Two weeks ago I hit a wonderful estate sale in a small town that was packed to the rafters with items from many different collecting categories, including some I'm not very familiar with. When I saw the two "mud men" (below), priced at a couple dollars each, I figured they were a good deal even though I have little experience buying or selling these Chinese-made figurines:
My examples were only a couple inches tall, but I've seen others that are taller and more impressive. Mud men were simply decorative figurines, depicting older men holding an object. They will have shiny glaze in a familiar palette of colors: green, blue, yellow, white, black and brown. The faces of the men typically have long white beards, bushy eyebrows and eyes that are holes poked in the clay. Starting small was good for me, since I didn't really know what I was buying.
Mud men are hand formed so each one is unique, and usually marked "CHINA" on the bottom. I referred to Ebay for more information that was quite helpful in determining if my mud men were older or newer. I am hoping mine were made during the Victorian era, when they were very popular, or at least somewhere between 1900 to the 1940's. Apparently, these figures continue to be made at the same potteries just as they have been for hundreds of years.
When looking at my examples, I can tell the mud man on the left is better crafted because the fingers are more finely formed. Perhaps he's older than the example on the right. Another clue, according to Ebay, is that older mud men tend to have puddles of glaze at the bottom of the figure. Again, my example on the left has that attribute, some pooling of glaze around the feet. I think my mud man on the left is older than the one on the right. The clay is darker too. What do you think?
Here is the CHINA stamp that you will see on most mud men:
Because I got such a good deal on them, I priced both at $14 and put them in one of my antique mall booths. I like to do that sometimes, especially when I'm not exactly sure about the age of an item I'm selling.