Spotlight 4: Tea and Me
Welcome back to Mukashi no Sewing! Today’s spotlight is on my small collection of antique and vintage teacups! This is going to be an image-heavy post, as I really wanted to share all the beautiful details on these cups. 🙂
So why tea cups? As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up enjoying high tea with my late grandmother – the same one whose tea cups I’ve inherited. Looking back, it really was closer to what the British would think of as afternoon tea, but high tea always sounded fancier as a young girl! The main difference is the height of the table, and the time – high tea is more of a dinner substitute, and tends toward the savory and hearty for food, while afternoon tea has more dainty snacks and sweets. Cucumber sandwiches (with the crust cut off, of course!) and scones were staples of teas in my childhood, along with my beloved Earl Grey. I also practiced chado (the Japanese tea ceremony) with the Urasenke School for over two years. And I drink tea in the mornings rather than coffee ever since coffee started disagreeing with my body. So needless to say I have a large tea collection!
I have four teacup/saucer sets that originally belonged to my great-grandmother Jones, that passed to me from her daughter (my grandmother Ruth). Three are from the Royal Albert china company, and the last is from Foley.
Two of the Royal Albert sets are the same unnamed Imari style pattern, dated from 1928-1932. I have one in my cupboard for drinking from, and the other holds fresh water as an offering on my ancestor altar since both of the women who previously owned it have passed away.
The other Royal Albert set is the stunning Old English Rose pattern, and dates to 1939 (possibly up to as late as 1941). I’m not over-fond of roses, per se, but my late grandmother absolutely loved them. She wore rose perfume, and I always brought her fancy rose soap from my local co-op whenever I would visit. So this cup reminds me very strongly of her!
The last set, the Foley, is the Dainty Rose pattern, and it dates a little later – anywhere between 1948-1963. This has always felt like more of a spring or summer pattern to me; I think it’s all the white space in the pattern that gives it a cooling effect!
I own two more vintage/antique cups; both of them I purchased from Etsy.
The first is a Soko China Satsuma hand-painted demitasse cup and saucer. Antique Satsuma is from the Meiji era (1868-1912), and has no English markings, so mine is definitely from a later period. Based on the mark which is 湊光, or Minato Hikaru/Hikari, it could be from as early as 1930. However from looking at similar pieces I was able to find online (and one that is a twin to mine!), I believe mine is from post-1940. Due to the English writing on the mark, my best guess is somewhere between 1945 and 1952 (the period of the US Occupation of Japan).
The second is an antique transferware piece that I had a much more difficult time dating on my own. Transferware was developed in the 1780s, and was patented in 1813. Mine does not have a handle, and handleless teacups were mostly phased out by the 1840s. I originally thought that the multiple colors made it likely mine was from the later part of this period, possibly 1835-1840. The lack of signature or maker’s mark does make it more difficult to determine, so I purchased a 24-hour membership to the Transferware Collector’s Club and hit their extensive database!
It was $10 well-spent, since this teacup is way older than I thought! The pattern is named Archery Lesson, and it was made by Ralph Wedgwood & Co at the Ferrybridge Pottery. According to Alan and Janet Tomlinson, this pattern is often found unmarked, and it is possible that it was copied by other makers as well. Noel Riley, in his book Gifts for Good Children, wrote “The print comes from an illustration in ‘The Sporting Magazine,’ vol. 3, 1794.” Based on extant catalogs, it’s likely my teacup is from between 1798-1801! There was also a mug and octagonal plate with the same pattern that have been documented in publications from 1927, 1973, and 1991.
I’ve actually never been too hyped about the Georgian/Regency eras, but this discovery makes me really want to sew an archery dress from that period! It seems likely that the tea drunk from this cup would have been either oolong or green tea, as those were the predominant types of that time. My favorite oolong is the Milky Oolong from Harney & Sons, so I could definitely brew that for drinking from this cup. Although bergamot-scented tea was recorded since 1824, it seems that “Grey’s Tea” wasn’t widely known until the 1850s, and it wasn’t advertised as “Earl Grey Tea” until the 1880s. Since it’s my favorite blend – and the one I always drank with my grandmother as a child – I don’t think anyone would quarrel with me at drinking Earl Grey out of my other cups! (I can highly recommend Harney’s Earl Grey Supreme, having tried many variants of this blend.)
Tea is very important to me, being both my caffeinated drink of choice and a huge part of how I connect to my family history. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about tea and getting to know my teacups, and I look forward to sharing more fun material history in my next spotlight!