August 2010 Feature Article

Collecting Czechoslovakian Birds     Article and photos by Dave Phelps

       

 

The Holy Grail of bird collecting is the bird on the pineapple. Favorite of bird collectors.  

One of the more popular collecting areas today is Czech figural birds. The hand painted bright colors and unusual shapes enthuse collectors everywhere. This bold statement is backed up by the skyrocketing prices and number of new collectors seen on eBay lately, but more of that later.

I started my collection 15 years ago with one of the most common bird vases—I found it at a flea market. After finding one or two others, I was on my way to a full-fledged collection. At the time I had no idea of the variety and extent of this area. Although I now have over 200 birds in my collection, I am still finding new ones. In the past year I was able to add about a dozen new birds and varieties to my collection, some at bargain prices. Fellow collectors have shown me pictures of birds I don’t have, so there is still room to grow.

I have limited my collection to those that have the “red dime” mark. I do have a couple that have other marks - I justify having them in my collection by the fact that these tend to be the rarer birds. Since the appearance is so similar to examples with the red dime mark, I suspect the same birds may exist with the red dime mark as well.

Virtually no information exists on which Czechoslovakian company(s) made these birds or when. Some clues come from notes that were written on the bottom, such as “Christmas, 1926.” The latest date of production is probably around the beginning of hostilities in Europe as WWII began.

Like live birds, the figurals come in many varieties, and it is the varieties that separate the most ardent collectors from others. Even the most common of birds have several different variations in size and color. The larger ones may also have different features, for example the bird’s tail may be separated from the tree trunk or are a little larger. You have to look carefully when shopping to make sure you are not passing up a real find.

My second bird was a “bird on the nest” wall pocket. This is one of the two most common wall pockets, and it wasn’t until several years into my collection that I learned that this one came in several sizes. When I finally found the slightly larger size in a mall, it was more than I wanted to pay, but I decided it might be quite a while before I ran across it again. I proudly hung it with my other birds. It wasn’t until about six months later that I realized it was facing to the left, not to the right as are the common ones. That was a find!

Wall pockets can be easily identified by the mold number and most also have a letter incised on the back. For example, the right-facing bird (mold number 5675) comes in 4 sizes signified by the letters A, B, H, and I. Interestingly, while the later letters typically indicate a larger wall pocket, the one with the letter I is smaller than the H version, at least on the “bird on the nest” wall pocket. Some of the rarer wall pockets are size variations of common ones.

In addition to size differences, there are also consistent color variations. There is a green version of the “bird on the nest” wall pocket, but there are several birds with consistent color variations. These are not limited to the wall pockets. Another example can also be seen on the parrot vases which have both green and brown bases and yellow, blue and red birds. The parrot vases also come in a number of sizes, from the common size of just over 5 inches, to 6, 7, 8, 9 up to 111⁄2 inches tall. It can be quite a challenge to find all the color combinations in all sizes. I have yet to confirm that they all exist.

In addition, there are also birds in white luster. The “bird on the shell” is the one seen most often, coming only in the luster style. There are several other birds in luster, including the toucan wall pocket. White luster can add a premium to the price, for example luster variety of a common bird can multiply the value several times.

Gold luster is quite difficult to find, but there are a few known varieties, both are variations of more common birds. Prices for gold luster birds can range up to several hundred dollars.

Czech birds come in quite a variety of forms. There are the vases and wall pockets that are functional, and there are larger birds that are just ornamental. There are also creamers, candle holders, baskets, and bowls, and even one that was made into a lamp. There is only one piece that I know of that has two birds, it’s a bowl with two candle holders. As you can see, your collection can grow to a large number of birds.

Like any collectible, the value of bird figurals rests on three main factors: condition, rarity and desirability. None of these stands alone; for example, I would gladly pay a lot more for a very rare bird with a little damage than a more common one that is perfect. I think it is better to have an example of a bird that you only see once in ten years than not to have it at all. Of course even this should have limits, but that depends on the collector.

If you are beginning your collection, any inexpensive birds should be in perfect condition. Chips and cracks should be avoided. Check the beaks closely. If buying on eBay, ask if the beak is OK, these are especially prone to damage. Paint rubs and scratches should also be avoided. While it is to be expected that there may be very minor paint variations, paint loss will seriously detract from the value. More expensive birds should be in the best condition possible. Remember if you want to resell, others will want birds without defects.

One final factor affecting value is whether a collectable has been reproduced. Apparently some molds were sold and it appears that there may have been an attempt to reproduce them. The good news is that these were only made in a plain white and are of inferior quality and easily recognized as reproductions. The high quality of the true Czech birds is unmistakable.

Mention should also be made of the impact of eBay. The cheaper birds can be picked up for only a few dollars if you are patient. Like most other collecting areas, eBay has also provided access to birds that you might not ever see for sale elsewhere. Unfortunately, the downside is that it has made collecting Czech birds even more popular, adding to the competition (and price!). That is not to say that rare birds can not be found at malls and flea markets. Patience is the key. If you find an unusual bird, I would love to have you send me a picture at dave@czechpottery.com.

Finally, Collectors of Czechoslovakian pottery and glass (as well as Austrian and Bohemian) are lucky that there is a national group which hosts annual meetings. You can find information on the organization and meetings at www.czechcollectors.org.

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