Discover Vintage America - NOVEMBER 2018

So, you're finally ready to sell some of your stuff

Q: I was browsing online a few weeks ago looking for some unique elephant figurines. As usual online, it's easy to get distracted and not know where you will end up. I came across some tiny figurines made by Wade. Can you tell me more about these little figures and the best place to buy some?

A: It sounds like you have come across the Wade Whimsies. They are premium giveaways from Red Rose Tea. To the best of my knowledge this is the only company that still tucks a wee premium in their product besides Cracker Jacks.

The Wade Group of Potteries started in 1810 near Burslem, England makes Wade Pottery. Several potteries merged to become George Wade & Son, Ltd. early in the 20th century, and other potteries have been added through the years. The best-known Wade pieces are the small figurines given away with Red Rose Tea. Wade also made industrial ceramics for electrical insulators and glazed ceramic tiles for walls and fireplaces.

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 a 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 of marketing by using promotional giveaways.

According to its website, Red Rose's first premium was a set of "fortune telling" teacups and saucers. This was a short-lived idea � perhaps because of the expense involved or the fragility of the china. In 1967, Red Rose in Canada contracted with Wade ceramics of England 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 1994-1996, and 2002-2006 saw the 10-figure Noah's ark collection.

There are different collections such as calendar, circus, Disney, nautical, endangered species and many more. You can still purchase sets from the company's website, online auctions and shops. I don't see many in antique shops.

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. Individual current figures sell for about two dollars each.

Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.