QUESTION: I have a child’s tea set that once belonged to my grandmother’s mother. Each piece has an illustration from a nursery rhyme. Each piece is stamped “Made in England” on the bottom. Can you tell me more about it?
ANSWER: You have child’s tea set made by Bilton’s of Staffordshire, England made sometime after World War I when the pottery began producing what they called “nursery wares for children.” Each piece features a traditional nursery rhyme---Little Red Riding Hood, Little Bo Peep, Old Mother Goose, Ride a Cock Horse, Tom Tom the Piper's son, and others. The set, in particular the teapot, has pure the Art Deco styling of the mid 1920s..
Biltons Limited began making ceramics in 1900. The company continued until 1911 when Joseph Tellwright acquired it and changed the name to just Biltons. Prior to World War 1 they had specialized in the manufacture of tea and coffee pots, jugs, kettles, and such. After the war, the pottery produced tablewares, plus figures and devotional wares known as “grotesques.”
However, when technical advances occurred in the 19th century, faience and porcelain became widespread since their use was no longer restricted to making tableware and decorative vases. Potteries began using faience and porcelain to make certain types of toys, and European faience factories started to produce toy tea sets and doll's accessories, in addition to their usual production.
Potteries began to make toy tea sets on a small scale for children to play with their dolls. Originally, potteries made these sets by hand. As such, people gave them to little girls as precious gifts. Because of their fragility, parents only let their daughters play with them on special occasions under their supervision.
While toy tea sets belong to the world of toys, the art and craft required to make them is directly linked to the skills required to handle whatever material used, whether it be copper, pewter, tin, silver, faience, or porcelain. In the 19th century, France, together with England was one of the leading producers of faience in Europe. While porcelain was for a long time the prerogative of Germany, the situation in the 18th century changed, and the French revival raised faience production to a peak. While contemporary toy tea-sets continue to be made in ceramic, the quality is no longer equal to the former production.
The first toy tea sets appeared in the 16th century. These early sets, made in pewter and copper, came from Germany, a country known for producing toys in wood and metal. Until the end of the first half of the 19th century, France turned to Germany for many of its toys. Before the era of faience and porcelain toy tea sets, most of them were made from metals, including gold and silver, pewter and copper. Silver and goldsmiths especially catered to the wishes of the young princesses of Europe.
But back in the 18th century, when faience and porcelain tea sets weren’t yet a phenomenon, potteries made them only on order for wealthy customers. These toys didn’t reach the height of their popularity until 100 years later, with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. Toy tea sets finally came into vogue during the 1850's, specifically when they appeared on display at the Universal Exhibition of 1855.
And while this tea set may not be the most exciting or the most valuable, it’s a great example of a phenomenon that still exists today.