Fairings & Match Strikers - Shop
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When we dwell on the subject of the Fairings we automatically think of them as typically English, and it often comes as rather a surprise to learn that they were manufactured mostly in Germany by Conta & Boehme of Poessneck. It would seem that Conta & Boehme had perfected cheap mass production methods to such a level that British manufacturers could not compete at all.Most of us have at one time or another visited the Fair, to return home highly delighted with some small token won at one of the stalls, perhaps the hoopla, or even the coconut shy. Which ever stall it was that benefited from our patronage mattered little compared to the joy we felt at gaining a prize which, more often than not, was a very cheap plastic or plaster figure of a dog, cat or even a human figure worth only a few pence.
Had we lived in the later half of the 19th century, we would more than likely have come home the proud owner of a little china figure, which is now referred to as a "Fairing". These Fairings were mostly about 3.5" long and about 2.5" deep and 3" tall, mounted on a rectangular base. Each one, and there were over 400 different varieties, depicted an amusing scene either of risqué courtship and marriage, parenthood, politics, war, children and sometimes animals behaving as children.
In general, a good majority of these Fairings bore a caption and all were made of china. These captions were written in black script on the front of the base. Some of the more common Fairings had titles such as "Last into bed puts out the light", "Twelve months after marriage" and "Shall we sleep first or how?". The early examples (1850/1870) were generally slightly larger and of better quality than the later figures. Those of 1870/1880 show more signs of mass production, as the popularity of these small objects increased.
If you turn the Fairing upside down there is a good chance you will find Conta & Boehme’s impressed hallmark, a bent arm holding a sword, enclosed in a shield. This mark is usually found with an impressed 4 digit number ranging from the first series 2850 to 2899, and the second series 3301 to the 3380s. Although some of the earlier Fairings had the 4 digit numbers incised on the base, these will usually be found without Conta & Boehme’s shield mark. From the 1890s the shield mark may be printed or the "Made in Germany" mark could be present, but just to confuse you even further, no 4 digit impressed or incised numbers may be present. But genuine Fairings have appeared with numbers outside these number sequences such as "Oysters Sir?" which is numbered 2691.
It is about this time that other unidentified factories began to manufacture Fairings, although most of the imitations were more clumsily molded and with flatter style bases. The coloring on these was also of an inferior quality as well as being lighter in weight. After 1890 the colors of Conta & Boehme Fairings became brighter and much more colorful. And by comparison, the quality of the Conta & Boehme Fairings continued to be superior.
It is a strange fact that there is very little contemporaneous information available about Fairings, possibly because they were regarded then as contemptuously as plastic or plaster figures are today, but there is now a growing tendency to collect these interesting and delightful ornaments.
Throughout this period Conta & Boehme produced uncaptioned Fairings, which were primarily for sale in shops and bazaars, rather than fairground prizes. Also manufactured throughout this period were decorated china Trinket Boxes and Match Strikers. Some were captioned and the figures on the lids were identical to those on the Fairings and clearly these too, were included for the same markets.
Conta & Boehme’s production of Fairings prospered from the 1850/70s and at its peak in the 1800s the company had over 800 employees, exporting goods to England, America and Europe. Production of Fairings along with the company’s other extensive range of products including candelabra, jardinieres and figurines continued to flourish until the outbreak of the 1914/1918 Great War, and gradually dwindled until the factory finally ceased production in 1931 after 117 wonderful years of continuous production.
We hope you will derive some enjoyment and interest from this brief history of Victorian fairings and gain some insight into the humor that went into the manufacture of these very delightful china ornaments. They were made for the purpose of giving pleasure to the masses who thronged to the fairs, and part of that pleasure of their ownership springs from the high possibility that each was won and given in a spirit of fun and affection