The enduring Bunnykins success story is a shining aspect of Royal Doulton's pottery history. But there is also a quiet, parallel personal history of the original Bunnykins illustrator. She was an artist who "worked from home" under very trying conditions to create the many enchanting drawings of bunny rabbits, portrayed like everyday people, that bring to life Bunnykins products.
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In the 1930s, Royal Doulton planned a new production of nursery china at its factory in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The factory's general manager, Cuthbert Bailey, invited his daughter, in whom he recognised a distinctive, artistic talent, to create illustrations that could be transfer-printed on the china. Barbara Bailey, who was in her early 20s at the time, agreed to her father's request to do some special drawings for the project.
This was hardly a simple assignment to accomplish though, because in the late 1920s, Barbara had entered a convent and become Sister Mary Barbara. Moreover, the convent's Reverend Mother evidently disapproved of the project and stipulated that Sister Mary Barbara could tell no one about it. She could only work on her drawings late at night, by candlelight.
Apparently Sister Mary Barbara had a great fondness for animals, rabbits in particular, and they became the subjects of her Bunnykins drawings. She drew and painted bunny rabbits dressed like people and as families, with human traits and habits. The father rabbit was said to be modelled after her own father, wearing spectacles and puffing on a pipe. She portrayed a wide range of scenes, from working in the kitchen to dancing under the moonlight, and each portrayal was completed with a lot of detail and whimsy. Royal Doulton introduced Bunnykins in 1934.
By 1939 and the outbreak of World War II, Sister Mary Barbara had completed 66 Bunnykins designs for a range of Royal Doulton ceramic products, which by that year also included Bunnykins figurines. All factory production stopped during the war years. Items manufactured before 1939 are collectibles, particularly those signed by the artist.
Besides figurines, Bunnykins products include gift sets and the original nurseryware. Figurines such as "Dance!" "Doctor," "Nurse" and "Fireman" are perennial favourites. Themed gift sets such as "Christening Time" and "Happy Birthday" are also popular. The classic nurseryware items include "Christening Money Ball," "Baby Plate," "Eggcup," "Hug-a-Mug 2 Handle" and "Nurseryware Teaching Clock." Most recently, Bunnykins items are made from melamine as well as china (see Resources section).
"Sister Barbara" Figurine
In 1969, Royal Doulton resumed production of Bunnykins figurines, which had been stopped in 1939 because of the war. Historical, literary and other figures were portrayed as Bunnykins figurines, such as "Sir Lancelot Bunnykins" and "Betsy Ross Bunnykins" among many others. The Bunnykins figurine accompanying this article is an astronaut with a rocket strapped to his back. It is a musical, windup figurine that plays "Fly Me to the Moon." In 2005, in tribute to its late artist, who passed away in 2003, Royal Doulton introduced "Sister Barbara," a Bunnykins figurine depicting a cloistered nun working on her art.
In a May 8, 2003, obituary published in Britain's "The Independent," the writer, Maggie Parkham relates how at 4 o'clock on the day she interviewed Sister Mary Barbara at her infirmary room, a group of nuns appeared with a tea trolley bearing biscuits and cakes and laden with Bunnykins china (see References section). Sister Mary Barbara, however, drank coffee from a plain yellow mug.
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