Monday, December 5, 2016

How About a Cuppa?

QUESTION: My mother collected cups and saucers from dinnerware sets for years. She was also a great tea drinker. Recently, she died and now I have her collection. I don’t collect much of anything but I do like the variety she amassed in her collection. Why did she get so much pleasure from collecting all these different cups and saucers and what did that have to do with her liking tea?

ANSWER: Cups and saucers have a deep and historic connection to drinking tea. For collectors, they’re one of the easiest items to collect in all price ranges. Some people collect them from different makers, others collect different designs, and still others collect historically significant ones. Whatever the reason, cups and saucers are one of the most popular collectibles.

To understand how they are connected to tea drinking, we have to go back to 1800 when Joseph Spode invented the formula for bone china, a delicate but durable white porcelain to which he added finely ground animal bone. Spode decorated his first bone china teabowls (handleless cups) and saucers in brightly colored enamels and often gilded them. He copied many floral, figural, and landscape designs from the Chinese.

The earliest tea sets were copies of Chinese ones. Since the Chinese drank only lukewarm tea, the user could grip the cup, thus no handle was necessary. Cups from early tea sets had no handle. At the beginning of the 19th century, people began “saucering” their tea, or pouring some into the saucer to cool, then sipping it from the saucer. But eventually, this method went out of style. After that all cups had handles.

The English are great tea drinkers and created the daily ritual of “afternoon tea.”  An important part of this ritual is the cup and saucer, the more beautiful and delicate the better.  The need for these vessels encourage the production of numerous cups and saucers by English potteries. Many of them produced bone china dinnerware and exported  their products to the United States and Canada. During the 19th century, It became fashionable for young brides to collect sample cups and saucers from different sets.

Royal  Crown Derby richly gilded its "Imari" pattern and decorated it in the reds and blues of Japanese Imari ware. Minton produced beautiful hand-painted ring handles and butterfly handled bone china teacups highly prized by collectors. Doulton's Burslem factory made fine bone china cups decorated in gold with elaborate designs. Other companies, such as Aynsley, Foley, Crown Staffordshire and Royal Albert, produced bone china dinnerware with colorful transfer decorations.

Highly treasured by advanced collectors are the exquisite cabinet cups and saucers made by the leading porcelain factories in Europe in the 18th and 19th century. Women considered these lovely cups and saucers to be works of art and proudly displayed them in their cabinets.

Sevres produced magnificent cabinet cups and saucers with hand-painted portrait panels and richly gilt border designs, many in the "blue roi" color. Vienna Company developed a similar color in the 18th century, and today this cobalt blue shade is still a favorite with collectors. Both Vienna and KPM decorated their cabinet cups and saucers with magnificent reproductions of paintings by famous artists, such as Kauffman, as well as with beautiful florals and much gilding.

Cups and saucers from the elegant dinnerware services of the 19th and early 20th centuries are lovely to collect and offer good value. "Top-of-the-line" are cups and saucers from Meissen dessert sets, many with reticulated borders and multicolored hand-painted flowers. The best known and most copied porcelain decoration created by Meissen is the Blue Onion pattern, first designed in the early 18th century. Meissen based it on a Chinese pattern from the Ming Dynasty, and it got its name from a stylized peach that resembled an onion. More than 60 European and Oriental companies used this decoration, and many cup and saucer collectors hunt for examples of the different "onion" styles.

The most popular dinnerware in the mid to late 19th century was Limoges porcelain. Limoges was the center of hard paste porcelain production in France, and many companies exported dinnerware to America. Collectors actively seek cups and saucers from these sets because they offer a tremendous variety of shapes and decoration and are usually very affordable. Collectors look for the hand-painted examples. Floral decor, especially the rose, is the most frequent decoration followed by fruit themes, game birds and fish. Some cups and saucers have deep, vivid colors, while others, especially by Theodore Haviland, have delicate pastel coloring. Collectors prize many of them  because of their rich gold embellishments.

You can easily add to your mother’s collection. But before you do so, you should take an inventory by studying the marks on the bottoms of the cups and saucers. Try to see if she collected cups and saucers from certain companies or whether she collected them by design. Then decide how you would like to collect them. Don’t be afraid of selling or giving away pieces that my be slightly damaged or not in styles that you like. And while your mother may have left you her collection, it’s your collection now.

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