Thursday, May 17, 2012

Tea Cups: Can I offer you a cup, or two, or three?

In 2737 CB, legend has it that leaves from a tree fell into Emperor Shen Nung's cup of boiling water, the boiling water having been the means by which the royal's servant cleansed the vessel. The Emperor noticed the water turned brown in color, and being an inquisitive scientist, he tasted some! And, the rest, as they say, is history.

People have been drinking tea ever since, but not always in the way we thought. Originally, tea cups did NOT have handles. They made their way to England as imports from China, and were labelled as "tea bowls" until the inspired Mr. Robert Adams, in 1750, designed them with handles! This was quite new, and inspired, and greatly appreciated as the bowls could cause burnt hands, and many a tablecloth was soiled with rings. As a matter of fact, Mr. Adams inspired the tea pot, cream and sugar set, tea spoons to match, and the veritable "waste bowl". Ask my friend at for information on the waste bowl! Adams made his tea sets in porcelain which is surprisingly strong, though thin-walled. Look at one in the light some time...ahhh, translucent!

As fashion goes, England had taken an interest in Chinese porcelain as trade through the East India Company brought this style to light. The city of Delft in the Netherlands was the home port for the Dutch division of the E. I. Co., and they imported the blue china which was especially like. Soon they began making their own versions (Delftware) to sell to England and Europe as a whole.

England, in turn, started manufacturing their own Chinese-inspired ware, through Royal Doulton Company, and other local factories. As I have mentioned in a previous post, in the 1700's, Thomas Minton designed blue printed earthenware, then porcelain for Royal Doulton (getting their name because they supplied the royal family with goods and services). And so, the Chinese-inspired designs became all the rage, but designed in shapes to fit the English taste.

As you can see in my photo below, there are three cup styles: The Delft cup, rather small with elegant floral pattern; an English handle-less cup that I purchased in the Buckingham Palace store in London (from their Royal Collection); and finally, a little cup with lid, with a typical Chinese scene of misty mountains and little village house by the water. It says "made in China" on the back of the saucer, in Chinese, and in English. By the way, the lid not only helps facilitate the brewing, but keeps the tea warm thereafter. I included a Delft storing jar, my Mottahedeh candlesticks, a Metropolitan Museum of Art reproduction of the candlesticks of Kang Hsi (circa 1700), and a little antique Chinese statuette from China, not an expensive treasure, but I love it nonetheless, my daughter and I having purchased it from a local antique mall on one of our happy outings.


  1. Cute! I love the tea caddy especially. Aww remember the sampler shops? I wish they were still around :( Off to Boulder City instead!

  2. Yes, Sampler was a maze of antique treasures. You just had to look past all the junk! Ha Ha.