Tuesday, November 14, 2017


I enjoy learning new things from transferware patterns, so my curiosity was piqued by a child's mug posted on the Transferware Collectors Club Facebook page. It showed the inscription "Mr. Van Amburgh/The Night Of The Queens (sic) Visit to Drury" under the pattern of a man dressed in  Roman garb and surrounded by large wild cats.  I learned that Isaac Van Amburgh (1811-1865) was an American animal trainer and menagerie owner who conquered Europe with his daring animal acts. (He is said to be the first man to put his head in the mouth of a lion.) The young Queen Victoria was so taken with Van Amburgh that she visited his show at the Drury Lane Theater seven times in eight weeks (this number varies).  She also commissioned Sir Edwin Landseer (1803-1873) to paint his portrait in 1839.  The painting of Van Amburgh and his menagerie is still part of the Royal Collection Trust.

John & Robert Godwin (1834-1865) child's mug "Mr. Van Amburgh/As He Appeared On The Night Of The Queens (sic) Visit To Drury Lane Theatre."  An amusing discussion of the Van Amburgh pattern is found on p. 35 in the book "Victoria Remembered" by John May; "Here, as the Brute Tamer of Pompeii, in a sort of very early Victorian Cecil B. de Mille version of a gladiator's kit, he put himself and his lions and tigers and his leopards through their paces." Thank you to Potter & Potter Auctions, Inc. for permission to use the photo.

Edwin Landseer "Isaac Van Amburgh and his Animals" 1839.  Notice there is a small lamb in the cage of wild beasts. Van Amburgh created a live show out of the words of Isaiah 11:6: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them."  No wolves, fatlings or kids, but the lions, leopards, and lamb are in the same cage!  Along with Van Amburgh.  Such showmanship!

Van Amburgh was so popular that other kinds of inexpensive ceramics, along with transferware, were made as souvenirs.  It is possible that the ceramics were sold at the theaters where Van Amburgh performed.

Mr. Van Amburgh Staffordshire figure

The back of the Staffordshire figure seen above.  I like the leopard clinging to Van Amburgh's shoulders.

A 6.75 inch relief-molded jug with Van Amburgh and his lions and other large cats. Notice the lion handle.

Van Amburgh was known as "The Lion King," but it appears he was king through extreme animal cruelty.  There were complaints about Van Amburgh's training methods at a time when slavery was still legal in much of the world, including the United States.  That said, Van Amburgh died in bed of a coronary in 1865.  No revenge of the beasts for him.

One more photo.  Here is Van Amburgh in his youth.  The lithograph is from The National Portrait Gallery in London.

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