Within each box of Red Rose Tea hid a treasure. It was like the prize in a cereal box, but loved by adults just as much as by children. Instead of a cheap plastic toy, these miniature collectibles are made of solid porcelain with a glazed finish. They might come as animals, storybook and fantasy characters, or whatever other representations the artists dream of next.
They are Red Rose Tea's Wade figurines.
The adorable "Wades", as they tend to be called by collectors, fit in the palm of my hand; yet they hold a much bigger place in my heart. Easy to come by and simple to store or display, Wade miniatures made a great starter collection as a child. Relatives would pick me up a new animal or circus clown or leprechaun when happening across the figurines at garage sales or auctions or antique shops.
Wades come in so many colors and themes that there is a style for everyone. The detail and whimsy can be admired even by those who do not choose to actively collect these tiny decorative pieces.
A Little History of Red Rose Tea & Wades
The history of the company behind Wade miniatures goes back more than 100 years, though none of the porcelain figurines themselves span such a life - yet!
Sources varying from the official Red Rose Tea website to an official Wade Ceramics historic timeline to books published on collecting the porcelain pieces are, unfortunately, a tad inconsistent in dating the stages that led to tea-drinkers finding "free" figurines in Red Rose Tea boxes.
Wade Ceramics declares their establishment date to be 1810. The company started off producing practical items and built a long legacy before branching into the fun of miniature porcelain animals, otherwise known as the Wade Whimsies, in the year 1954. Forget household use or purpose, these were just plain fun!
The 1960s saw Wade Ceramics team up with Red Rose Tea. When purchasing packages of these teas, customers would find a beautiful figurine to add to their collection. This luxury was first made available to Canada for promotional purposes, but it soon traveled to the United States as well and became tradition.
Wades have been given away with the purchase of specific Red Rose Tea boxes consistently since the 1980s, at least in the USA, but their styles do change. Known as a "series", a selection of Wade figurines centered around a theme will be available for a time period of several years. During this time, try to collect the whole set through luck and trading!
Red Rose Tea Wade Series
Below is a listing of the many series produced for America, as opposed to the sets given away in Canada, that were released over the last 30+ years. While Wade figurines are mostly the same in design for both of these countries, there may be some difference in coloring and other little details.
The debut of one surprise figure inside each Red Rose Tea box was from 1983-1985, and featured a mix of generic animals for this Series 1. From 1985-1994, Series 2 worked similarly.
In 1994, more specific Wade sets began to emerge. Series 3 continued until 1999. The theme was Circus, represented by clowns and elephants and more. This was my personal favorite as a child!
Series 4 was called North American Endangered Species, running from 1999-2002. This series of figurines was designed to help direct attention toward the efforts being made to conserve rare species of wildlife.
Noah's Ark, aka Series 5, could be found with your Red Rose Tea from 2002-2006. As you might guess, each animal in this set comes in twos. Different poses distinguish male and female. Noah and his wife are even included as one piece. A new aspect of this Wade series was that you could also purchase (separately) an ark to be displayed alongside the miniature pieces.
While sticking to the tradition of Wade animal figures, Series 6 featured less wild critters and more household friends. We're talking about the Pet Shop set, of course.
For the years 2008-2012, Red Rose broke the pattern of animals and things related (such as the circus theme) to give away brightly colored Wades representing every month of the calendar year. This series was simply called "Calendar." As an adult, these are now my favorite of the modern Wade miniatures. The figurines celebrate their individual month by taking the shape of well known sights such as a Christmas tree for December or a pumpkin for October.
Moving on to Wade Series 8 in 2012, the theme was Nautical. Each porcelain piece came as various representations of sea life and related fare, such as a lighthouse or a compass.
Finally we land on the American Heritage Series, started as of 2016. From the White House to the Liberty Bell to classic historic images such as a covered wagon and a tractor, this latest Red Rose figurine set will make any patriotic American proud to complete.
Identifying Wade Figurines
What you might notice almost instantly about the Wades from Red Rose Tea is that they are solid, not hollow and light despite their small size.
Wade figurines, whether bears or clowns, are always glazed. They can be a variety of colors, but the paint is never flat. Thus the shine catches the light faintly and feels glossy beneath your fingertips as you hold the tiny figure in your hand.
If you flip a Wade over to see the base that the porcelain figure rests on, you'll notice light ridges running across the bottom. This is consistent throughout the years. Run your fingertip over the small edges to get a sense of the texture.
However, the easiest and clearest form of knowing you've got a Wade miniature is finding tiny embossed or stamped letters reading "WADE ENG(LAND)".
What Are Wades Worth?
As with any collectible, value fluctuates over time and varies from piece to piece.
The first thing to know is that the Wade figurines found in boxes of Red Rose are not for sale directly from the company with one exception: at the end of the production of a specific series, Red Rose will offer a limited chance to purchase the entire set before it is retired. Otherwise, whether before or after that point, all Wades must be purchased or traded from other people like you.
Which does offer the potential for your Wade collection to earn you a little profit some day!
The majority of the common animal figures and recent Wade series may only be worth a mere $1-2 apiece, though different venues and individual sellers may set higher prices. Pieces from any current series will obvious fetch a few more dollars, possibly $4-7 each - all determined on finding the right buyer at the right time.
But what about seriously "collectible" Wades? Rare or old or unique in some way? Or perhaps a complete set? Simply a favored piece? While I must reiterate that collector values always go up and down, not to mention rely on locating the ideal marketplace, you might occasionally be looking at a triple figure price tag!
Did Red Rose Tea Discontinue Wades?
No, they did not. Unfortunately the company did, however, announce recently that they were putting an end to the decades-long tradition of finding a Wade figurine in every 100-count box of Red Rose tea. The only way to get a Wade figurine in your box of tea now is to order the tea online. Many longtime fans have expressed displeasure over this decision. Though one upside? You can now select which figure you receive when you place your order.
No matter what you collect, part of the fun is sharing your love with other fans! If you find yourself holding Red Rose Tea's Wade miniatures dear to your heart as I do, please feel invited to take a moment to share.
What made you start collecting Wade figurines? Which was your first piece? How about your all-time favorite, be it an individual animal or a whole theme?
Laura on April 26, 2020:
My Mom and Grandmother drank Red Rose tea and the figurines were passed down to me. I loved displaying all the unique pieces in my home. I passed them down to my 9 year old daughter and she looooves them! They’re a true treasure in our hearts and gives me great memories every time I see them ☺️
Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on September 09, 2019:
Kathy, thank you for sharing! This is also my mom's favorite tea and I truly hope that when you smell a fresh cup that it brings memories of your mom to make you smile, even though I know there's pain in it as well. And may your Wades collection continue to grow!
kathy on September 09, 2019:
I miss the statues. I love collecting them. My Mom who passed away loved the tea. I collect them still at garage sales and on ebay.
robyn on July 11, 2015:
Do you haopen to know if they will be releasing a way to display the nautical set? They have the ark, and the pet shop and the shelves for the calendar series, but what about the nautical?
AJ Long from Pennsylvania on June 25, 2014:
Amanda108 I was drinking Red Rose tea for awhile about a year or so ago and I have a half dozen or so of these lol. Nice Hub!
Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on September 12, 2012:
A shadowbox is a lovely idea for storing Wades, Lynn. I've been looking for a new way to display my favorite ones; I'll have to remember that.
I'm glad I could bring back a nice memory for you. Thanks for letting me know. :-)
Lynn S. Murphy on September 12, 2012:
Thanks for this memory - my gram drank nothing but red rose tea and somewhere in my attic I have a ton of these. Remember shadowboxes??? That's where mine resided and were cherished. Hmm...I may have to revive that.
Amanda (author) from Michigan, United States on September 11, 2012:
Thank you, Arlene. :-) They really are adorable. Unfortunately they aren't very popular right now, but that makes it a good time to buy them as the prices from people selling their collections are low.
Arlene V. Poma on September 11, 2012:
This Hub makes me want to drink Red Rose Tea just to collect the little figurines. I only have five, so I have a lot of catching up to do. I always wondered about the story behind those prizes, so now I know. UP, useful and interesting!