The premier designer of the wonderful porcelain bird studies produced by Connoisseur of Malvern Ltd was Christopher Ashenden. Another delightful aspect of the Connoisseur bird sculptures is the exquisite detail of the plants and flowers that are part of the design. Let’s begin the overview of the Connoisseur birds; these all date from the 1980s and were sculpted by Chris Ashenden.
Goldcrest, an issue of 500 sculptures by Chris Ashenden. This spunky little fellow perches on a spray of pine having one mature cone and and three others which are in varying stages of development. The delicacy of the bird’s legs, feet and tiny claws is absolutely amazing.
This 1988 sculpture of a Golden Crowned Kinglet depicts a very similar bird. The Golden Crowned Kinglet, Regulus satrapa, is a tiny bird – scarely bigger than a hummingbird – that breeds in Canada and winters in most of the USA. The Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) are their British relatives of similar size and breeding habitat of coniferous forests.
Blue Tit with Young was an issue of 250 in 1980; this is indeed an Ashenden piece even though not identified as such on the sculpture. It is about 7.5″ high (19 cm). The parent bird is offering a tiny yellow caterpillar to the hungry babies. By the way, for those unfamilar with British birds, the various tits are comparable in size, form and behavior to the American chickadee. This charming study had an issue price of $750.
This sculpture, the Fledgling Blue Tit, is not a companion piece to the foregoing even though sizewise it could be, at 3″ high (7.5 cm). It was an open (non-limited) edition that was one of four fledglings (Blue Tit, Robin, Sparrow and Wren) in 1981 and 1982. Priced at $125 initially, it sold for $175 less than five years later. This youngster has quite the attitude and was designed long before the advent of ‘Angry Birds.’
Coal Tit was a limited edition from 1980, standing 4.5″ high (11.5 cm). Although it was sold as an edition of 300 in the USA (at $525), apparantly there are sculptures marked as a limited edition of 50 that may have been sold in the UK only. It’s not known whether the edition of 50 preceded, was part of, or followed the edition of 300. The coal tit is the closest British approximation of America’s black-capped chickadee. Back in the days when bottles of milk were delivered to residential doorsteps, these birds were notorious for landing on the bottletops, puncturing the top seal with their small sharp bill, and helping themselves to a delicious early-morning treat from the fresh cream at the very top.
Christopher’s Wren, circa 1981 and 16″ (40.5 cm) high, was an edition of only 25. Issue pricing is unknown but it retailed for $3250 between 1983 and 1987. This pair of wrens has set up housekeeping in an old teapot tossed away in a field. Whenever I see this sculpture’s name I think of the famous British architect Sir Christopher Wren, although it is also most definitely ‘Christopher (Ashenden)’s Wren’!
Fledgling Sparrow, about 4″ high (10 cm), is from 1983 and similar to his fledgling friends the robin, wren and blue tit. Issue pricing is not known but it was $190 by 1987. I have seen this occasionally mis-identified for sale online as the Fledgling Robin which is an entirely different sculpture; the beak should instantly identify it as a sparrow or at least a member of the finch family! None of these 1981-1983 fledglings were part of the separate, USA-market-only Fledglings of North America series.
Falconry (the practice of hunting using trained raptors) is a sport that goes back thousands of years. Gyrfalcons (Falco rusticolus) were often used as hunting birds during the Middle Ages and were particularly prized. Chris Ashenden’s stunning Gyrfalcon is shown patiently waiting on the falconer’s gauntlet. He is an impressive 20″ (51 cm) high. This photo shows the study complete with the removable hood; any examples seen without the hood are not “mint as originally made.”
Another raptor, the Kestrel stands 20 inches tall, 14″ wide and 13″ deep (51 cm x 35.5 cm x 33 cm); it was an issue of only 25 sculptures in the USA; however, there are examples in the UK with an accompanying certificate citing an edition size of 50. The American pricing was $3250 at introduction. Also known as the sparrow hawk, the kestrel happens to be one of my favorite birds.
Devotion (Collared Doves with Camellias) was 16″ (40.5 cm) high and an issue of 25 sculptures in 1982, at $2975. One can almost hear them cooing! This lovely study is particularly romantic in feeling, and also shows the camellia hybrid ‘El Dorado.’
Fledgling Wrens with Bramble, an issue of 100 in 1982, is approximately 8″ high (20 cm). The retail issue price of $1100 rose to $1265 by 1987.
Long-tailed Tits with Young was an issue of only 75 sculptures in 1980, standing 11″ high (28 cm). Issue price was probably (but unconfirmed as) $1525. Don’t see the baby bird at first? Its bright yellow gaping (and very hungry!) mouth can be seen just to the upper left of the lower bird’s beak.
The stunning 1981 culpture Paradise Lost features one of the world’s rarest birds: Leucospar rothschildi, also known as Rothschild’s mynah, Bali mynah, and white starling. It has become critically endangered due to poaching for the illegal cagebird trade, as well as having an extremely small habitat range. In 1990 only 15 remaining birds were counted; the introduction of captive birds has boosted the population somewhat – to approximately 70 — but the survival of this species is still very far from being assured. This amazing sculpture, of which only 15 were made, also shows one of the native Indonesian orchids. It measures 18″ x 17″ x 15″ (46 cm x 43 cm x 38 cm) and was an edition of 15; this retailed for $5500 during the mid 1980s.
This study of America’s national bird, the Bald Eagle, was a 1989 issue of only 20 sculptures standing 19” high and with a 21” wingspan (approx. 48 cm x 53 cm). A contemporary Connoisseur brochure and price list shows its USA price as $9200.
Showcasing one of my favorite owls, the Barn Owl with Fledgling is of course a Christopher Ashenden piece; it is 12” (30.5 cm) high and an edition of 75 from 1980. Introduction price is not known but it was $1500 between 1983 and 1987.
The brilliant (in all respects) Hyacinth Macaw stands 29” (73.5 cm) tall and was a limited edition of 25. Not only is the bird absolutely amazing, but look at the incredible detail of the stamens on the pink tropical hibiscus; the white orchids are beautiful as well. This stunning piece has now taken over the #1 spot in my own personal (wish)list of “Most Gorgeous Bird Sculptures Ever”.
Another lovely cardinal sculpture, Crimson Spring is an earlier Ashenden piece (1981) standing 14” high (35.5 cm). An edition of only 15, this retailed for $6260 by the mid-1980s.
Images of ©Connoisseur of Malvern porcelain sculptures are provided for informational and educational purposes only. The individual photographs are copyrighted by their owner as indicated via watermark.