What do you Already Know?
Make a list of all the things you can tell by looking at the piece. Here is a sample based on the figure above. Pottery or Porcelain - figure of a dwarf or gnome on pig, no identifying marks/no backstamp - red hat – size about 2 inches (5 cm.) tall.
Try a Web Search.
Make a list of all the terms from step one and use them in a web search. Sample: Porcelain miniature dwarf gnome on pig. The returns you get may show up common terminology which you may be able to track further. If nothing pops out in your web search, try the same keywords on Ebay. Many people use the same terminology when they don’t know what something is. You may find similar items to yours.
Check for Similarities.
Once you notice similar items, see if you can find out where they were made or what they are properly called. Ebay is notorious for collectibles being named unusually. In the case of the search for the figure above on Ebay, it turned up Irish leprechauns which looked a lot like the sample. They were listed as Wade Fairy Folk in several examples.
Narrow your Search.
If you have one or two possible company names, or a different descriptive name, try searching the web on those sorts. Wade Miniature Fairy Folk for example. Information on these types of sorts may take you to a company site, or the site of a collectors group who have a gallery of photos of various collectibles. Read any background information about the particular type of miniature at the sites you find.
Search for a Collectible Guide.
If the style/color/detail of the miniature you have seems to match something on a site you find, but your miniature isn’t listed, do a search for a collectible guide for similar items. In the sample’s case the search would be for: Collectible Guide, Wade Fairy Folk, or Price Guide, Wade Fairy Folk. If a guide shows up in the search look for it in your local library, or look for a collector’s club for the type of miniature which is close to you. Read the descriptions in the guide to decide if you are on the right track, or try to get a photo to a member of a collectors club.
Does your item match descriptions of others you have found? Does it look like an antique? Is it recent? If your searches are turning up information on scale miniatures, measure your miniature and decide if it fits the scale of the items which are turning up on your list. A tiny wooden chair 1¼ inches from the base to the seat would correspond with about 15 inches in real height. The chair might be a 1:12 dollhouse scale miniature. Use this information to take your search further if you need to. For the figurine in the photo, the search might be for 1:32 scale fairy /gnome on pig.
Try a New Search with New Terms
If you have determined that your miniature is a scale model, you may have to take your search back to the basics, only now inserting the scale. 1:32 scale fairy/gnome on pig. Once again, see if your item matches anything you find on the searches.
Out of Date Searches
By now you should be close to tracking down most miniature items. If you haven't found a similar piece, it may be that your item is something mass produced several years ago, not collectible, and now out of production. This may be the point where you say, nice pig, but not important! You may want to search completed sales on Ebay to see if anything like your item has sold in the past few months. Many items are traded more frequently during a particular season. (St. Patricks day if the little figurine is Irish for example.) You might be out of luck if you are looking at the wrong time.
Turn to Local Resources
When everything else fails, turn to your local resources. Is there a local club for the type of miniature you are trying to track? Does the museum or library have a day during the year when you can bring in an item for appraisers to examine? Is Antiques Road Show coming to your town?
Try Local Stores
If all else blocks you, take your item in to an antique shop (if the materials and style suggest the item is antique) or a local store which sells similar items. Does anyone in the shop have any idea where you might be able to find information about the object? Is there another shop owner you should contact, do they have the name of a club who might be able to help?
If you still don’t have any answers, love your miniature for its value to you, but never give up the search to find out more about it!
Final Note - The little leprechaun riding a pig in the photo turns out to be a Wade Whimsie from the Wee Fairy Folk Collection produced sometime in the 1950’s. The figure has no mark or backstamp, due to the fact that the Wade Factory in Ireland was producing the leprechauns for England, and the factory felt Irish made leprechauns should be marked Made in Ireland, instead of England. It’s off to be showcased in a simple display box for better protection!