According to a recent cover story in Antique Trader magazine (, American figural liquor bottles can be traced to Jim Beam’s first glass cocktail shaker in the early 1950s. Other companies soon followed, and by the 1970s, most stylish home bars had at least one decorative glass or ceramic decanter. “More than 20 companies joined in the custom, creating a tidal wave of collectible decanters with subjects ranging from Aesop’s Fables to Pancho Villa that would be sought by collectors for decades to come,” wrote the story’s author, Karen Knapstein.

Jim Birney of Beverly Hills recently brought in an example of this type of collectible to an appraisal session at Judy Frankel Antiques, part of the Antiques Center of Troy. There, appraiser Brian Thomczek filled him in on a bit of its history and value.

Unlike many of the pieces made in the United States, Birney’s Old Crow decanter was made by Royal Doulton, a famous English pottery maker, and is an example of a pottery known as Staffordshire. That makes it worth more than your average decanter, he says. Online searches support this, with a similar one appraised at $125-$130 online and another selling in a Buy It Now Auction on eBay for $243. According to the website, the name comes from the area the pottery originates from, the Staffordshire area of England, now Stoke-on-Trent, which was rich in clay and natural resources. Pottery production began in the 1700s and continues today. “In early days, potters would simply dig up clay from roads, which is thought to have led to the term ‘pot holes,’ ” according to the site.

“The Royal Doulton stamp gives this more cachet than an average bottle,” Thomczek told Birney. “That difference is reflected in the price it would bring at auction, which is lower than what you’d pay in an antique shop, more of a wholesale price.” He estimated its value at approximately $60-$80, adding that there is definitely a market for vintage advertising and bar pieces like this. “It’s retro in a kind of Mad Men way and continues to be a popular collecting area,” he told Birney. It’s missing its stopper, which would hurt the value a little bit, Thomczek said.

Birney also brought in a second, and more common piece, of Staffordshire that Thomczek also took a look at. “Staffordshire dogs such as yours were and still are popular on mantels in English homes,” he told Birney, pointing out the hole in the bottom. “Many were made into lamps at some point, which would explain the hole.” Birney says he doesn’t know if the one he brought in was ever a lamp, but that it was possible. Because of its crackled glaze, Thomczek dated it to the 1920s-1930s, adding “these are still very popular and plenty of people collect them.”

Most were found in pairs, and pairs still bring the most at auction, he told him. A pair would appraise at $250-$300; alone, probably $125-150. He added that a maker’s mark would add to the value, but that the Birneys’ piece has no evident marks.

“The crackling in the glaze is normal,” he pointed out. “It doesn’t hurt the value and is a result of the firing.” He added that, at 14 inches high, Birney’s example is more desirable than smaller ones would be.

Birney was happy to find out more about both pieces. “We used the dog as a doorstop until we had kids,” he told the appraiser. “It will go back on the shelf with the Old Crow.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort, Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen, you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item: Staffordshire pottery pieces

Owner: Jim Birney, Beverly Hills

Appraised by: Brian Thomczek, independent appraiser

Estimated value: About $185-$225 for both at auction

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