Florence Figurines

by Doug Foland
Volume 23 No. 8 - April 1997

The painted ceramic figures produced by Hummel, Meissen, Dresden, Lladro, Royal Doulton and Limoges are justly famous. While the often Florence ladies racy tales of these European wares are well-known throughout the world, the story of America's premier figurines are virtually unknown.

Florence Figurines, produced from the early 1940s through 1977, captured the hears of a generation of collectors. Their charm and grace rivaled the finest French, German and British, competition.

It all began In the year 1939. In New York, the World's Fair tried to take America's mind off Hitler's war in Germany. In Pasadena, California, a small ceramic studio was solace to Florence Ward, whose young son, Jack, died from a streptococcus infection while her husband and older son were away from home fighting for freedom.

At the urging of her friends, Florence took up ceramics. Her first Little boys kiln was located at a nearby badminton court because the city codes would not permit the kiln in the garage. Many of her early pieces were of children. Several reflected the smile of her little boy, whom she missed terribly.

When Florence first displayed her early works from her garage at 1644 North Lance Avenue in Pasadena, her friends and neighbors were amazed. They urged her to market her lovely pieces. Word spread of her exquisite skill and she received her first order for 84 pieces.

Deciding this was a wonderful opportunity to take her clay beyond a hobby, she conceived the idea of starting a family business. When Clifford, Sr. returned from his assignment in Salt Lake City for the War Department, and Clifford, Jr. came home from flying missions in the South Pacific, they were completely amazed. They had no idea Florence Marie Antoinette had these previously unknown artistic talents. Equally surprising was her ability to singlehandedly start a dynamic and thriving business.

The Florence Ceramics Company originally operated in two small facilities before moving to a larger plant in 1946. The new ceramic works occupied a 13,000 square foot plant, with one wall made of glass to let in the sunlight.

The spacious, well-designed plant had the newest equipment, including a tunnel kiln. But more than merely a factory, it was an extension of Florence Ward, the artist. It gave Florence pleasure to offer tours to the public each Wednesday at 1 p.m., as a way of sharing some of her excitement with the process.

The Florence collection was sold in fine department and jewelry stores. There were sales representatives and showrooms located throughout the United States, centered in Pasadena, San Francisco, Detroit, Chicago, Kansas City, New York City and Dallas. The collection was also sold overseas. The largest European sales were in England.

The pieces of the Florence Collection were copyrighted at the time of creation. Many names of pieces were actually written in the mold of the figurine. There were also many unnamed designs. The early pieces were signed by Florence in gold paint.

One of Florence's proudest moments was when, in the early 1950s, officials of The Royal Doulton Company came to her California plant. They had been sent to learn production matters from Florence, because Rhett and Scarlett her plant employed some of the most modem ceramic-making techniques in the world. The Florence Ceramics Company's airbrush overglaze painting was state-of-the-art.

The first real trouble, Clifford, Jr. remembers, was when designs for his mother's pieces were pirated by the Lefton Company. Although the Wards won several court judgments, Lefton eventually circumvented the copyright infringement by moving an arm and changing the design slightly.

In 1964, shortly after the death of his father, Clifford, Jr. decided it was time to take the family money out of a business which was being challenged by both unsavory business practices and cheap imported imitations. Scripto bought both the plant and the original molds. Production of Florence Figurines continued until 1977.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Editor's Note: To order a copy of Doug Foland's book, The Florence Collectibles: An Era of Elegance, contact Schiffer Publishing, 77 Lower Valley Road, Atglen, PA. The book features 450 color photographs of Florence's lovely ladies in lace-trimmed gowns, perfectly behaved children standing or sitting quietly as angels, gentlemen dressed like dandies, decorative artware and her early garage pieces. It also includes a complete history of the Florence Ceramic Company, a price guide of yesteryear and current price quotes.