[orig. pub. July 2014, revised May 2020]
Hi everyone! Today I’m writing about collecting vintage Wade figurines, a favorite collectible of mine.
My grandmother would often have a special surprise for me when I visited: one or two ceramic Wade “Whimsies,” as they were called in England. She drank tall glasses of Red Rose iced tea every day of her life, and in each box of tea came a small Wade figurine, usually an animal.
My favorite was a white polar bear that I still have to this day. They make a wonderful introductory collection for children especially, but adults should not hesitate to collect them, too(!).
Some collectors, like my daughter, focus on a specific animal, dogs for example. Others focus on pieces Wade produced in collections, for instance the circus or the American series.
Some Wade Whimsy Background
Wade Ceramics has a long history of manufacturing pottery of all kinds in the Stoke-on-Trent area of England, known far and wide for pottery production.
In the 1950’s Sir George Wade organized a number of local potteries into the George Wade & Sons Ltd pottery, and shortly thereafter in 1954 began producing an assortment of figurines, including tiny Wade Whimsies.
The pottery entered into an agreement with Red Rose tea in 1967 that continued right up until 2018. Each box of tea would contain a miniature figurine nestled inside. By their own estimate, Red Rose gave away over 300 million through the years in America alone(!).
Each figurine is part of a larger series; for example, the bald eagle is part of the Endangered North American Animal Series III, as are the sea turtle and timber wolf behind it.
The tiger, camel, zebra, seal, and cockatiel are each part of the Animal Series II, which was issued in 1985 and continuing on through 1996. Looking at the front row, the bison is from the American Series I, while the giraffe and puppy are from those Series II. Both sets feature animals from around the world.
You may have noticed that Wade produced all the Red Rose figurines in single colors, with one exception, the poodle, part of the Circus Series III that you’ll see below.
These six also belong to the Animal Series II, of which there are twenty total. Pictured are an orangutan, giraffe, rhinoceros, camel, zebra, and gorilla.
The first figurine, a Florida panther, belongs to the Endangered Species Set, while the langur, leopard, and kangaroo to the Animal Set II.
Wade Series Produced for Red Rose Tea
All in all, Wade produced seven series for the American Red Rose Tea market:
- Animals Series I (15 figures, 1983-1985)
- Animals Series II (20 figures, 1985-96)
- Circus Series (15 figures, 1994-99)
- Endangered North American Animals (10 figures, 1999-2002)
- Noah’s Ark Series (15 figures, 2002-06)
- Pet Shop Friend Series (10 figures, 2006-08)
- Calendar Series (12 figures, 2008-12)
To see the figures contained in each series, check out Wadetopia (click “Red Rose Tea Promotions” on the left).
Wade Whimsy Circus Series III
One of the main ways to tell circus figures from other series figures is that most of the animals are sitting on a round, decorated base–even the Ringmaster is standing on one. There are other tell-tale markers as well: the seal wears a bow, the bear a hat, the monkeys clothes, the poodle a skirt, for example.
The Wade Circus Series III contained 15 pieces, including those you see here: (back) seal, tiger, male monkey (holding a hat), female monkey, bear (front) poodle, clown w/pie, ringmaster, lion.
Here are four more from the Circus Series III: Strong man, human canonball, standing elephant, and sitting elephant. The two pieces that I don’t have photos for are the clown w/drum and the rearing horse.
Here’s a better view of some of the circus figurines. As I mentioned above, the poodle is the only Rose Tea figurine painted in two colors: white and blue. Note one difference between the male and female monkeys is female’s skirt.
The Endangered North American Animals Series IV
You’ve seen most of these in photos above, but I thought I’d pull them altogether. You see six of the ten figures in the Endangered North American Animal Series IV.
And here’s a seventh–the white polar bear given to me by my sweet grandmother. The three missing from this series include the spotted owl (light brown), humpback whale (blue), and manatee (gray).
Wades Made for the English Market
This little fellow is about 3″ in diameter with an embossed “WADE ENGLAND” mark on the bottom (see below). He was made for the English market, and my sweet daughter and I picked him up at a car boot sale when we lived in England (2009-2011) for 50 p (pence). He’s worth about $10-12.
Note that the two-color puppy is cemented to the basket he’s sitting in.
We picked up these miniature 2-tone dogs (except for the gray puppy) in England, but I’ve not been able to get any information about these guys or how much they’re worth.
I’m going to say, based on a cursory look at eBay, that they may be worth up to $5 each. I don’t think they were part of a promotion but were instead sold separately in their own boxes. Anyone have any additional insights??
Looking for the Wade Mark on the Figurines
Over the years, Wades have been marked in a few different ways, including “WADE,” “WADE ENG,” and WADE ENGLAND. Let’s take a look:
Some pieces are simply marked “WADE” as seen on the female monkey from the Circus Series, while an elephant from the same series is marked “WADE ENG.”
Meanwhile, other pieces are marked “WADE ENGLAND,” perhaps because there was more room? Hard to say. There seems to be no specific time periods attributed to any single mark, so I’m guessing space and convenience played their roles.
The strongman figurine from the Circus Series presents “WADE” on one side and then “ENGLAND” on the other.
And finally, on the bottom of a larger example (the dog in basket above), you find “WADE ENGLAND” neatly embossed on the bottom.
Vintage Wade Figurine Values
The primary way that I sell Wades is via my antique booth where I typically sell them for $2 each. Condition is everything when it comes to Wades. Unfortunately, they chip rather easily; I mark them “Free”–something I like to do as a nice surprise for those who don’t mind a tiny chip here or there.
The most valuable Wades are those made for other countries. Figurines from Canada’s Nursery Rhyme Series tend to go for slightly higher amounts, perhaps up to $5 each, although apparently the little gingerbread boy has been known to go for $100(!). Pieces made for the English market, including larger figurines and a Disney series they made also go for higher amounts.
My go-to method for selling Wades is to place them in some kind of shallow container with a small sign stating, “Vintage Wades, $2 each (please take a tag).” I make a bunch of small tags that say, “Wade figurine, $2” and tuck them in with the Wades. The buyer can grab one or more figurines and one of the tags and take them to the cashier.
They sell very well and fairly regularly, usually three or more/month. I like the idea of having items in my booth that encourage children to begin collecting something. It’s my way of spreading the love of vintage and antiques forward to future generations of collectors!
I sold this set of tiny white Wades on eBay for $8 back in 2018. Each is quite a bit smaller than other Wades, and I could never find out anything about them. If anyone has any info on them I’d love to know! Leave me a comment, please 🙂
UPDATE: A reader kindly informed me in the comments that these little white figures were part of a Noah’s ark set issued between 2002 and 2006. Now I’m wondering if they created a Noah and a Mrs. Noah as part of the set(?).
How to Display Your Vintage Wade Figurines
This antique divided cheese box displays these little cuties perfectly.
An attractive brass and glass display case like this one provides a lovely way to show the world your collection while at the same time keeping your critters dust free–win-win, right??
Where Can I Find Vintage Wade Figurines?
I rescued many of the whimsies you see in this post from a “free” box at a garage sale a couple of years ago, much to my and my daughter’s great pleasure. She has inherited her mother’s fascination with these wonderful collectibles. I suppose putting one or two in her Christmas stocking every year didn’t hurt!
Wades make a perfect introductory level collectible because they can be found “out in the wild” so cheaply–often for about a quarter. Even at antique stores, they rarely cost more than $2.00, which as I mentioned is what I charge when I have them in stock.
The Red Rose Tea website offers figurines for sale and of course you can also find them on eBay and Etsy as well. Look for them on Facebook Marketplace and at flea markets as well. I hope you enjoyed learning about Wade Whimsies and seeing examples of those I’ve sold in the past and in my daughter’s collection. What’s your favorite Wade Whimsy??