Finest Hour 145, Winter 2009-10
Churchilliana – The True Tale of the Tank Teapots
By Douglas Hall
The late Douglas Hall, for many years Finest Hour’s Churchilliana editor, was author of The Book of Churchilliana (2001), the most comprehensive reference to the hundreds of pieces of memorabilia produced over the years in Winston Churchill’s image. He left a large backlog of articles which we were are pleased now to offer our readers.
The 17th/21st Lancers exchanged horses for tanks in 1938 and served with distinction in World War II. It is a happy coincidence that a certain former officer of the 21st Lancers played a prominent role in tank development during World War I. (See “Churchill on the Tank,” two articles by Marcus Frost and David Fletcher, Finest Hour 135, Spring 2007.)
One of the most successful British World War II tanks was the “Churchill.” Ordered “off the drawing board” and delivered in less than a year, the early versions had teething troubles, as the Prime Minister explained: “…large numbers went into production very quickly…as might be expected it had many defects…and it was therefore appropriately rechristened the ‘Churchill.’” The defects were soon overcome and the “Churchill” fought in support of infantry operations, crewed by members of the Royal Armoured Corps or infantry battalions converted to armour.
The “Churchill tank teapot” has no relation to the tank bearing Churchill’s name, but Finest Hour gets a lot of questions about it from collectors, who always ask if the figure peeking out from the top is Churchill.
From World War I through the 1920s, James Sadler & Sons of Burslem sold a teapot and a money box in the shape of the Mark I Foster tank. The cover or lid of the teapot—and the top of the money box—were of an identical design: a steel-helmeted soldier, with a contorted grimace, peering from the turret. The money box, though not the teapot, was inscribed, “Where’s that blinkin’ Kaiser?” The soldier represented no one in particular: just an ordinary British tommy.
In 1940, with Churchill now prime Mminister, somebody at Sadler’s remembered his role as “Father of the Tank” and resurrected the original teapot moulds. The teapot body mould was reused without modification, but a new lid was modelled with the quite unmistakable, and smiling, features of Churchill, smoking a large cigar and wearing a golden steel helmet.
The Churchill tank teapot was produced only for a short time before the pottery was turned over to producing industrial ceramics for the war effort. Both versions of the teapot are now scarce—the Churchill model extremely so. We can understand the confusion, and sympathise with those readers whose teapot is not what they thought it was, but to those still seeking this rare piece of Churchilliana, there is no mistaking the real thing when you see it.
Sculptures in Plaster of Paris are usually regarded as inferior to those carved in marble or cast in bronze. This is true in material terms, but the skill employed in fashioning an original clay model is an entirely equal test of a sculptor’s abilities. Many eminent sculptors working on the finer materials have issued plaster maquettes to sell in higher quantities at more affordable prices.
Sculptures in Plaster of Paris are usually regarded as inferior to those carved in marble or cast in bronze. This is true in material terms, but the skill employed in fashioning an original clay model is an entirely equal test of a sculptor’s abilities. Many eminent sculptors working on the finer materials have issued plaster maquettes to sell in higher quantities at more affordable prices. Churchill was a popular personality, and humble homes throughout the land sought to display his image on the sideboard at low cost. But the high visiblity of these cheaper items tends to overshadow the superior plaster sculptures, such as the four shown here.
The use of quality calcium sulfate plaster produces a hard and finely textured surface allowing delicate detail, often with more definition than can be achieved in china, bronze or marble. The best plaster works are protected with a coat of varnish or paint, and can be aesthetically equal to those in more expensive materials. Such works are fully worthy of display alongside the best commemorative items. Usually they are unsigned, for the artists were unfortunately never destined to take their place alongside Jacob Epstein and Oscar Nemon.
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