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Collecting Mania: Children's China

Updated on May 27, 2010

For several decades, collectors of fine antiques have sought the prototypical and classic Staffordshire children's wares from the 19th century, especially the ones which were emblazoned with the various alphabet letters, nursery rhymes, or the name of the child along with messages of love from parents and family. When the market for these very special children's collector items has expanded, the better examples became very difficult to locate, and the wise collectors began focusing on wares which have appeal to a more recent generation.

The pottery companies in the nineteenth century which manufactured adult tableware began to issue special sets sized down just for the children of their main customer base. These full dish sets included kid sized plates, bowls, and cups, and the more expensive and expansive sets would include soup bowls, bread plates, salad plates, dinner plates, sauce tureens, both covered and open vegetable bowls and a vast assortment of various serving pieces.

The majority of collectors naturally assumed that the children sized sets were being designed in order to serve as promotional giveaways for their sales staff to use in order to obtain an order from the family for a full sized and far more expensive set, but it seems that the pottery was actually sought after by mothers in order to begin training their young daughters in their roles to become successful housewives and mothers, which was the primary goal for girls in that long ago age. Due to the fact that they were being used for educational rather than play purposes many of these children's sets were emblazoned with botanical motifs of a more formal style and with more subdued colors of browns and blues, in sharp contrast to the gaily colored and decorated play sets.

Many companies continued in the production of kids' items made from ceramics in the post war period, but the much more durable and shatter resistant plastic material became the preferred choice of most American consumers.

Because of increasing interest, prices for 20th-century wares are now on the rise. Roseville Juvenile pieces are actively sought and generally start at $50 to $100 and can reach up to $500 or more for a complete set or a rare motif (chicks, ducks, dogs, and Sunbonnet Sues are relatively common; cats, pigs, bears, and Santa Claus are rare). Prices for Stangl Kiddieware start at about $50 for a baby cup and can reach $1,000 for a complete set with a rare pattern. Good news: Unmarked nursery-rhyme mugs and plates from the 1930's or 1940's can still be found in the $25 to $50 range, making the wares affordable for young collectors.

As with toys, children's china was sometimes subjected to rough treatment at kids' hands, so chips and minor damage are common. That makes unused sets in their original boxes the ultimate collector's prize. In the 19th century, Staffordshire produced a line of china featuring names on baby and children's cups. These pieces are very collectible, especially now that the old-fashioned names they bear are back in vogue. Expect to pay somewhere in the $200 range for examples in fair to good condition.

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