Dear Helaine and Joe:
I am hoping you can identify my statues, which I inherited from my mother and father. We are of German descendants and when the World’s Fair came to St. Louis in 1904 these pieces were purchased from either the Dutch or the German pavilion. We would love to know if you know who the artist might have been and anything about the maker. There is nothing written on the bottom. My statues are approximately 30 inches tall.
Thanks you for your help,
Let us cut to the proverbial chase. These were manufactured and are not the work of a specific artist, and without a maker’s mark there is no way to know the company that actually produced these figures.
We can say, however, that they are German and were made from bisque porcelain. The term “bisque” refers to a type of porcelain that has been fired only once. It has a slightly grainy surface and the decoration is painted on and is not set with an additional firing in a kiln. This means the colors are subject to wear and cleaning should be done carefully.
Bisque figures were very popular from the middle 19th century through the early years of the 20th century. Judging by the vast quantity of these that we have seen, it is possible that the number made may actually run into the hundreds of thousands — if not the millions of pieces.
Most commonly found are the figural mantel and table ornaments shaped like shepherds and shepherdesses that are generally 8 to 12 inches tall. The quality of these pieces is usually mediocre to poor and the market does not respond to them very well. Doing research for this answer we found examples of these small bisque figures that sold for less than $20 at auction (one pair sold for just $12) — despite being more than 100 years old.
In general, as size and quality go up, so do the prices. Examples over 15 inches tall tend to be of better quality, and therefore, command higher prices. It should also be understood that French bisque porcelain pieces tend to be more carefully made and English examples (some of which are called “Parian” figures) can be very fine indeed with very “fine” prices.
A 30-inch tall pair of German bisque figures is a rare find and many would term these as being “monumental” or “palace” size because there were few homes where these would appear to be in proportion with the room in which they were displayed. Usually, these would be used as table centerpieces rather than mantel ornaments where most of the smaller variety were placed.
The final issue concerns these pieces being sold at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair (or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition — as it is formally called). Sometimes objects that were actually on display are marked as such and this can really raise the monetary value, but if these pieces were just merchandise, something tangible like a sale receipt or timely diary entry would be necessary to convince a skeptical market about their connection to the World’s Fair.
In any event, these are exceptional pieces and at auction they would probably sell in the $600 to $750 range and retail for $1,500 or perhaps as much as $2,000.