Collecting Peter Fagan Colour Box Miniatures

By Rachael Fretter

I’m a lifelong and self-confessed collect-a-holic, specialising in Peter Fagan’s Colour Box Miniatures, with a collection of over 3000 pieces and growing.  The work of Peter Fagan has been widely regarded since the 1980s and at its heyday in the mid-1990s there were over 55,000 collectors worldwide.  With more than 1000 unique pieces produced, and with numerous variations across 10 major collections and special editions, the scope for collecting is huge.  Whilst my collection might be a bit excessive, as I look for pretty much anything that Peter has made, collecting Peter’s work can be achieved on a much more achievable basis due to the various collections produced by Colour Box.

Based in the Scottish Borders, Peter is an artist who loves to sculpt and he began producing bronze resin animal sculptures in 1973 under the company name of Bronze Age Ltd.  These proved popular, but as fashions changed in the early 1980s the appeal of these began to dwindle.

Not to be deterred, Peter took inspiration from his art box and took a small bronze figure of a cat and gave it a splash of colour with his paint brush.  The piece was transformed and he was overwhelmed with the positive response received and the Colour Box Miniatures company was born.  Pieces were no longer cast in bronze, and production was switched to ceramic resin and were hand painted.

Early collections followed the animal theme from the Bronze Age Ltd days through the Miniature Collection and the pocket-money-friendly Hopscotch range.  It was these collections that first sparked my interest in collecting at the age of 8, as they were attractive, affordable, took up very little shelf space and I loved the animals featured.

In 1983 the Home Sweet Home collection was launched, featuring humorous cats based on Peter’s own pets getting into mischief.  These were an instant success with mass appeal and was one of the most popular collections ever created by Peter.

With a love of curiosities and whilst on holiday in Bruges, Peter stumbled into an antiques shop and spotted four old teddy bears. Inspired, he purchased three of them immediately, but after a sleepless night he returned to the shop to purchase the one he left behind (ahhh!).  These four were Peter’s inspiration to start the Teddy Bear Collection in 1988, which are all based upon teddy bears within his family. This led to Peter attending auctions and snapping up often threadbare and unloved bears to add to “the hug”.  The appeal of this collection was not just that they were based on ‘real’ bears but also the little stories that accompanied them, all written by Peter’s wife Frances.

As with the Home Sweet Home Collection, the Teddy Bear Collection also proved hugely successful and is one of my favourites, having acquired nearly every piece including ‘specials’ and limited editions.  I love the fact they are based on ‘real’ bears and all have their own individual story to tell!

The Celebrity Bear Collection was launched in 1996 and was inspired by the fundraising activities of a charity called Society of Stars (raising funds for those with Cerebral Palsy).  Several celebrities allowed Peter to model their own teddies or allow rare bears to be modelled to raise funds for the charity. Like the regular bear collection, each piece came with a story detailing its life.

The bears and cats feature many 100’s of pieces, hence my vast collection, however there are other more manageable Colour Box ranges with less than 50 pieces to acquire.  These include Personality Pups (a range of cute dogs), Pennywhistle Lane (little mice figures and attic toys), Razzle Dazzle and Good Golly (two ranges based on the teddy bears’ best friend the golly), String Things (large jointed resin bears) and George and Co (larger pieces featuring bears and animals).

Like any ‘collectables’ company there would often be in-store promotions and signings given by Peter, and were the perfect opportunity for collectors to acquire special pieces that were only available at these events. The majority of these were produced in very limited numbers and hence are now some of the most sought-after pieces.

Unfortunately in 2000 Colour Box had to close its doors and I, like many other collectors, was left open mouthed and in shock that we would no longer be able to buy these fabulous items.   After a short lull in activity, Peter came bouncing back, this time hand-producing pieces on a smaller and more manageable scale.  Peter is still sculpting today with many pieces limited to only 25, making them highly desirable.

Freed from the pressure of running a large factory Peter is able to be more creative in what he offers collectors, with pieces featuring other materials such as wire, fabric etc.  I often wonder how he is always coming up with fresh ideas, and it’s his creative and active mind that initiates new designs from everyday observations or items.  Collectors often suggest ideas for pieces to Peter, and I am proud to say that I have had four items created and produced in the past.

If you are new to the work of Peter Fagan it is very easy to start an inexpensive collection with many pieces available on internet sites for less than £5 each.  Pieces very in size from just 1cm in height to large set pieces depicting shops or a helter skelter and even a carousel. If you are a dedicated collector like myself, it is the rare pieces that were offered in limited numbers in a special ‘paint way’ for an event for instance that command high prices.  Some of Peter’s more recent work, i.e. in the last 10 years, occasionally appear on the secondary market with recent prices reaching several £100s.

I live in hope that one day my collection will be complete but there is always “one more” rare elusive item that needs to be found, and I still enjoy discovering new and different variations on a regular basis.

Happy Collecting!