Wade is a manufacturer of porcelain and earthenware originally with its headquarters in Burslem, part of what is now Stoke-on-Trent. Its history is complex and tortuous, but goes back to 1867 when three family firms were set up by various Wades in the potteries, now Stoke-on-Trent. The firm which nearly a century later introduced these tiny solid porcelain figures was George Wade & Son, originally Wade & Myatt. A contemporarily founded firm, John Wade & Co. (later Wade, Heath) became famous for making the tiles for the London Underground for many decades.
George Wade (1864-1938), was born in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Son of a potter’s thrower and later manager who founded the business, he was educated at Nottingham College and eventually became Chairman of George Wade & Son Ltd. The firm originally manufactured ceramic products for the cotton industry as well as porcelain figures and groups. The Wade family eventually moved to Watlands Hall in Porthill, Burslem and in 1905, George’s son George junior, left school and joined the family business at their new Manchester Pottery nearby.
The younger George, later Sir George (1891-1986), was the driving force throughout much of the twentieth century, latterly in partnership with his son Tony, who unfortunately outlived his father by only a year. One of the firms the entrepreneurial Sir George’s father had taken over had a foundation date way back in 1810, enabling the Wade firms, all brought together by Sir George in 1958, to claim considerable antiquity.
Wade products included animal figures for its Collectors Club, whisky flagons, and a variety of industrial ceramics. Needless to say, I have yet to discover a collector of the firm’s industrial ceramics! The whisky flagons form a separate branch of modern collectibles to which, if my constitution will withstand the sampling process, I shall return in due course!
The beginning of figure making began in 1954, when Wade introduced what some marketing expert decided should be called ‘Whimsies’. These are very small solid porcelain animal figures first developed by Sir George, which became very popular and caught the imagination of collectors both here and in the USA. Because they are so small, the modelling is just a little less sharp than one might hope for, and a treacly glaze appears on some types which to my mind looks unattractive, but I am sure must have its adherents.
They were made continuously from then until the 1980s. One could even obtain a Whimsy free with (now defunct) Red Rose tea from 1967 (in USA from 1983). The first series of Whimsies were a set of animals that included a leaping fawn, a horse, a spaniel with a ball, a poodle and a squirrel.
A collectors’ club was founded in 1994 and is currently celebrating its silver jubilee. There are several paperback guides to collecting these items, too, which can be a great help if one is to avoid pitfalls. Wade also produced other lines, also of inexpensive collectable porcelain figures including TV Pets, Whoppas, and Minikins, the inspiration for which was, needless to say, TV shows, comic books, and Disney films, for which they had to obtain a licence, an expensive undertaking even in those days!
Following the death of Sir George Wade and then of Tony Wade, their potteries were sold to Beauford Ltd. in 1998 and renamed Wade Ceramics Ltd. This situation did not last long, and became the subject of a management buy-out in 1999,becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of Wade Allied Holdings Ltd. In 2009, they invested £7.9m in a new factory with the latest robotic manufacturing equipment to make ceramic flagons for the whisky industry, but alas, the last Wade factory in Stoke was closed in 2010, and sold for housing development, although the company HQ is still in Etruria but the figures are still made elsewhere.
I am afraid that where I work at Bamfords, these little figures tend to get sold in groups in general sales. This doesn’t sound very earth shattering, but is good news for the collector, for it means that to collect these items, you do not need deep pockets. Early figures, from the 1950s up to Set 10 go for quite impressive money. A swan was recently on offer for £60, but then paradoxically, a large group of early ones appeared in an auction catalogue with an estimate of £10-15. The most expensive I have come across was a boxed set (no. 10) of farm animals from c. 1960 offered for £325 which for such miniscule porcelain creatures, is going some. At home we have a 1970s turtle, but so modest in size that we couldn’t find it to photograph it! Those made under a franchise licence, like Bambi (which I spotted for sale at £20) also make more than the standard ones.
Needless to say, modern Whimsies are far less collectible, and although they mainly retail on the right side of £10, they are no longer products of the Potteries and will take a lifetime to become desirable elements in anyone’s collection. I might add that car boots are still fruitful ground for acquiring these little items at an affordable price.