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.
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.