Victorian china fairings are small porcelain figurines ranging from about three inches (7.5 cm) to about five inches (12.5 cm) in height, and depict a variety of scenes - humorous, political or domestic. The figurine almost always incorporates a base and many fairings have a caption describing the scene or making some point inscribed on that base. Although the majority of fairings are simply decorative, they were occasionally made in the form of pinboxes, matchstrikers or holders for watches or small mirrors. Some fairings were made in pairs, for example, "Grandpapa - Grandma", two separate statuettes of a small boy and girl, each dressed in adults' clothing.

China fairings are so named because they were given away as prizes at fairs in the Victorian era, in much the same way that we would win a coconut at a fair today, although some were manufactured simply for sale. They first started appearing in the middle of the nineteenth century and remained popular until the start of the First World War.

Genuine fairings are now keenly sought by serious collectors. They can range in price from a few pounds for the more common ones (such as "Last in bed to put out the light") to several hundred pounds for the rarer ones, the most keenly sought being the five fairings the Vienna series (uncaptioned, but characterised by a gold band around the base). As with any antique, the value of a fairing depends on its condition - they are particularly delicate and damage of any sort can seriously reduce their value - and, in the case of fairings that are paired, whether they are offered singly or with their partners.

Most fairings were manufactured in Germany by Conta and Boehme. This company developed a mass production method that no other company could match, thereby achieving an advantage over other firms.

Reproduction fairings were made as early as the first few decades of the twentieth century. However, serious fairing collectors are not interested in them, and they are generally only worth a few pounds at most.

It takes an experienced eye to tell a reproduction from the genuine article, but there are one or two tell-tale signs that you can use to spot the more obvious ones.

  • Reproductions often have two small holes, roughly the size of a fingernail, on the underside.
  • Many fairings have a four-digit number printed on their base, with each number defining a particular design. Any number starting with the digits "18" indicates a reproduction.
  • Reproductions generally seem cheap and shoddy, with gaudy colours and poor gilding if any. The colours may seem too gaudy. The caption may be printed in a sloppy fashion, such as sloping downwards in upper case letters.
  • Although several captions are shared among different genuine fairings, and the same design often appears with different captions, there are a few captions, such as "Loose pins" that are not genuine.
  • Some less scrupulous traders have been known to apply a patina of grime to a reproduction to make it appear older than it is.