Antique figurines are probably some of the most special things one could collect. They’re done impeccably, often hand-made and hand-painted by well-known European artists and artisans. Antique figurines are often made from porcelain, but they can also be made from bronze, ceramic, or even stone, depending on the year when the figurine was made. The figurine age definitely sets the ballpark value of the item, but what contributes to these being so highly valued are also factors like origin, condition, as well as the history of ownership. That is why some of the figurines are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If there is something more exquisite and more of a symbol of the past times, then it is antique figurines. These vintage/antique items, even nowadays, cause a commotion in online marketplaces, just like in real life. Collectors, and those interested, around the world almost compete against each other in acquiring the rarest, most unique, and most valuable figurines that have ever existed. Because of such a craze, the value of some of the figurines has skyrocketed and remains so to this day.
If you’re interested in figurine collecting, then you’re at the right place. We’ve done all the research and the heavy lifting for our readers, so that those, even untrained ones, can enjoy this journey and experience a scam-free purchase. So, without further ado, let’s get right into it!
Antique Figurines – Everything You Need To Know
What Are Figurines?
Figurines in general are small sculptures made of various materials, such as porcelain, bronze, and ivory, that depict human figures, animals, or mythological creatures. These figurines have been produced and collected for centuries, and they hold significant historical and artistic value. In this essay, I will explore the origins and evolution of antique figurines, their different types and styles, and their value to collectors.
History and Cultural Significance
The first, and oldest figurines discovered so far were made several hundred thousand years ago in Asia and Africa. They have been made of clay, and some of them have been found in Europe. Those are believed to have been made around 25,000 BC and are the oldest known figurines.
The modernized production of figurines dates back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Greece, and Rome, where they were used for religious, decorative, and commemorative purposes. The ancient Egyptians, for example, made figurines of their gods and goddesses, which were placed in temples and tombs as offerings and symbols of protection. The name of these figurines is Ushabti, and are referred to as funerary figurines.
The Greeks also created figurines of their gods, also known as the Greek terracotta figurines, which were made in the Hellenistic period using bronze. They also made terracotta figurines of ordinary people engaged in everyday activities, such as working, dancing, and playing music. Similarly, the Romans made terracotta, bronze, and marble figurines that depicted historical figures, gladiators, and animals.
During the Renaissance period, figurines became popular again, especially in Italy, where they were used to decorate the homes of wealthy merchants and nobles. Artists such as Michelangelo, Donatello, and Cellini made bronze and marble figurines that were highly sought after for their beauty and craftsmanship.
The Baroque and Rococo periods also saw the production of elaborate figurines that were made of porcelain, which had become a popular material in Europe due to its translucency and whiteness. The Meissen factory in Germany was one of the first porcelain factories to produce figurines, and they became famous for their intricate designs and realistic details.
Types and Styles of Antique Figurines
Antique figurines come in many different types and styles, each with its own unique characteristics and values. Some of the most popular types of figurines include:
- Porcelain figurines – The first porcelain figurines were made in Europe, made from the so-called Meissen porcelain (plain, glazed white porcelain). Porcelain figurines are made to be delicate and highly detailed. They can be painted or left plain white, and they often depict human figures, animals, or flowers. Some of the most famous porcelain figurine makers include Meissen, Royal Copenhagen, and Lladro.
- Bronze figurines – The first bronze figurines were predominantly made in ancient Greece and Rome. These are made of bronze and are often highly detailed and intricate. They can be polished to a high shine or left with a patina, and they often depict animals, mythological creatures, or historical figures. Some of the most famous bronze figurine makers include Frederic Remington, Auguste Rodin, and Antoine-Louis Barye.
- Ivory figurines – These are made of ivory and are highly valued for their rarity and beauty. They can be carved in intricate detail and often depict human figures, animals, or mythological creatures. However, the use of ivory has become controversial due to the endangerment of certain animal species, like elephants. Nowadays, if you want to sell or purchase an ivory item, like a figurine, you can only do so within your state (intrastate commerce), if you can prove or demonstrate that the ivory was lawfully imported to the country prior to 1990 when the African elephant was listed in CITES Appendix I (endangered species list).
- Wood figurines – These are made of various types of wood and are often carved by hand. They can be highly detailed and realistic or stylized and abstract. They often depict human figures, animals, or religious icons.
Antique figurines are highly valued by collectors for their historical, cultural, artistic, and sentimental value. The value of a figurine depends on several factors, such as its age, rarity, condition, and provenance (ownership). Figurines that are rare and in good condition are often worth more than those that are common or damaged. Provenance, or the history of ownership of a figurine, can also increase its value, especially if it was owned by a famous or influential person.
Collectors of antique figurines are often drawn to them for their aesthetic beauty and historical significance. Figurines can represent different periods of history, styles of art, and cultural traditions. For example, a figurine of a Greek goddess can represent the ideals of beauty and wisdom that were valued in ancient Greece.
How To Identify an Antique, Valuable Figurine?
For an untrained eye, identifying genuine antique and valuable figurines can be rather difficult. However, with our guide through some essential information and things to pay attention to, you’ll be able to easily determine not just the age of a figurine, but also its value. Let’s take a quick look;
- Manufacturer’s mark – this piece of information will be the most important in determining the value or the age of a figurine. Usually, the manufacturer leaves a stamp or a mark on the very bottom of a figurine. Artists or artisans who made figurines would do the same. The marks come in the form of symbols, initials, or full manufacturer title/name. You can collect the information and research it yourself online, or take them to an antique/appraisal expert to do the job for you. Online expert appraisals are super easy nowadays; you just take a few photos, send them to the experts and that’s it.
- Material – the material used to make a figurine can easily help you determine its age, origin, and of course, value. Truly antique figurines were made from porcelain, bronze, ceramic, glass, and in some cases ivory. Modern figurines are generally made of materials mixed with plastic, and as such are called figures, not figurines.
- Condition – it is the best feeling when you find an antique figurine in its mint condition, but truly antique figurines usually have some marks of age; signs of wear and tear like cracks, chips, or simple discoloration, in this case, is a good this. All of this indicates its old age, and when examined by experts, these marks can even help determine the time period in which the figurine was made.
- Unique features – when observing a figurine, make sure to focus on the details like unusual shapes, specific or distinct coloring, type of figurine, what it depicts (if it’s just an abstract object or a human/animal depiction), etc. These details can tell you whether a figurine is antique, as well as valuable. The more one-of-a-kind a figurine is, the higher its value.
The Most Valuable Antique Figurines
Royal Doulton La Victoire Cockerel 1900 Figurine
Founded in 1815, Royal Doulton is one of the oldest English ceramic and home accessories manufacturers. Nowadays mostly known for their tableware and vase-making, the manufacturer was, back in the day, a rather well-known figurine maker as well. Nowadays, Royal Daulton figurines are rather rare, and the Cockerel figurine from the 1900s is one of the rarest on the market.
The figurine was designed by John Broad, who decided the figurine should be done in the Art Nouveau style. It also features the designer and manufacturer’s initials/stamps, and it is pretty hefty. It was made of stoneware, so it is heavy, and pretty tall for a figurine (10.25 inches). If you were to purchase this figurine, you would have to pay around 5,400 USD for it.
Capodimonte Edoardo Tasca Porcelain Figurine
Capodimonte is an Italian porcelain company founded in 1743. The company is known for making high-end, exquisite household items, and homeware, including figurines. Their early items and figurines were made from ivory, but later they switched to porcelain, which made their production easier but still highly valuable and relevant among the Italian and European royalties.
The Capodimonte Edoarda Tasca porcelain figurine is one of the rarest, most exquisite examples of Italian figurine making. The figurine depicts an elegant lady with her two dogs, looking highly fashionable and stylish as if she were walking down the main street. Despite being rare, some examples of these figurines have been or are being sold, and so far, the figurines were in mint condition. The figurines feature a signed gold signature plaque on the very bottom, which makes its identification super easy. In its mint condition, this figurine is sold for 2,500 USD.
Dresden Lace Figurine (Blind Man’s Bluff, Dresden Boudoir Lace, Victorian Lady in Lace)
Dresden figurines were produced in Meissen, a close-by factory near the original Meissen porcelain manufacturer, in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Dresden figurines are made by some of the most famous Dresden artists who used a famous technique of figurine making called Dresden lace. This technique was used to create an illusion of real fabric, real clothes, as well as real movements of the figurine.
Nowadays, the Dresden lace figurines are easily found in online marketplaces and are often sold for around several hundred dollars. However, the rarest Dresden Lace figurines, like the one called Blind Man&s Bluff, are sold for around 3,500 to 4,000 USD. Other highly valuable Dresden Lace figurines include the Victorian Lady in lace, sold for around 700 USD, and the Dresden Boudoir Lace Figurine, sold for 1100 USD.
Royal Nymphenburg Figurines
Royal Nymphenburg is a famous German porcelain and homeware manufacturer from Bavaria known for producing some of the most expensive figurines in the world. The reason their items are so highly valued lies in the fact that everything’s hand-made, often by famous sculptors and artists. For example, Josef Wackerle was a German 19th-century sculptor who designed and made some of the most expensive Nymphenburg figurines.
W couldn’t really just pick one Nymphenburg figurine and talk about it; there are so many of these figurines, and all of them are stunning and highly valued. So, we’ll just mention the most expensive ones; the Dancing Couple figurine, by Josef Wackerle, is currently selling for a whopping 23,000 USD, and the figurine of a hand-painted porcelain Peacock from 1912 is currently selling for 22,000 USD.
Meissen has always been one of the best figurine manufacturers in the world. Established in 1710, this German porcelain and homeware manufacturer has managed to higher the finest designers and artists to make their figurines. Such artists include Johann Jakob Kirchner and Johann Joachim Kändler, whose figurines are among the most valuable nowadays.
At online or physical auctions, Meissen figurines have been sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, a Meissen group of Harlequin and Columbine figurines was sold for around 200,000 USD. This figurine was made circa 1740 and was in mint condition when sold.
Collecting antique figures is truly an amazing and magical thing. Sure, it is also pretty pricey, especially if you’re aiming at the super rare, 18th or 19th-century figurines. Nevertheless, it is definitely an impressive interest to have, not just because these figurines are beautiful, but also because they do have a special historical and cultural significance. Hopefully, we’ve helped you out if this is your first time exploring and researching figurines and information on their value. We wish you good luck and may you have fun exploring the figurines market.