When talking about Doulton’s early Vellum figures, one cannot fail to mention Charles Noke originally chief modeller and later Art Director at Doulton’s of Burslem, without whom Doulton’s many and varied wares would not exist today.
Charles’ father was an antique dealer who was friendly with the owners of the Worcester Porcelain Factory (later Royal Worcester). From an early age Charles visited the factory and was allowed to take home clay to model. At the age of 16 he went to work there and stayed for a further 16 years before moving to Doulton in 1889. Noke’s first figures were very Worcester-like, in a vellum glaze with incidental pale colouration and gilt additions. These figures were first shown at the Chicago Exhibition of 1893 and the subjects were the forerunners and some were re-introduced into his new HN range in 1913, with which we are so familiar today. The lack of popular interest in these early figures has meant that they are today among the most sought after pieces.
Inspiration for the Vellum figures often came from the theatre and Noke’s Vellum Mephistopheles and Marguerite is based on Henry Irving and Ellen Terry’s roles of the same names in the play ‘Faust’. Henry Irving was a firm favorite of Noke and he portrayed Irving’s ascetic face in both his Vellum figure of Cardinal Wolsey, as well as in his famous Cardinal character jug.
The range of figures would eventually reach over twenty and many were exhibited at the great World Exhibitions held in St. Louis and Christchurch, New Zealand in 1900 and 1906 respectively. The most popular of the Vellum figures were those based on the theatre, particularly the models of Henry Irving as Cardinal Wolsey and Ellen Terry as Queen Catherine in two of their most popular stage roles. Other popular models were the handful of Jesters in various guises some of which were later re-modelled for the HN collection.
Whilst the colouring of the Vellum figures was generally muted, again echoing a Worcester-like influence on Noke, examples have turned up of rare figures including the Devil with red decoration. Further examples of more popular popular Vellum figures including the Cardinal Wolsey and Queen Catherine figures have been discovered with a velvet green decoration with added gilt embellishment. As with so many Doulton products you can never say you have seen it all! This being the case, Noke sought not only perfection but also variety, creating double-sided figures including Oh-Law! and also Mirth and Melancholy as well as wall pockets, wall lights, also table centres and vases featuring figures such as the Moorish Minstrel.
Specific dates of introduction and withdrawal, unlike in the HN range, are unknown although it is unlikely that Vellum figures were produced after the introduction of the later HN series in 1913. The only exception to this may be the figures of Cardinal Wolsey and Queen Catherine, which appear from time to time. The remainder of the Vellum figures were made in such limited quantities that all can today be described as extremely rare.
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