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Deco Dames - By Julie Carter

You can almost hear the jaunty strains of the Charleston behind them, these carefree girls in flamboyant poses who danced their way into a new and exciting world with less rules and far more fun...

Elegantly posed and impossibly beautiful, the Art Deco ceramic figurine is the epitome of the era, graceful and linear with an enviable poise. Considered daringly modern when they were first introduced in the heady days between the two world wars, the Deco divas were the embodiment of a vibrant young society and a liberating spirit.

The Austrian company of Goldscheider cornered the market for high quality ceramic statuettes and figurines of dancing girls in the 1920s and '30s, with their most sought after figures showing girls in flamboyant dance poses with carefree expressions. But there were also a number of other companies producing high quality figurines and all are sought after by today's collectors.

The Goldscheider factory

The Goldscheider Manufactory and Majolica Factory was founded in Vienna in 1885 by the then forty-year-old Friedrich Goldscheider, whose initial output was earthenware and porcelain. After Friedrich's death in 1897 the company was run by his widow Regina, and after she died in 1918 it was taken over by the couple's sons, Walter and Marcell. In the 1920s and '30s, having successfully streamlined their manufacturing processes, Walter and Marcell expanded the business to include outlets in Paris, Berlin, Florence and Leipzig. Vast quantities of ceramics were made, all of the highest quality, and in 1937 the company was awarded the Grand Prize at the Art & Craft Paris Exposition, but just a year later the business was seized by the Nazis and the Goldscheiders, who were Jewish, fled Austria. The factory was sold as a franchise and continued production under Josef Schuster from Munich, whose output relied primarily on the already well-established models available to him.

The Goldscheider sons settled one in the UK and the other in the USA. Marcell manufactured under the family name at Myott Son & Co Ltd in Staffordshire, and Walter built a successful business in New Jersey but returned to Vienna in 1950 after the Austrian government returned ownership of the original firm to the Goldscheiders. Unfortunately the damage had been done during the war years under Schuster and after three years spent trying unsuccessfully to revive the business, Walter closed the factory in 1954. He sold the worldwide brand name of Goldscheider to the German company Carstens, which produced ceramics until 1963.

The Art Deco figurines produced by the Goldscheider factory have been called 'glamour girls for the middle class' and perhaps that's a good description of them: they're just titillating enough, without offending anyone. They were mass-produced - the output at the Goldscheider factory was a large one, with more than 9000 different models of objects that included vases, animal figurines, ashtrays and terracotta and bronze items as well as the figurines - but they were moulded, fired and hand painted to the highest quality. Constructed to minimise the technical problems of balancing freestanding figures in the kiln - the figures have several points of support with the base to reduce breakages - the modelling detail and decoration from the Goldscheider designers was of an extremely high standard.

The Goldscheider firm implemented a professional management regime and an international approach to marketing, which is probably why it managed to attract highly acclaimed artists of the time to the pottery, as well as the up-and-coming talent of the day. Ceramicists and sculptors such as Josef Lorenzl (who has been described as 'the most important Goldscheider artist in the Art Deco period'), Viennese sculptor Walter Bosse, Ida Meisinger and Stefan Dakon designed ceramic models for Goldscheider, creating some of the most beautiful and striking Deco dames to be seen. Despite the fact that they were made in their tens of thousands, Goldscheider figures were of a far better quality than those produced by rival potteries - their skin tones picked out in matt to contrast with their colourful, high gloss outfits that reflected the influence of fashion and entertainment on the designers. Today even quite modest Goldscheider figures are in demand.

The Katzhutte firm

Established in 1864 by Christoph Hertwig and Benjamin Beyermann, Katzhutte became another family-run enterprise in 1869 when Beyermann left and Hertwig installed his sons Karl and Friedrich as managers. The company enjoyed slow but steady growth; by 1890 there were 300 full-time employees and around 600 home workers producing a range of items that included children's dolls, decorative objects, gifts and stoneware. A range of porcelain figures was introduced in 1900 and by 1907 the records show more than 500 employees. In the mid-1930s the company underwent some drastic restructuring and modernisation under the management of Ernst and Hans Hertwig, the sons of Karl and Freidrich, and after WWII the factory was nationalised and the product range restricted to decorative ceramics only. In 1990 it was closed completely.

The Deco figurines produced by Katzhutte have been labeled 'poor man's Goldscheider' but there is nothing second-rate about the Katzhutte models, which display a brilliance of colour, finish and design to almost (but not quite) equal their rivals.

Royal Dux

Founded in either 1853 or 1860 (depending on your source of information) as the Duxer Porzellanmanufaktur, it's not all that surprising that the factory soon became known by the far more easily pronounced name of Royal Dux. Early wares produced by founder E. Eichler were in the style of Sevres, Copenhagen and Worcester, but by around 1900 the firm had turned to large porcelain figures as its specialty, alongside statuary, busts and ornate vases. By 1940 there were more than 12,000 porcelain moulds being used at the factory, many of which remained in production throughout the company's history.

Royal Dux introduced one of the most distinctive marks to be used on porcelain, in the form of a raised triangle of pink clay applied to the base of the white clay body: the two pieces fuse together during firing, with triangle usually (but not always) with an unglazed finish. The impressed lettering in the triangle reads: Royal Dux Bohemia, a mark that continued to be used even after Bohemia ceased to exist as a country at the end of WWI.

The Karl Ens Porcelain Factory

Officially known as Porzellanfabrik Karl Ens, the Karl Ens factory was established in 1890 by Karl Ens and his sons Eduard and Karl (jnr). All three had previously worked in a porcelain manufacturing business and were already known for the quality and artistry of their work. After the establishment of their own factory, the Ens family decided that rather than produce the dinnerware and utilitarian objects of previous years, they would concentrate on making the exquisite ornamental objects for which the company is now known. Although not a sculptor himself, Karl Ens snr was a very respected Volkstedt maker and the Art Deco figures produced at his factory are highly regarded for their design and quality.

Goebel

Probably best known for their Hummel range of figurines, F. & W. Goebel also produced a range of Art Deco figures that have become quite collectable in today's market. The company was founded in Germany in 1871 by Franz Detleff and William Goebel, but it was another seven years before the first porcelain factory was established. When the country entered its Kaiser era of style and sophistication, Goebel responded by producing luxury porcelain that was exported to the United States - lady figures, animal figurines and charming figures of children. In 1911 William's son Max Louis Goebel took over the company. Educated in New York, he had a love of art, a passion for business and big plans for the family business. By the time the Twenties were in full roar, Goebel had fully embraced the Art Deco movement and lady figurines were the mainstay of production. The famed Hummel figurines, which followed in the mid-1930s, were the result of a collaboration between William's grandson Franz and Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel. They sold in their millions in America.

Tettau Bavaria

As the first porcelain factory to be established in Bavaria (in 1794), it comes as no surprise to learn that Tettau Bavaria initially produced household items and dinnerware. The victim of at least one major fire and the whims of the country's ruling monarchy, the factory finally came into its own at the turn of the twentieth century when it was constantly being modernised, and its prosperity led to its transformation into a corporation in 1915. The huge range of restaurant ware and hotel porcelain produced at Tettau Bavaria was exported worldwide, with a range of Deco figures being added in the 1930s. Although the output was prodigious, the factory was highly cost-effective, employing around 250 workers at a time when rival potteries with a comparative output had double the number of employees.

What to look for when buying a Deco dame

Ideally, you'd only buy figures in perfect condition, made by the top potteries and styled by the best designers, with the girls in the most dynamic and sought-after poses. In real life you will be extremely fortunate to have the stars align and present you with all of these factors in the one figure, so bearing that in mind, perhaps the most important consideration is you: Do you love the figure? If you do, the next thing to consider is her condition. Cracks and chips will make a big difference to value, and although it might be tempting to buy at a hugely reduced price because of damage, the figure will never be worth more than you paid for it and may well be worth less if you can't find a similarly-minded collector when you want to sell. Check the areas most susceptible to damage: the face and hands in particular. The colours of the outfit should be vibrant and the modeling and detail should be crisp and clear. Check that the figure is clearly marked and signed, and if you're buying for investment as well as pleasure, try to concentrate on the more dramatic poses or those that are rare - they will always be more sought after by other collectors.

All images courtesy Deco Diva, Sydney.

This information first appeared in Issue 49 of Antiques and Collectables for Pleasure & Profit.