Ceramic artists mentioned in auction descriptions or reports are almost always the ones who shape the piece, a dinnerware designer or an artist who creates unique pieces by modeling clay or developing unique glazes. But that wasn't always true. In the 1700s and 1800s, there were artists who decorated porcelains with paintings of gardens, flowers, portraits, religious scenes or buildings. Another artist made the ormolu mounting to complement the painted picture.

In the early 1900s, housewives began painting ceramics. Amateurs and artists bought marked plain white porcelain from Germany, Japan, England and other countries, and then decorated them in the United States styles. Magazines featured instructions and designs for this hobby. Special paints could remain permanently on a glazed vase or dinner plate even when washed. Unfortunately, the paint will not always survive the heat of a modern dishwasher, and the art can disappear.

One of the most famous professional decorators, John Bennett, was born in Staffordshire, England, in 1840 and worked at Doulton & Co. in the 1870s. He moved to New York about 1876 and started his own ceramic business. In 1882, he retired, moved to New Jersey and decorated pottery that he stamped "W. Orange-N. J." Bennett died in 1907.

His ceramic paintings were asymmetrical designs of colorful flowers and nature. He was influenced by the aesthetic, and arts and crafts movements.

His work is expensive today. This very large covered urn, 16½ inches high, is signed "Bennett." It pictures clusters of pink and white hydrangea blossoms and green leaves on a black background. Rago Arts and Auction Center sold it for $5,000 plus buyer's premium.

Painted lead figures

Q: I recently bought a collection of painted lead figures that includes five animals and seven standing figures of people, including farmers, workmen, a cowboy, a hiker and a fisherman, each 2 inches tall. I would estimate they are 100 years old. The standing figures are marked. At least one of them is marked "Made in England, Britains Ltd., London." What do you think they are worth, and where can I sell them?

A: Germany was the leading producer of lead toy soldiers and other figures in the early 1800s. In 1893, the English toy manufacturer Britains became the first company to make hollow-cast lead figures. The company stopped making lead figures in 1967 because of the danger of lead poisoning and began making plastic figures. If your Britains figures are solid lead, they are over 50 years old. If the figures are brightly painted, they are probably not 100 years old. If you bought the figures recently, the price you paid is a good indication of what you can sell them for. There are auctions that specialize in toy soldiers, but they usually want full sets. People who sell lead figures on eBay and other online sites might buy them. The military figures are the most popular and most pricey.

Write to: The Kovels, c/o King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The website is kovels.com.

current prices

Prices are from shows nationwide.

Libbey glass bowl, tricorn shape, diamonds alternating with modified pinwheels, notched rim, marked, 3 by 8 1/2 inches, $36.

Chair, maple frame, high flattened armrests, black striped wool upholstery, Jens Risom for Knoll, 33 by 24 inches, $184.

Advertising sign, Toys of All Kinds, For Children Old & Young, applied toy soldier, train, wood, paint, folk art, 36 by 24 inches, $244.

Mechanical bank, Monkey & Parrot, put a coin on monkey's tail, rolls into parrot's mouth, tin, Saalheimer & Strauss, 4 1/2 by 2 by 6 inches, $461.

Toy, Mortimer Snerd Tricky Auto, tin lithograph, windup, marked 1938 Edgar Bergen, Louis Marx, box, 7 1/2 by 6 3/4 inches, $554.

Madame Alexander doll, Margaret, bride, plastic, strawberry blond mohair curls, rose tulle and satin gown, veil, 1950, 21 inches, $690.