It is amazing that an object, possibly used everyday, that can so easily be dropped or knocked over and broken, could ever survive 250 years, but that is the case with some of these beautiful old teapots.
Of course, many of them have been in grand collections and as such probably infrequently handled. I can imagine that most of these prized painted examples have not been in regular use for a couple of centuries.
Porcelain teapot with underglaze blue and enamel decoration. Nicholas Crisp, Vauxhall, London. 1753-1764
Porcelain teapot painted in enamels. William Baddeley (or William Littler at Longton Hall, Staffordshire) 1777-1784
They are currently on display as part of the Early Porcelain (1740-1780) section of the The Twining Teapot Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum.
For most of the 18th century imported tea was an expensive beverage not least as it was heavily taxed. The high price (5 shillings per pound in 1711) affordable only by the wealthy, was also maintained by the virtual monopoly held by the merchants of the East India Company. Although the tax was reduced in 1723 and again in 1745, tea was smuggled into the country. It was also adulterated with other ingredients such as dried hawthorn leaves. I can’t imagine what that tasted like.
Towards the end of the 18th century following pressure from Richard Twining, Chairman of the London Tea Dealers, the Tea and Window Act of 1784 reduced the duty from 119 per cent to 12 per cent per pound. With such a reduction in price tea became available to the lower levels of society and consumption rose, and, within ten years imports had quadrupled and tea smuggling disappeared. It was William Pitt the Younger who introduced these new much lower rates and at the same time, to mitigate the loss of revenue from tea imports, he increased the window tax hence the Tea and Window Act.
Naturally, teapots were used for tea, but, interestingly not exclusively tea. Below, this cream, textured teapot is one such example. Larger than most of teapots in the Early Porcelain section of the display, it may well have been used for punch. I should think that punch was infinitely preferable to ‘hawthorn’ tea.
At the Wallace Collection, located a few streets north of Selfridges in London, there are fine displays of Old Master paintings, 18th-century French art, arms and amour and a treasure trove of Sèvres 18th-century porcelain.
The Wallace Collection is a national museum, but as these artworks are held and displayed in a majestic, London town house, the exhibits are enhanced by being placed within elegant, well-proportioned rooms.
In particular, the extensive world-renowned collection of French 18th-century Sèvres porcelain benefits from being displayed within these rich domestic interiors of a former private residence.
This porcelain is known as Sèvres as Sèvres, Hauts-de-Seine, France is where the royal factory was relocated to in 1756 and where it remains to this day. Although originally the factory had been founded and supported by King Louis XV in Vincennes in 1740 to produce china in direct competition with Meissen porcelain produced in Saxony.
Sèvres porcelain cup and saucer, 1760. Pale turquoise blue ground overlaid with a trellis pattern, painted with flowers by François Le Vavasseur. Acquired by 1842.
Sèvres cup and saucer decorated with bucolic scene.
Sèvres china is made from soft-paste porcelain which is extremely fragile in the kiln. Many of these pieces have been fired five or more times depending on the complexity of the glazing, the painted decoration and their final gilding.
The displays include the expected tea wares as well also porcelain vases, candelabra, the odd inkstand and even an ice-cream cooler, but it was specifically the beautiful, delicate cups and saucers that I found most charming. Originally they would have been used for tea, coffee or chocolate and what a delightful treat to have sipped a thick sweet chocolate from one of these.
From the mid-seventeenth century onwards tea-drinking arrived in England and over the next century the English started making teapots and gradually formulated a version of porcelain that could be made into ‘china’ teapots. Originally porcelain production was a Chinese secret, but by the 1740s a form of porcelain was being produced in Britain. Chinese porcelain was very expensive and highly rated as noted by Nicholas Crisp in 1743.
The essential properties of China-ware, besides the Beauty of its Colours, are these: that it is smooth, and as easily cleaned as Glass, and at the same Time bears the hottest Liquors without danger of breaking.
Nicholas Crisp writing in the Public Advertiser in 1743
It was only natural that the innovative potters of England would want to be able to make teapots as good as the much praised China-ware. As a result of fierce, commercial competition to successfully copy these much admired Chinese imports, soft paste porcelain was developed. It was white and glossy and thinly potted to produce teapots similar in appearance to the Chinese imports. However, as soft paste porcelain is fired at relatively low temperatures some of the early teapots shattered when filled with hot water.
Some manufacturers recommended ‘Warming the Pot’. That is slowly warming a teapot to avoid it shattering. It didn’t take many years before soft porcelain was perfected and teapots became reliable receptacles for boiling water, however, ‘Warming the Pot’ persisted. I learnt the ritual from my mother without question, but I have thought, on more than one occasion, why am I doing this as boiling water poured over tea immediately makes the teapot more than warm! Well, now I know – and I won’t be warming the pot in the future! Unless somebody gives me a new plausible reason.
Recently I noticed a display of blue and white china in a local store and mused how we use the word ‘china’ interchangeably with ‘porcelain’. Of course ‘china’ was commonly used to mean from China when referring to dinnerware and tea sets as until the mid-eighteenth century porcelain only came from China.
However, during the 18th century experimentation saw the creation of the first European porcelain pieces, as shown in the photograph below. This roughly finished dish was made in Holland with the year 1739 painted into its design. Produced with a poor, pitted glaze finish it is clearly a lesser version of any similar contemporary Chinese porcelain.
Interestingly, one of the places in Europe where blue and white soft paste porcelain was successfully produced by the 1750s was Lowestoft, a fishing port on the Suffolk coast of East Anglia. The Lowestoft factory produced domestic items from 1757-1801.
Their ceramic range included teapots, teabowls and saucers, mugs, jugs and creamboats decorated with various blue underglaze patterns in a Chinese style.
Lowestoft porcelain saucer. c1770-80. Decorated with wavy bands and sprays of flowers in blue. This is known as the Robert Brown pattern. Robert Brown was one of the owners of the Lowestoft factory.
Blue and white Lowestoft porcelain 1768. Feeding cup also known as a sick-cup decorated with flower sprays and a butterfly.
Although the Lowestoft china business was small compared to Staffordshire or London, enough authentic pieces still survive to support a devoted group of mostly East Anglian collectors. A small saucer may be acquired for about £100, whereas the record price for a rare, 14 cm tall, flask is £24,000 achieved at Bonhams in 2010.
I certainly don’t have a spare £24,000 for this beautifully painted flask, but I do find the old Lowestoft factory’s interpretation of the classic ‘blue and white’ aesthetic pleasingly inspirational.
Tea and teapots came to Britain from China in the middle of the 17th century. The teapots were made either of hard red stoneware or white porcelain and were extremely expensive, but by the 1690s enterprising English potters were producing more affordable copies. In Staffordshire, David and John Elers made unglazed red stoneware from local red clay.
These ‘red’ teapots were imitations of the Chinese teapots from the province of Yixing.
Gradually tea drinking spread from the fashionable and rich to the fashionable and aspirational. Aspirational individuals were those who wanted to emulate the habits of the gentry, including their new and elaborate social ritual of tea-drinking. Demand for teawares increased, both imported from China and locally manufactured in England, giving the Staffordshire Potteries a huge boost as the area began to industrialize in the early eighteenth century. Enterprising potters developed their own range of decorative effects as they attempted to copy Chinese porcelain.
This salt-glazed stoneware teapot has been painted in imitation of Chinese ‘famille rose’ porcelain. The term ‘famille rose’ describes a popular style of decoration used on porcelain produced in China in the 18th century for the Western market. The style was characterised by soft colours, particularly rose pink. Shells were a common decorative motif in the mid-18th century and several different models of shell teapots were produced by the creative Staffordshire potters at this time.
More innovative new glazes were also developed that mimicked precious stones such as agate (shown in this teapot below). The unnamed Staffordshire potter who made this teapot has also added a Buddhist lion knob to the lid to enhance its Oriental appeal.
By the 1770s new designs for teapots featuring fruit or vegetable mouldings became very popular.
It wasn’t just the glazing and surface decoration of teapots that saw extensive innovation, as during the middle of the 18th century the first novelty teapots were introduced. Factories had responded to widening markets and pushed developments in materials and techniques allowing production of moulded as opposed to thrown teapots such as this sitting camel teapot.
This teapot is made in white salt-glazed stoneware and is modelled as a sitting camel, with its legs tucked under its body. It has been made using the slip casting technique. Slip casting using moulds had actually been invented 50 years previously by David and John Elers, but was revived to allow the manufacture of complex and highly irregular shapes in bulk. Slip casting involved thinning white clays mixed with calcined flint to a viscous liquid that was poured into hollow plaster moulds. These moulds were made by specialist craftsmen. Enough Staffordshire slip-cast camel teapots have survived that they are not all sitting on the shelves of museums – you can still buy one from an antique dealer or auction house if you have a spare £5000!
Of course, in the mid-18th century more ordinary folk might have saved up to buy a less glamorous teapot perhaps one similar to this orange-brown earthenware example. It would have cost a shilling, equivalent to about £70 today. Teapots like this one were mass-produced and sold through ‘Staffordshire Warehouses’. These shops had opened across the country in most major towns and cities selling teawares to meet the demand for this newly acquired social pastime – ‘tea-drinking’.
The English famously cut off the head of a king over 350 years ago, but assassinating Prime Ministers has not been the British way, except once, in 1812. During that momentous year Napoleon invaded Russia and the USA declared war on Britain and on this day, 11 May 1812, a lone, disgruntled merchant, John Bellingham shot and killed Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister. Perceval’s last words, according to the UK Government’s ‘History of Past Prime Ministers‘ were ‘Oh, I have been murdered’.
Prime Minister Spencer Perceval by Joseph Nollekens. Marble bust (stamped 1813) modelled from death mask taken by Nollekens in May 1812.
Prime Minister from 1809 until his assassination, Perceval was in office through turbulent times with the Napoleonic Wars unsettling the British and the Industrial Revolution gaining momentum spawning the ‘Luddite’ riots. There was also an on-going issue of the national debt – sounds somewhat familiar?
Make of the Gillray what you like, I couldn’t possibly comment. But instead we could take a break from all the gloom, and now as then, have a nice cup of tea – very British!
A week today in the UK there’s a little event called ‘The General Election’ and with some savvy timing the James Hyman Gallery in London has put on an exhibition of photographs called ‘Spitting’. The exhibition features photographs of the original puppets from the 1980s and 1990s satirical series ‘Spitting Image’ which regularly lampooned the contemporary gang of politicians. The life-sized puppets are part of James Hyman’s private art collection and photographers Andrew Bruce and Anna Fox have clearly relished capturing the ferocious, savage puppet caricatures.
The TV series was the work of Peter Fluck and Roger Law. They designed the life-sized puppets and also made pots and teapots of their caricatures. Some of the more popular pieces from Luck and Flaw Productions were made into a stoneware collection by Carlton Ware. This ‘Mrs T’ (Margaret Thatcher) teapot is displayed in The Twining Teapot Gallery at the Norwich Castle Museum.
Margaret Thatcher teapot based on the ‘Spitting Image’ puppet. Luck and Flaw. Stoneware by Carlton Ware. c.1985
Margaret Thatcher teapot based on the ‘Spitting Image’ puppet. Luck and Flaw. Stoneware by Carlton Ware. c.1985
Although no longer in production a Mrs T teapot can be bought from between £70-£80 and a Mrs T jug from between £50-£60 from various shops selling collectible ceramics.
Can you imagine pouring your afternoon tea from one of these fascinating teapots? Here we have three delightful quaint teapots that form a little series decorated with scenes from the parable of the Prodigal Son. A parable that has been visually rendered in various forms over the centuries usually as a serious composition in heavy oils which makes these vibrant, slightly racy images from the 18th century so refreshing. These creamware teapots were made by William Greatbatch and can be found in The Twining Teapot Gallery at the Norwich Castle Museum.
Creamware was popular through the 1760s to the 1780s as it was a more affordable earthenware version of fashionable, ‘high society’ porcelain. The development of creamware is a fine example of the mid-eighteenth-century technological drive improving pottery technique and glazing skills to achieve a commercial advantage. Creamware was successfully exported to Europe with English factory catalogues translated into German, Dutch, French and Spanish.
William Greatbatch creamware teapot and lid circa 1770-82 This is a cylindrical form teapot. Printed and enamelled on the front with The Prodigal Son in Excess, the reverse with The Prodigal Son in Misery.
William Greatbatch creamware teapot and lid circa 1770-82 Printed and enamelled on the front with The Prodigal Son returns Reclaim’d, the reverse with The Prodigal Son feasted on his Return.
William Greatbatch (1735-1813) was one of the talented potters working with creamware. He was a prolific designer and maker of potters’ moulds during the second half of the 18th century. He ran his own pottery in Staffordshire and sometimes worked for Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795). These teapots show pictures that have been transfer-printed and coloured with enamels to decorate the thinly potted earthenware. The images are printed onto the teapot that has been covered with a creamy coloured lead glaze. Alternatively, light creamware items were simply embellished with a pithy verse.
After Christmas and the New Year we are all encouraged to turn our attention to holidays. During the Victorian era with the coming of the railways more and more people could afford to take a holiday. And, a stay at the seaside became a family treat. Great Yarmouth on the east coast of Norfolk with its beautiful long sandy beach rapidly developed to attract the ‘new’ holidaymaker. Naturally, at the end of their visit people wanted to buy souvenirs as little reminders of their stay, and a porcelain plate decorated with pictures of various seaside attractions made the perfect keepsake.
Plates, cups and saucers, mugs, jugs, and unusually, ceramic shoes were decorated with an appropriate topographical scene transferred on to white porcelain or earthenware. Coloured glazes then finished off the pieces. Glazes of pale blue and green were used, but pink was the most popular colour towards the end of the 19th century.
However, a visitor didn’t have to buy the standard view of the seaside pier, they could always choose a ceramic adorned with the ever popular theme pictures of children.
The above pieces sum up in three objects so much about how we, in the 21st century, view the everyday Victorian and their questionable taste, but pause a moment and note that pink kitsch is alive and kicking today – not least in this pair of pink resin reindeers.
It’s that time of year again with Halloween fast approaching that thoughts turn to the bleak and morbid and ravens. Famously, this ‘Grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt’ bird inspired the poem, The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe. A poem which in turn inspired the Pre-Raphaelite Dante Gabriel Rossetti to draw an intense, slightly creepy illustration.
Ravens also prompted the German sculptor, Ludwig Vordermayer to create the above dramatic ceramic piece for the Heubach factory in Koppelsdorf sometime around 1908. This hard-paste porcelain raven can now be seen lurking on a top shelf within the ceramics display at the V&A Museum.
The amazing genus Corvus gives us a group of birds that the derogatory expression ‘bird brain’ does a gross injustice to. Evidence suggests that crows, rooks, jackdaws and ravens are top of the avian intelligence pecking order. These birds have been observed constructing tools, using bait and even possibly exhibiting self-recognition. As a child I remember being amazed by the size of the ravens at the Tower of London and being bewitched and entranced by the way they stared at me. But this morning I had to make do with a common, but clever crow on my neighbours television aerial.
It is strange, but my Grandmother died over 20 years ago and I’ve wrapped and unwrapped her blue and white china at least seven times since then as I’ve moved around. And, until now I’d not properly examined it.
It is from the company of William Adams and the printed mark and registration number (clearly decipherable, 623294) dates from about 1913.
This Pattern was introduced by William Adams in 1780 being a copy of a Chinese & one of the first of its style produced in English pottery.
This pattern was called ‘Chinese Bird’ and continued to be popular through the 1920s and 1930s. It consists of pictorial lozenge panels featuring either asiatic birds or oriental gentlemen surrounded by a blue and white mosaic style pattern. The origin of this pattern of decoration and its longevity is proudly stamped on the bottom of the base of each piece. A kind of promotional strapline, a little puff and a glimpse of 19th-century marketing as mass production took off.
The Adams family of potters had been active working with the kilns of Staffordshire probably since 1650, but by the beginning of the twentieth century ‘William Adams’ was a brand. The original William Adams (1745-1805) had worked for Josiah Wedgwood during the eighteenth century and then successfully launched his own company William Adams, of Greengate, Tunstall, Staffordshire. This business was passed on to his son in 1805, but then sold out of the family to John Meir another Tunstall potter in 1822.
The name does not end there as there were other cousins and relations, one Edward Adams, and another three William Adams who made Staffordshire ceramics in the Potteries during the 19th century. W. Adams, Adams, Adams & Co, Adams Warranted Staffordshire, W Adams & Sons, W A & S, Wm Adams & Co, ADAMS, W Adams & Co Tunstall were used through the 19th and 20th centuries until the business became part of the Wedgwood Group in 1966.
And, spool forwards to December 2016 and I’ve worked the blue and white look to create a hand painted silk scarf (now sold, but other scarves available).