Cash in the attic: Art deco figurines

Elegant pottery figurines of dancers, acrobats and ladies at leisure became popular during the Twenties and Thirties. The idealised characters were typically slim, with elongated limbs, bobbed hair and fashionable clothes. Most were modelled as though in the middle of dancing or performing an acrobatic move.

Apart from their light, porcelain-like skin tones, ceramic figurines were typically brightly painted and intricately detailed. Clothing become an important design feature and flowing skirts or sleeves are often held up and out to give large flat areas that could be decorated.

Elegance and eye appeal count towards value

Many companies produced ceramic Art Deco figurines but Goldscheider is the best known. The company was founded in Vienna in 1885 and produced hundreds of high-quality designs, some of which are rare so sought after. Goldscheider values range from hundreds to thousands of pounds including this 1935 dancer by designer Josef Lorenzi valued at £2,000 to £3,000. The pose, as if caught mid-dance, allows for dramatic curves, elegantly outstretched arms and plenty of space to display the colourful pattern.

Other British and continental European factories produced similar designs, which are often more affordable. Look out for designs by Katzhutte in Germany, Lenci in Italy, Robj in France and Royal Dux in Bohemia (now Czech Republic).

The scarcest, most desirable and valuable Art Deco figures are made from cast bronze and ivory, a combination known as chryselephantine. Important sculptors include Ferdinand Preiss, Demetre Chiparus and Bruno Zach. Chiparus’s designs are perhaps the most sought after and in 2007, a ‘Les Girls’ group sold at Sotheby’s for £600,000. All these sculptors were widely imitated in their day. These copies, which were often produced in alloys such as shelter, were and still are much more affordable than original, signed pieces. Contemporary imitations can usually be found for well under £800.

Quality, size, elegance and eye appeal of the figure count towards value. Examine every part for restoration, as limbs are prone to damage.

Art Deco figures have been widely reproduced, as the style has returned to fashion. Spot authentic examples by handling as many as possible. Metals used in reproducitons are different, ivory is often replaced by plastic and reproductions will not have the patina or signs of age that original pieces have.

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