Previous News - £920 roar from Lion

11/05/11

The arrival of a travelling menagerie was an event not to be missed. Often no more than a glorified horse-drawn wagon, it gave people their first glimpse of exotic creatures from faraway countries. So what better than a souvenir of the occasion?

Some of the most skilled and entrepreneurial manufacturers of the time were the backstreet potters of the Five Towns of Stoke-on-Trent in North Staffordshire, whose cheap and cheerful products found an eager market. But in their haste to put pottery circus souvenirs on to the market, manufacturers were lavish with their use of artistic licence.

Lion's were particularly popular attractions and feature in a number of figure groups. The most famous lion tamer of the time was Isaac van Amburgh, from Kentucky, who visited England for the first time in 1839. Ellen Bright enjoyed a short-lived career as The Lion Queen. Appearing at the Greenwich Fair, she struck a lion with her whip and it leapt upon her and killed her outright. She was aged just 17 and had been in the business only a year.

Thing is, though, the unknown potters who modelled these groups did so probably completely from hearsay or perhaps from a picture in a Penny Dreadful. They might never have been to a circus in their life. This charmingly naïve creation has a curiously human face and looks about as fierce as a pussy cat. It sold for £920 in our 29th March 2011 auction.

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