Tea brewed in a vintage or antique teapot adds a sense of occasion to your daily brew and we think tastes that bit better. Our guide looks at how to collect beautiful vintage and antique teapots, plus a brief history of tea drinking in Britain
What is the history of tea drinking in Britain?
Before tea drinking was considered Britons’ favourite pastime, it was a rare and expensive commodity that wasn’t popularised until the end of the 17th century. Tea was first advertised for sale in London in 1658 at the Sultaness Head coffee house in Royal Exchange – long after other countries such as Italy, Portugal and China began sipping from teacups of their own.
Luise Horner, an Austrian working as a maid in England, prepares afternoon tea in 1927. (Photo by Getty Images)
Befitting an exotic commodity only available to the upper classes, the earliest English teapots were small in size and made from solid silver. However, breakthroughs in ceramics production – particularly the advent of Josiah Wedgwood’s creamware in the 1760s and the perfection of bone china at Spode in the 1790s – ensured the middle classes of the later Georgian period were able to turn to Staffordshire for their tea wares. And in 1791, the East India Company announced an end to its once gargantuan imports of Chinese porcelain teapots.
The tea leaf itself, once kept under lock and key in silver or wooden caddies, was becoming readily available. In 1784 the government dropped its long-standing tax on tea and consumption quadrupled. Widespread tea cultivation began in India and the taste for green tea waned in favour of black tea taken with the addition of milk.
What was the first teapot design?
The basic teapot design, first created by potters of the Ming dynasty, has scarcely evolved in half a millennium. Even in the 21st century, when more than nine out of 10 British ‘cuppas’ are made using a teabag, the teapot remains ubiquitous and largely unchanged. What sparks collectors’ interests are the endless variations on the theme that potters have been developing for generations.
How to collect vintage and antique teapots
If you’re keen to start your own collection of antique teapots, read on for tips from antiques expert Roland Arkell of the-saleroom.com
Focus on form
Until the marking of ceramics became the norm in the 19th century, most manufacturers didn’t stamp their wares.
Time is of the essence
The prices of most 18th and 19th-century porcelain and pottery is at a historic low. With only rarities reaching high prices, now is a terrific time to buy.
Keep an eye out
With supply typically outweighing demand for standard tea wares, it can pay to be patient and wait for a really good example to come up. Bear in mind that chips and cracks will significantly impact on the value.
Stick to your budget
If you are happy to tolerate damage, then this is a collecting area where a modest budget can go a long way. It is perfectly possible to buy a 250-year-old English teapot, with the odd imperfection, for under £100.