1930s COFFEE SETS
Never a majority pleasure in Britain, coffee drinking attracted the wealthy and fashionable, whose demand for coffee sets in deco styles and finishes stimulated many top designers.
If the builders of the British Empire had headed south-west to South America rather than east to India and Ceylon, the chances are that coffee, rather than tea, would be the national drink. They were equally popular when first introduced, and it was coffee, not tea, that fuelled the intellectual discussions of
17th and 18th century London.
In the 19th century, though, tea got a firm grip on the soul of the nation, and coffee hardly got a look in. A Glasgow firm, Patterson & Son Ltd, were responsible for reviving the beverage's popularity with the introduction of Camp coffee essence. It was originally made for use in India, where the Gordon Highlanders were serving. Perhaps being stationed in the heart of tea country made them long for a change. Camp's popularity spread back to Britain.
As all that was required to make it was a teaspoon of the essence and boiling water, it was a bit like today's instant coffees, although with an entirely different flavour. It was particularly popular in the World Wars, when coffee was hard to come by.
Despite this, tea remained the nation's favourite. In the 1930s, less than 2 per cent drank fresh coffee. However, these few came from the privileged classes, who bought their beans from high-class grocers.
Coffee was generally served in the living room, so it was essential that it was stylishly presented. Some coffee sets were imported from Germany and France, where the habit was entrenched, and many followed the modernist design principles of the Bauhaus.
British designers also created sets in the stylish art deco and modernist modes and it is these - stylish, brightly decorated and absolutely of their time - that attract the attention of today's collectors.
Although coffee drinking wasn't a widespread habit in the inter-war years, it was very chic, and fashionable tablewares were definitely part of the fun.
Complete coffee sets from the 1930s tend to be expensive, and will rarely be found except at auctions and antiques fairs.
However, it is possible to pick up odd pieces in antiques shops, fairs, markets and even junk shops. You may b able to build up a serviceable set for use or
display at a fraction of the cost.
Pieces by Clarice Cliff tend to be the most sought after, and they have been widely faked and copied. However, it is very difficult to reproduce the feel of genuine pieces. Handling pieces will, with time and practice, enable you to tell the real from the fake with ease. Cliff's designs vary from cottage gardens to bold geometric patterns. She had a love of strong colours, particularly orange, black and yellow. Backstamps to look out for are Fantastique, Sunshine, Biarritz, Bonjour and Bizarre.
Susie Cooper's work is also much in demand. Her work tended to be lighter, with
decorations more carefully blended with the shape of the piece. The best pieces have a sophisticated air. Other manufacturers to look out for include Shelley, Wiltshaw & Robinson's 'Carlton' range, Fielding's 'Crown Devon', and
Royal Doulton, who produced several art deco lines, including Harvest, designed by artist Frank
China is naturally fragile and coffee sets often got some hard use, so examine all pieces carefully for damage. Handles are particularly vulnerable, so look closely for hairline cracks or signs of repair. Other places that you should look at closely are spouts and rims, which are often chipped or cracked.
Be sure to look inside pots for damage to the inner rim, and make sure the lid and pot match and fit. Some pieces may be stained. If the glaze is crackled, with a network of thin lines, these stains can be difficult to remove. Other stains can be cleaned up with mild detergents, although on no account should you put 1930s crockery in dishwashers.
Read articles and references:
Good standards are Warman's
English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (Susan and Al Bagdade), and Marks
& Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain (William Chaffers).