system of bells used in large homes to summon servants included long textile or cord pulls hung in various rooms.

During the Victorian and Edwardian eras, bell pulls made of woven tapestry, brocade and wool - often enhanced by ladies who lived in such homes - were found in libraries, bedrooms, drawing rooms and dining rooms. Lined with silk or velvet, the devices were capped at both ends with elaborate metal mounts and frequently trimmed with a large tassel.

Antique bell pulls attract collectors, decorators and folks restoring old homes who presently pay $75 to $160 for a pull such as yours. Condition of a bell pull is paramount insofar as value is concerned while material, age and whether it is handmade or manufactured also are important value factors.

Alyce Hand Benham is an antiques broker, appraiser and estate-liquidation specialist. Send questions to: Alyce Benham, Life section, The Press of Atlantic City, 11 Devins Lane, Pleasantville, N.J. 08232. Email:

Letters may be used in future columns but cannot be answered individually, and photos cannot be returned.

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