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The British Lion

By Frank Chiarenza

If you like to read milk glass collectors' stories especially the kind from which a lesson can be learned. I believe I have one that may be interesting as well as instructive.

Not long ago, I set off on a hunting expedition in northern Massachusetts to explore some territory I had not previously visited. There were a few small multi dealer antique shops which I had seen advertised, and I thought it might be worth making the trip. I found very little of interest except in one of them where I came upon a small Westmoreland Hen decorated Minorca, a suitcase candy container in milk glass, and a "British Lion" covered dish. Although I already had one of each of these pieces in my collection, the prices were reasonable and, having made the trip, I felt almost obliged not to return empty handed, so I bought all three.


Like many collectors, I buy more duplicates than I know I should. Finding space for them is a problem, and keeping too many is a financial burden as well. So I decided to sell or trade "The British Lion" and planned to list it in the HAVE section of Opaque News. Before doing so, however, I always give the piece a close examination for several reasons. First, I want to be certain its condition is accurately represented to a prospective buyer or trader. And secondly, I want to be sure that the piece I decide to keep in my permanent collection is the better of the two in regard to sharpness of mold detail, characteristics of the glass, and overall condition.

Thus, I was led to examine both British Lions carefully to see which I should keep and which to let go. After closely studying the two covers, I concluded they were identical in every way, so it did not matter at all which of the two I should keep. The one I had was perfect. The one I just purchased had only one insignificant flaw a tiny burst bubble on the rim. Well, then, this would be the duplicate to let go. Since I bought it at a good price, I could offer it quite reasonably and give some pleasure to another collector. But wait what about the sharpness of the mold detail? the inscription of "THE BRITISH LION" inside the banner and embossed foliage around the lower part of the base. Better check that, too.

It was only then that I discovered they were not duplicates after all; the bases were pressed from completely different molds! Who would have imagined there could be a variant for such a stylized piece? What will be next A Boar's Head variant? Well, that's pretty unlikely, but this experience should teach us, once again, that there are still scores of undiscovered and unlisted variants to be found. End of story.

"The British Lion" covered dish has not, to my knowledge, been identified as to its maker. It is natural, given the words inscribed on its banner, to assign its origin to England, but as Bessie Lindsey reminds us, the Lion before being replaced by the Eagle "was the symbol of 'our' country until we won independence through the Revolutionary war " (American Historical Glass, page 517). In any case, there are certainly a good number of different Lion covered dishes which we know to be of American ancestry.

Although Fersons do not include "'The British Lion" among the pieces in Yesterday's Milk Glass Today an unidentified covered dish with the figure of a lion set on a wide reed basket base is shown (F 119). This lion is very similar indeed to the "British Lion" except for its placement on a thick slab and minor details in the width of the tail, breadth of the back and slab width. There seems little doubt but that these two pieces were made by the same company and the "British Lion" one suspects is a modified version of Fersons 119 Lion.

The accompanying sketch shows the two variant bases that I now have in my collection. These are marked "Version I" and "Version II". These sketches should be compared with "The British Lion" photographs found in Belknap (165d); Millard (308a); Grist (49a); and Lindsey (515). It is important to bear in mind, however, that in both Version I and 11, the pattern of foliage on one side of the dish is not the same as the pattern on the other side, Therefore, it will make a difference which side of the dish appears in the photographs.


VERSION 1: This is the variant we find photographed in three of the four references: Belknap, Millard, and Grist. It is characterized by a bold pattern of well-defined leaves, rather large, and rising up high on either side of the banner. The photographs in both Millard and Grist are not very good, but I think you can see that they show the same side of the base as the one in my Version I sketch. Belknap's photograph shows the opposite side of the same base. You will see, however, that the overall appearance is consistent with the large, well defined foliage of Version I in my sketch.


VERSION II: Lindsey's photo shows the other side of my Version II sketch. It is characterized by an even greater profusion of foliage, much more dense, smaller leaves, and with individual elements less easily defined or sketched! than those of Version I. And unlike Version I, the leaves rising up on both sides of the banner are not quite as broad or as high.

Now, because the pattern of foliage can be quite bewildering, I'll try to simplify a way to compare the two versions. If you have a British Lion in your collection, examine both sides of the base and focus upon just one "identifying feature" as noted in my two sketches. If either one of the sides in your piece has the feature "A" a leaf cluster that is large and rises near to but does not touch the tip of the banner you have a Version I British Lion. If, however, you find one of the sides has feature "B" a small, bent leaf that actually does touch the tip of the banner you have the variant marked Version II. In fact, an even simpler test is to see whether any of the foliage actually touches the banner anywhere. Only Version II has that bent leaf touching the banner's bottom tip at the right.

We might conclude, judging only from the fact that three of the four reference show Version 1, that Version II may be the less common variant. Any other conclusions? Yes. Think twice the next time you decide to pass up a "duplicate" in your collection. It just may not be a duplicate!