That's a Good Question:
Personal Effects Dickens April 2015
|The little Dickens figures|
Question: Jerry---Can you tell me anything about these little figurines that belonged to my grandfather? He was born in Scotland in 1890 but spent most of his adult life in America. Pop was a great reader and all his life he preferred British authors. These figures represent characters from the novels of Charles Dickens. From left to right they are Little Nell, Mr. Pickwick, Sam Weller and Mr. Micawber. They are made of solid bronze or a similar metal, although two are much lighter in color that the others. They are approximately 4 inches high and are heavy for their size, with a lead weight in the bottom. They are quite detailed. I assume there were other figures in the series, but these are the only ones I have. Were they purely decorative? I keep them on my bookcase, just like my grandfather did. I look forward to an intriguing explanation!
Answer: I love these little figures. Something about small literary figures that just excites me. I guess it stems from my being a book dealer. There is nothing as classic, as the characters from the works of Charles Dickens. At first these were a puzzle, but I worked it out. They were made by the Jennings Brothers Manufacturing Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The company's earliest date is about 1890. They had a very successful business manufacturing metal clocks, candlesticks, silver plated wares and other novelties. Their goods were shipped all over the world including North America, New Zealand , South America and... Great Britain. Which is where your grandfather come across them. So from American to Scotland and back to America. In 1926 the company remained in the same family with Henry Jennings remaining president and his son Edwin Jennings becoming secretary. In 1937, both Henry and Edwin Jennings passed away and the company soon there after was sold.
This company made some incredible items, but I think that their bookends are my favorites. Some of these bookends can cost retail upwards of $400.00. I found several bookends with these same metal figures on them. I'd wager that this was a line of products for those not needing bookends, but still admired Dickens. In a stroke of merchandising, a figure that could have been on a bookend, instead was, filled with lead, and was touted as a curio cabinet figurine. That's what the lead weight was for, it kept them standing up. Many Jennings pieces are marked with the initials of JB in a diamond shaped shield for Jennings Brothers. I would assume, that like many other companies, smaller pieces didn't always get marked, as yours aren't marked. I believe that these pieces are actually brass with various patinas applied to them. A patina is a chemical wash that's applied to metal to give it an aged appearance. The first two figures, from the left, are in the Florentine bronze patina and the other two are in the Ormolu Gold. This gold patina used by Jennings, was very popular in its day, for its richness and quality. Ormolu means that its an alloy of copper, tin and zinc. So, I guess, roughly translated, it means gold gold. Be sure to dust these treasures with a dry soft cloth. Any polishes, dips or anything abrasive will strip off the desirable patina. It will also wreck the value. I'd think that at a good antiques show, that these would be priced at about $45.00 each. Thanks for sharing them with us. Be sure to write down their history for future generations.