Serving tea has long been a cherished part of British culture, and the excuse to show off some fancy china has spawned some highly collectable jugs.
Taking milk in tea did not become customary until the latter part of the 18th century. Before this, milk was used to make butter and cheese but was generally drunk only by children or invalids. With milk and cream suddenly finding a place on the tables of the gentry, the British ceramics industry set about producing jugs for serving it.
At first they took a back seat to the silversmith . Since milk was brought to the table hot, silver was thought preferable. The first silver jugs were tall and gilt-lined, with a wide lip. They stood either on a broad foot or on three small legs. As the vogue for hot milk declined later in the century, cream jugs, similar in shape to sauceboats, were introduced.
As tea drinking spread through the classes, porcelain factories and potteries produced their own versions of cream jugs, almost always selling them as part of a tea service. The jugs usually copied silver styles, though the broad foot was adopted instead of the breakable three legs.
Some jugs had less generous lips. The sparrow-beak jug, tall and shapely with a sharp-angled lip, was a popular style in pottery but rarely seen in silver. Various shapes and styles went in and out of fashion through the 19th century, though the underlying trend in cream jugs was away from tall, slender jugs towards shorter, squatter styles. By the Edwardian period, most decorative styles of the previous two centuries were available in several versions, from the cheap, unmarked, transfer-printed pottery jug to specially commissioned, hand-painted Minton porcelain.
There is an enormous variety of cream jugs available to the collector, in all shapes, sizes, colours and materials. Milk or cream could be served in anything from a simple, cheap pottery jug to a specially commissioned hand painted Minton porcelain one, depending on the budget available or the popularity of the guest!
CREAM JUG COLLECTOR'S NOTES
The sheer quantity of jugs available from late Victorian and Edwardian times makes it possible to assemble a fair collection, representing a wide range of styles and factories, relatively cheaply.
Although the great majority of cream jugs were sold as parts of sets or services, most of these will have been split up by now, and jugs can be found in flea markets, second-hand shops and boot sales, as well as in the more conventional antiques shops and fairs which you will have to visit to find earlier jugs.
The best Victorian jugs, made in bone china or porcelain, were hand-painted, usually with flowers or fruit. Japanese, Chinese and English styles of decoration all went in and out of fashion in the 19th century.
All good wares from the Victorian period should be clearly marked with the date, factory and sometimes the retailer of the piece. Some hand-painted pieces may also have the decorator's signature. Factories to look out for include Royal Worcester, Crown Derby, Minton, Copeland and Royal Doulton.
Most jugs will have had some wear and tear. Look for small cracks and chips, especially around the rim, on the base and on the handle. Make sure that the handle has not been broken and repaired. Generally, the cost of professional restoration will be greater than the value of the jug, although it may be worth having a particularly rare or desirable piece brought back to its full glory.
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).