Collecting Cups And Saucers

Collecting cups and saucers can be very rewarding. While many people think of antiques when the topic of collecting tea cups and saucers is broached there are actually many other ways or methods, or even types of teacups and saucers to collect. For example, some people like to collect sets of children’s cups and saucers. Other people will have a fine collection of Chinese teacups, while others may prefer to collect tea cups saucers with a specific design such as floral cups and saucers, espresso cups and saucers, coffee cups and saucers, or cups and saucers with pastoral scenes. Still others diligently search for hand-painted tea cup and saucers.

It is said that tea always tastes best when sipped from a porcelain or bone china cup, though some people such as those who are fans of the Brown Betty tea pot insist it is the type of teapot used that makes all the difference. Of course, lovers of Chinese tea believe that it tastes best when sipped from thick clay cups which tend to absorb the odor and the taste of the tea served in them. Whether the tea actually tastes better or not, it is a great experience to serve tea in fine china cups.

The humble teacup has certainly developed throughout the ages. Originally, tea came from China. The Chinese drank their tea in thick small cups without handles. When tea was first exported to Europe, these types of cups were also used for drinking tea. However, the gentile  English and French nobility who were the only ones who could afford to drink tea those days found teacups too hot to handle. Soon saucers accompanied these teacups, in an effort to make the teacup easier to hold. Unfortunately, people thought that these saucers were to be used to help cool down the tea. They would pour a little tea into the saucer and then sip from the saucer. Eventually, handles were added to the teacups and everyone was happy that they could now hold the teacup without getting their fingers burned. Tea cups and saucers have remained this way ever since; at least those commonly used in Western countries for drinking black tea such as bone china tea cups.

Many people like to collect either antique or vintage cups and saucers. While these collectible cups and saucers can be bought online from various auction sites such as eBay, or even from antique dealers online you can also often find them by searching yourself in secondhand stores or at local fairs. While you may not unearth anything that is terribly valuable you can certainly have a lot of fun collecting and then learning how to identify the cups and saucers. Sometimes you may have the good luck of finding a saucer and cup that match, in different locations. Of course it is possible that every now and then you may truly find something that is genuinely worth quite a lot of money.

An interesting tidbit: Prior to making cups out of porcelain some are also made out of silver. However, it is much more difficult to find antique silver cups. The reason for this is that silver can be melted down and new items made from it. This frequently happened, making antique silver cups quite a bit more rare than antique porcelain cups.

Collecting Antique Cups and Saucers

If you are genuinely interested in collecting antique and vintage crockery you will probably need to invest in a good book that lists all the porcelain and ceramic marks that can be found on crockery. There are several of these types of books that can be bought online for fairly reasonable prices below are links to a couple that are currently sold on Amazon.

This books, “Cups and Saucers” by Jim and Susan Harran is highly recommended by collectors. It not only contains specifics on many antique cups and saucers, but it also has very clear, detailed pictures which will help identify different antique cups and saucers. It also details European and American tea ware, thus is very useful.

This particular book also includes a lot of good information for any collector. Unfortunately, it is a little difficult to find as it is out of print at the moment. However, second hand books are sometimes available online, or you may be able to pick it up fairly cheaply at a second hand book store.

This is a full color antique guide, written by a master in antiques, Martin Miller. This gives a very realistic appraisal of antiques and their actual worth, based on retail outlets not on auctions where prices can be highly inflated. Available in paperback, it is the perfect companion for your antique hunting ventures as you can take it with you as an instant reference guide.

The potter’s marks are usually found on the bottom of the cup and the bottom of the saucer. You simply turn the item over and you should see the manufacturer’s markings. This will include most likely the name of the manufacturer, the location where the crockery was made and the date made. Sometimes these marks are underneath the glaze sometimes they are scratched into the bottom of the cup and sometimes they have been painted on. Of course it is very possible to copy these marks and there are many fake antiques available so while these marks can be used to help determine the age of the piece of crockery, there also are the indications of the pieces and each that must be taken into consideration. If you really think you have found a genuine antique, one that may be worth some money, it would be best to have it evaluated by a professional antique dealer.

A Teacup Timeline

Here is a brief summary of some interesting tidbits I have unearthed about tea and tea cups.

In the early 1600s tea was exported from what is now known as Indonesia to Holland. This tea was sold by Chinese merchants and it quickly became a very popular drink in Holland as well as soon in other parts of Europe. Only a couple of decades later some of the first coffee and tea houses in London began selling tea. Tea was at first drunk by the nobility as it was very expensive and the average working-class family couldn’t
afford it.

Ever wondered where the custom of adding milk to tea began? Apparently a fine French lady Mme. de la Sabliere decided that tea was too hot to pour directly into her fine porcelain cups, it caused the glaze to crack and sometimes caused the very fine china to break. Adding a little milk to the tea however cooled it down considerably, made it easier to drink and most of all protected her fine porcelain ware. It should be noted that the Chinese do not add milk to their tea.

December 16, 1773 is a well-known date. Tea was exported from England to the American colonists. Rising up to show their disapproval with the heavy taxes levied on them, American colonists in Boston dumped tea chests filled with tea into the harbor. I would imagine some people were quite upset at the loss of all that fine tea, however the statement was made — one which has gone down into history, and has become a famous part of the history of tea also.

In England, nobility and the upper class usually dined quite late in the evening. Some women found the very long wait between lunch and dinner left them feeling quite faint and hungry. Consequently, the institution of afternoon tea was born. Tea was served along with fine cakes and pastries, proving a satisfying and filling snack that would hold them over until dinner.

A couple of other notable dates in tea history: Tea was first planted in Darjeeling in North India in 1856. Since that time, tea has been a major commodity exported from India and is famed worldwide for its quality.

Iced tea was apparently invented in 1904 at the St. Louis world’s fair in an effort to counteract the sweltering heat at the time. It has become a staple drink worldwide and is now commonly available in many convenience stores, as well as served regularly during the hot months of summer.

The tea bag was an accidental discovery. A certain merchant transported tea in small qualities inside fine cloth bags. Apparently those on the receiving end thought this was intentional, and with great delight dipped the small bags into boiled water. The resultant tea was delightful and best of all there were no tea leaves floating around in the tea. As the small bags were so much easier to use, they became very popular and hence the tea bag was born.

It is to be noted that teacups differ in shape and size from coffee cups. Teacups flare out and have a wider rim than coffee cups. Coffee cups are generally more cylindrical in shape; they do not flare out at the rim as teacups to. Both coffee cups and teacups should sit on saucers. These saucers are used to prevent tea or coffee from staining fine table cloths, and you’re also supposed to set your teaspoon neatly on the saucer.

If you simply love the idea of drinking from cups and saucers but do not feel it necessary to buy expensive items, you can also find many cheap cups and saucers online. While they may not be as costly, I am sure the tea will taste just as good as if you were drinking from an expensive antique cup.

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a Reply