By Jane Alexiadis, Correspondent
Q: I recently stayed at a house where many of the window sills had displays of these little figurines. Most are less than 2 inches tall. I hope they're not valuable, because window sills seem pretty dangerous places to keep breakables. I didn't break any but loved seeing them every morning.
A: The homeowner must be a tea lover. The photograph shows three of a set of 12 Wade porcelain figures distributed in boxes of Red Rose Tea. Collectively and affectionately called "Whimsies," these little figures have been given away as a premium in boxes of Red Rose Tea for half a century.
The figurines are made by Wade Pottery of Burslem, England. Wade has been producing utilitarian products like whiskey flasks, industrial ceramics and souvenir vases since the early 19th century.
In 1927, Wade employed Jessie Hallen to design a line of ceramic garden gnomes. Her work was popular, and soon, she was modeling flowers, animals and portraits. By 1930, she was made head of the modeling department. Her modeling talent, combined with the superb marketing skills of Major George Wade, soon secured them licenses to design and produce Disney figures. Radio programs and comic characters soon joined the Wade production line.
Marketing acumen was still going strong when, a generation later, in 1952, Wade's daughter Iris became art director. In 1954, she came up with the brilliant notion of producing series of small, inexpensive porcelain figures with the idea that these "whimsies" would encourage collectors to strive to assemble full sets.
At about the same time, the successful and innovative tea company was expanding into the United States. Red Rose Tea, historically one of the first companies to sell prepackaged blended teas and tea in bags, began expanding into the U.S. market. Along with witty commercials, the company began a tradition marketing of promotional giveaways.
According to their website, Red Rose's first premium was a set of "fortune telling" tea cups and saucers. This was a short-lived idea -- perhaps because of the expense involved or the fragility of the china.
In 1959, Red Rose began publishing and distributing collector cards. Each complete set had 48 images, ranging from songbirds of North America in 1959 to dinosaurs in 1963 to butterflies in 1965 (I collected these!) to its final U.S. series, the space age in 1969.
As no single family was likely to drink enough tea to collect all of the cards, brisk trading began among collectors and enthusiasts. It was quite a coup to assemble a full set!
In 1967, Red Rose in Canada contracted with Wade ceramics of England -- which, since 1954, had been producing series of small ceramic figures -- to make special figures to be included in each box of tea. By 1983, the series spread to U.S. markets with a set of 15 animal figures. A different set of 20 animal figures was given away from 1985 to 1996; 15 circus figures were issued in 1994-1996, and 2002-2006 saw the 10-figure Noah's ark collection.
Your little scarecrow represents September from the 2008-2012 calendar series. Very early, scarce or colorful figures can sell in the $10-$30 range. A set of 12 calendar whimsies sells in the $20-$40 range. Your scarecrow currently trades for about $2.