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.
Put “reading wr” into Google, and before you’ve completed typing the word “writing”, ‘Reading, Writing and Arithmetic’ appears in the top five most popular searches. Also known as ‘the three Rs’, the expression ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ was a great favourite with the Victorians. Within the English school system it has been shorthand for the basic essentials of education. But all is not quite as it seems, not least as it is obvious to a competent six year old that only one word of the ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ actually begins with the letter ‘R’!
One suggestion for the derivation of this concise gem was put forward by the late Professor Bruce Archer following some research into design practice. He proposed that it evolved from a similar expression commonly used in the eighteenth century. The three Rs then were considered to be ‘reading, reckoning and wroughting’. This was where reckoning was the usual term for mental arithmetic and wroughting was the word used for making.
Portrait of a Boy Artist – Nathaniel Hone (1718-1784)
Portrait of His Son Sketching – Nathaniel Hone C.1769 Ulster Museum, Belfast, Northern Ireland.
The value of making, physically creating with one’s hands, was considered of more value in the past than it is in our ‘cerebral’ contemporary times. The process of forming and fashioning in a material way was about acquiring skills but also at the same time it was seen as a means to learn about culture. For fortunate folk of the eighteenth century educating their children was not simply an education in how to make a living, but how to live a cultured life.
Then, along came the Victorians with ‘The Factory Act’ of 1833, that imposed a duty on employers to provide half‐time education for employees under 13 and then ‘The Education Act’ of 1870 which aimed to provide education up to the age of ten on a national scale. Here is the opening statement made on 25th July 1870 by Earl de Grey and Ripon when introducing the Elementary Education Bill, second reading.
EARL DE GREY AND RIPON
My Lords, it is a satisfaction to me, and a circumstance which will very much shorten the observations it is my duty to make, that in moving the second reading of a Bill, the object of which is to establish a system of national education throughout England and Wales, I need not, in the present political and social position of the country, detain your Lordships by any arguments as to the importance of the spread of education, or as to the advantage to be derived not merely by those immediately affected, but by every class in the community from the establishment, as speedily as possible, of a system by which the means of elementary education may reach every home, and be brought within the reach of every child in the country.
There is absolutely no doubt that mass education was a positive development, but it was mostly the rote learning of the ‘Gradgrind’ type and the ‘3Rs’ were most definitely reading, writing and arithmetic with wroughting considered manual work eventually confined to the world of the apprentice. A contemporary version of learning through wroughting is this submarine pictured below. It is a replica of the Victorian original built by trainees.
Since the Victorians the value of art and craft and learning through wroughting has gone in and out of fashion with educationalists. The famous Maria Montessori was a great believer in learning through doing and considered that it was essential for nursery aged children to learn through physical activity and hands on pursuits.
Earlier this year, for the Crafts Book Club, the value of including art and crafts and making within an educational system was debated as part of an intriguing discussion on craft. The interview with Sir Christopher Frayling (below) was recorded following the recent launch of a paperback version of his 2011 book ‘On Craftsmanship: Towards a New Bauhaus’ .
And, if the book and/or the interview are too long here’s a link to a pithy summary article penned by Frayling setting out his eminently valuable views.
As I have been writing this post I have reconsidered the 3Rs in the light of computers and Google, and think that perhaps for the 21st century we should instead have the 3Cs, Comprehending, Coding and Creating!
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.
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’.
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.
In Britain towards the end of the 18th century the fad for ‘bathing in the sea’ gripped the wealthy and adventurous. At the same time travelling for pleasure instead of travelling for necessity or duty, became more affordable and accessible. The fashion for visiting the seaside, healthy promenading and sea bathing developed as a popular extension to the pastime of attending a spa town and taking the waters. As early as 1730, one, John Atkins, wrote about the benefits of ‘Sea Bathing’ in his book, ‘A Compendious Treatise on the Contents, Virtues, and Uses of Cold and Hot Mineral Springs in general.’
Wealthy people travelling by coach and horses began visiting coastal towns. On the east coast of Norfolk, Great Yarmouth, with a gentle, sandy beach became more than a fishing port and offered the early tourist perfect access to the sea to indulge in the latest health craze. No tourist was going to return home empty-handed and a selection of seaside mementos were available. Some early pieces have survived such as this cylindrical mug ‘A Trifle from Yarmouth’ or this jug ‘A Present from Yarmouth’. The jug shows the Parish Church of St Nicholas, Yarmouth, as it would have been before it was heavily renovated by the Victorians and then completely bombed out in 1942 by the Luftwaffe.
With the coming of the railway to Great Yarmouth in 1844, more and more people visited the seaside and town, and more and more merchandise of varying quality was made and sold. As with many items found in museums it is not always the quality, but often just the scarcity of a piece that gains it shelf space. But these little ceramics still impart some essence of the past. The verse on this early-19th-century bowl reads,
In every state
May you most happy be
And when far distant
Oft times think on me.