John Mcphee is an art his­to­rian who worked in art mu­se­ums for 30 years and was cu­ra­tor of Aus­tralian decorative arts at the Na­tional Gallery of Aus­tralia.

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World War, my grandfather brought back this porce­lain fi­fig­urine, pre­sum­ably from Eng­land, for my grand­mother. I as­sume she’s about 100 years old and she stands 22cm tall. The thumb on her ex­tended hand is bro­ken and there are three small­ish bro­ken pieces of lace. The piece is marked with a blue eight-pointed crown over ‘N’ and an in­cised num­ber — ‘3’ or pos­si­bly ‘8’. The only other pieces I’ve seen with fifinely painted and moulded lace­work have been in groups, never a sin­gle fi­fig­ure. I hope you can tell me more. Bar­bara Rogers, FRESH­WA­TER, NSW In the late 19th cen­tury several pot­ter­ies in Dres­den, Ger­many, used a crown mark and be­gan to pro­duce ro­man­tic fi­fig­urines such as yours. Un­for­tu­nately, the marks do not help de­ter­mine which fac­tory made this ex­am­ple. De­pict­ing an el­e­gant woman in 18th-cen­tury style dress, it’s per­haps a nos­tal­gic reminder of a more peace­ful time in Euro­pean his­tory. Your fam­ily his­tory helps date this ex­am­ple to early in the 20th cen­tury when many peo­ple, es­pe­cially artists, looked to the past for es­cape from the war. ‘Lace’ fi­fig­urines were ex­tremely pop­u­lar and thou­sands were made, but they’re no longer sought af­ter by col­lec­tors. The value is de­ter­mined by con­di­tion and the small dam­ages have an im­pact.

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