Teapots for Tea – Not Always!

5It 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.

Worcester Porcelain 1750-1758
Worcester Porcelain teapot painted in puce enamel (the First or ‘Dr Wall’ Period).                     About 1750-1758

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.

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.

'The Smoking Party' teapot Wedgwood 1775
‘The Smoking Party’ teapot. Transfer-printed in black. This pot impressed WEDGWOOD mark and worker’s mark. About 1775

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.

Lowestoft miniature tea service 1770
Lowestoft porcelain miniature tea service on mahogany tray. Tea service painted in underglaze blue. 1770 – 1780 Lowestoft porcelain factory, Lowestoft, Suffolk.

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.

William Littler Longton Hall
Porcelain with moulded decoration possibly used for punch. William Littler at Longton Hall, Staffordshire. About 1775.

 

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Sèvres at the Wallace Collection, London

Sèvres-marronnièreAt 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 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.

sevres cup and saucer Micaud
Sèvres cup and saucer porcelain, 1767. Decorated with a rich frieze of roses, garlands and rosettes by Jacques-François Micaud. Acquired by 1834.

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.

Sèvres-wave-pattern
Sèvres porcelain cup and saucer, 1765, (height 8.3cm, diameter 15.3cm), with a rare and an unconventional shell-like decoration. A design that reflects the thirst for novelty which inspired much innovation in the decorative arts of 18th-century France. The shell-like pattern was probably painted by Méreaud le jeune.

 

Survivors – 18th century Worcester teapots

Worcester teapots from 1760-1780
Survivors from the 18th century. Worcester teapots from 1760-1780. Blue teapots painted with blue underglaze and colourful teapots painted with enamels and gilt. Worcester Porcelains (the First or ‘Dr Wall’ Period).             The Twining Teapot Gallery, Norwich Castle Museum.

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

porcelain-painted-enamels-and-gilt-worcester-1760-1770

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.

worcester-porcelain-painted-overglaze-with-gilding-1770

Lowestoft – early blue and white museum pieces

Fennel-IndigoRecently 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.

Dutch-early-18th-century
Early attempt at porcelain manufacture from Holland imported into UK during the 18th century with ‘Great Yarmouth 1739’ painted in the centre.

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.

blue and white soft paste tureen
Tureen and cover. 1760-64 Painted with a leaf border and floral decoration.

Their ceramic range included  teapots, teabowls and saucers, mugs, jugs and creamboats decorated with various blue underglaze patterns in a Chinese style.

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.

Lowestoft-flask
Lowestoft porcelain flask. £24,000

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.

Fennel-Indigo-progressing