Art & Antiques by Dr. Lori
by Dr. Lori Verderame
My books on the post-World War II era and years as appraising collectibles worldwide gives me great interest in the fun and kitchy objects of the 1950s. For pet lovers and canine enthusiasts many dog breeds were popular in the decorative arts and collectibles of the mid-century modern era. One of the most popular breeds was the poodle. Elizabeth Taylor owned a pet poodle in 1955 and Audrey Hepburn appeared with two poodles at photo shoot for her movie, Sabrina in 1954. From poodle skirts to Glidden pottery featuring dog imagery, the poodle had a place in the American design aesthetic of the period. After World War II, there was a feeling that we as Americans were part of a larger global society. We started to see ourselves more as citizens of the world. What was collected during this period spoke to a new modern age and a newly embraced internationalism.
In the post-war years, the popular ceramic figurine of the 1950s known as the Spaghetti poodle referenced an international symbolism and a nod to Hollywood’s collecting practices. Spaghetti poodles were made by manufacturers in Italy, Japan by Napco and others, France and here in the US, too.
Spaghetti poodle figurines spoke to an interest in the upper echelons of society like Hollywood starlets and pointed toward a cultural high style for home accessories. Atop many new mid-century modern television sets, there sat a family of white, pink, grey, or very rarely yellow ceramic Spaghetti poodles. Some were general figurines for a display shelf, some were more functional holding earrings or lipsticks on a vanity dresser, and some were marketed in sets of three with chains or leashes attaching parent poodles to puppy poodles.
Spaghetti poodles were figurines intended for the living room or dining room; the rooms where company was received, cigarettes were smoked, grasshoppers and martinis were enjoyed. They were not just any mid-century modern figurine like commonplace Hummel figurines depicting small children brought home by American GIs of the Second World War. Spaghetti poodles were special for their unique form, modern look, and sculptural artistry. A keen collector of the day would recognize the artisan’s workmanship and creativity in the individually-formed strings of ceramic “spaghetti”. An interested buyer would recognize the subtle differences between the American, Italian or Japanese manufactured versions of the collectible art form.
Spaghetti poodles differed widely from the American-made, bright-eyed and almost painfully cutesy Lefton bluebirds that were popular at the same time. These cheerful ceramic bluebirds were undoubtedly kitchen collectibles and were only suitable for the shelf over the sink or the space atop the Hoosier cabinet near the Frigidaire. Conversely, Spaghetti poodles were living room decorations watching over happy hour and dinner parties with an undoubtedly fashionable flair.
I appraise approximately 20,000 objects every year at public events nationwide, for public museums and private collectors, online and via video call appraisals on Skype, Zoom, Facetime, etc. and when I appraise these mid-century modern ceramic collectibles, I look first for condition and quality. Condition is key because those delicate clay spaghetti elements can be easily damaged. I look for rare colors of the clay like yellow, mustard, or gray. White, pink and black are more commonly found in the collectible world of Spaghetti poodles. I admire and value a distinctive sculptural form which can be recognized as loose or tight poodle curls in excellent condition. If a collector has been able to acquire complete sets of Spaghetti poodle family groups or special varieties of the tiny sculptures then those examples are worth considerably more than the run of the mill examples. As the 1950s became the 1960s, other figurines and common collectibles started showing their age and interest waned, however, the Spaghetti poodle was actively collected for decades to come.
Dr. Lori Verderame is the award-winning Ph.D. antiques appraiser on History channel’s #1 hit show highlighting the world’s oldest treasure hunt, The Curse of Oak Island. For information about your antiques and collectibles, visit www.DrLoriV.com and www.YouTube.com/DrLoriV