|The Victoria & Albert Museum|
In the early to mid Nineteenth Century, matches were rather costly, and, so, alternative ways of lighting candles (and cigars) were employed. Spills—thin pieces of wood or rolled paper) were kept on the mantle in spill vases. These bud-vase-like pieces allowed for easy access to the spills which were used to transfer fire to other, smaller uses such as candle lighting.
Here, we see a spill vase depicting popular actors Jenny Marston and Frederick Robinson as Perdita and Florizel from Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale.” The couple is standing on a base styled like a mound of earth, behind them is a tree in the shape of a spill vase.
Celebrated Nineteenth Century stage stars were often depicted as ceramic figurines, especially by Staffordshire factories who specialized in molded earthenware portrait figurines. Marston and Robinson were favorite subjects. They are seen here in Scene iii of a revival of “The Winter's Tale,” which was performed at Sadler's Wells Theatre in July of 1851.