Antiques: POTS OF GOLD; Christopher Proud Love Traces the History of the Teapot Back to Ancient China

Daily Post (Liverpool, England), April 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

Antiques: POTS OF GOLD; Christopher Proud Love Traces the History of the Teapot Back to Ancient China


IN the 1650s, a pound of tea cost as much as pounds 10. In contrast, in the same year, a pound of best English beef cost 3d. As you might imagine, therefore, tea was a luxury drink afforded by only the very rich. Out of necessity as much as veneration, it was consumed weak in small, handleless cups of silver, gold or the finest porcelain.

The so-called tea bowls were similar in shape to those used in the east, while the first teapots were based on the design of Chinese wine pots. By the middle of the 18th century the price of tea had dropped dramatically, although it was still very much a luxury.

Imports increased from 54,600 pounds of tea in 1706 to more than two million pounds in 1750, each pound retailing then at about 10 shillings (50p). This meant the habit of tea drinking spread down the social scale, creating a much wider market for the paraphernalia that permitted taking tea in the parlour.

Tea drinking soon became a status symbol and its social importance inspired a new industry, part of which saw British potters striving to discover the secret of making porcelain. Until then East India Company ships, which brought tea to the west, also carried tons of Oriental porcelain in their holds to act as ballast.

On reaching port, the porcelain was sold to eager buyers causing jealous European potters to copy the Chinese styles and shapes of cups and teapots in order to cash in on the lucrative business.

The Dutch Elers brothers, and John Dwight of Fulham, were among the early pioneers but Josiah Wedgwood was perhaps the master. His creamcoloured earthenware, Queen's Ware as he called it in 1767, was a perfect medium.

However, it was not until 1745 that soft paste porcelain started being produced at the Chelsea works, and after a few years factories sprang up in Bow, Vauxhall and Limehouse, as well as in Worcester, Derby and Liverpool.

For centuries since, ceramic designers have attempted to produce the perfect pot. Wedgwood, for example, is said to have taken each new design home with him for Mrs Wedgwood to "road-test". However, his products were pedestrian in design when compared with those made in the early years of the 19th century, considered to be the heyday of the teapot.

Leading makers such as Worcester, Derby, Davenport, Spode, Minton, Masons and Coalport all attempted to produce the most decorative, elegant and yet practical teaware, giving today's collectors vast scope to indulge themselves.

The latter company is renowned for its teapots to be celebrated by a bright and colourful new display of early Coalport teapots, which will open on Monday at the Coalport China Museum, near Ironbridge, Shropshire.

The exhibition will show a wide variety of different teapot shapes and will represent as closely as possible the full range of patterns used on Coalport porcelain in the early 19th century. The display will help to create a lasting record of the different styles that were made there.

The history of Coalport goes back to 1750 when Squire Brown of Caughley Hall (pronounced Carfley) in Shropshire began producing wares using clay and coal from his estate. …

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