The nineteenth century was a time of great energy and industrial expansion in both England and America. Consumers began to collect material goods and became eager consumers of knick-knacks and other decorative objects such as pottery (Kirkpatrick, 2006).
To satisfy this demand, potters in the Staffordshire region of central Britain, known for pottery production since the early 1700s, churned out a multitude of ceramic figurines (Workman). Figurines made in Staffordshire were produced inexpensively and sold at prices middle class consumers could afford (Gaffney, 2004).They appealed to ordinary people with their charming folk style, simple color schemes, and depictions of everyday life. A great deal of Staffordshire pottery was made specifically for the fast-growing American market as Staffordshire figurines captivated middle-class buyers on “both sides of the Atlantic” (Workman).
As a result of their popularity in the US, Staffordshire figurines are frequent finds at archaeological sites like Fort Stanwix. This statuette was found in a 19th century privy during the excavation of the site in the 1970s. It is made of ironstone, a type of ceramic invented in Staffordshire in 1813 and still popular today.
Prior to about 1840, Staffordshire figurines were usually modeled “in the round” with both the front and back of each piece decorated; after that, they were gradually replaced by the more-economical “flat-backs” which had undecorated backs because they were made to be positioned against walls (Miller, 2010). The Fort Stanwix figurine features a decorated back (Napoleon’s coattails). Therefore, it was made sometime between 1813 and about 1840.
Most Staffordshire pottery was made by unknown potters whose works rarely featured maker’s marks (symbols, text or combinations of both identifying a ceramic piece as coming from a specific potter or factory) (Identifying Maker's Marks, 2017). Through most of the 19th century, it was made by hand in small workshops and early factories, but by the end of the century, production of figurines and other Staffordshire ceramics had been mechanized (Kirkpatrick, 2006).
Women and children painted the figurines hurriedly and plainly, giving them their characteristic naïve, folksy appearance (Gaffney, 2004). Often they were paid by the piece and only pieces that came out of the kiln intact were counted (Wages in the Nineteenth Century, 2017).
Staffordshire figurines featured a variety of human and animal subjects. Among the most popular human figurines were people from historic and current events. This statuette likely depicts Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I), “a colossal figure of nineteenth-century Europe” (Pettinger, 2013).There are several clues that identify this artifact as a figurine of Napoleon. First, it features a bicorne hat worn sideways, parallel to the shoulders, one of Napoleon’s trademarks.
The figurine displays another of Napoleon’s trademarks, the so-called “hand-in-waistcoat” gesture. While the gesture was a popular, almost clichéd, pose in 18th and 19th century portraiture, it is most associated with Napoleon because of its use in a number of portraits of the emperor created by his artist, Jacques-Louis David, especially his iconic 1812 painting Napoleon in His Study. Finally, the figurine can be positively identified as Napoleon because it matches other Staffordshire figurines known to be of Napoleon. Figures of Napoleon like this one were produced in Staffordshire well into the mid-19th century (Tulk, 2018; Howard, n.d).
The figurine also features a bicorne hat worn sideways, parallel to the shoulders, one of Napoleon’s trademarks. Most officers at the time wore their hats with the corners pointing to the front and back, perpendicular to the shoulders (Huguenaud, 2001; Christie's of London, 2015). The unique way Napoleon wore his hat made him immediately recognizable to his troops on the battlefield and became part of his personal “brand.” He was even buried with one (Huguenaud, 2001; Christie's of London, 2015).