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Some speak of country living and all things English; some satirize, some are sentimental and some surreal; all novelty teapots, though,
add an extra fillip to one of Britain's best-loved social rituals.
The British love affair with tea has produced an enormous variety of
interesting collectables, but none as ingenious and imaginative as the novelty teapots that have been made since the 18th century. Some have been potted in unusual shapes, others just painted and decorated, but all have been fashioned to resemble something other than a humble teapot.
Staffordshire potteries produced them in the shapes of houses, camels, squirrels and monkeys in the 1730s, when tea-drinking was still a very expensive pastime and customers were prepared to pay for conversation pieces.
In 1759, Josiah Wedgwood and his partner, Thomas Whieldon, produced globular teapots realistically potted and painted as cabbages, cauliflowers, melons and pineapples. They proved so successful that other copied them, without the same fine results.
Clarice Cliff Teepee teapot
By the 19th century, novelty teapots were well-established pieces. Some of the best were made from moulded and richly glazed majolica, especially by the Minton factory, while the Irish firm, Belleek, made shell-shaped teapots in delicate with a pearly lustre.
Novelty teapots have been made throughout the 20th century, particularly between the world wars, when there was a fad for them. Advertising figures like the Michelin man and the Guinness toucan have provided subjects, while fashions in design, such as art deco, and art movements, especially surrealism, have inspired potters to ever-wilder flights of fancy, many of them one-off or very limited edition collector's items.
Several traditional subjects remained popular. Beswick, Price's, Sadler's, Lingard Webster and Grimwade's all made teapots in the form of idyllic thatched and/or half-timbered cottages, most with roses round the door, while cats, dogs, cockerels and elephants were among the animal themes. Beswick produced a panda teapot in 1939, while Minton reintroduced their majolica monkey, first produced in the 1870s, in 1932.
Transport was an important new theme. James Sadler produced a racing car, while Sudlow's and Beswick made aeroplanes. Coaches, motorcycles and even tanks were made to take tea.
Figure subjects include Sadler's Daintee Ladye, with the main body of the pot hiding beneath her crinolines, and Beswick's popular series based on Dickens's characters.
Ye Daintee Ladye
Animals, people and buildings are among the most popular traditional themes explored by the makers of novelty teapots. Some, like the half-timbered inn below, are also perfectly practical for brewing and pouring tea. Other pieces - the kneeling camel is a good example - are less so, losing heat quickly and pouring irregularly.
ELEVEN FOR TEA
There is an enormous range of prices for 20th-century novelty teapots, ranging from single figures to many thousands.
The hunger for Clarice Cliff's work, even those pieces designed sometime after her heyday in the 1930s, makes her Teepee Teapot one of the most expensive teapots available, but one-off creations by leading lights in the design world cost much
The Christopher Dresser pot featured on the cover of Christopher Dresser 1834-1904 by Michael Whiteway
& Augusto Mario Morello is valued at around £50,000. Although it looks very modern, this
one-off creation was made in the late 19th century. Click the book cover to
order from Amazon USA.
At the other end of the price range are the various country cottages and pieces mass-produced in the last 30 years or so. Among the midprice pots, most of them originating in the inter-war years, ones with a transport theme tend to attract a premium price, while portrait pots lag behind.
Teapots are fun to collect and novelty ones even more so, whether you try to make a specialized collection or simply go for the ones that particularly amuse or interest you.
Early teapots by famous makers such as Minton, Wedgwood and Worcester are difficult to find and expensive to buy. They up only at high-class antiques fairs or at art auctions. Teapots from the 20th century, and particularly the 1930s, are much more readily available and can be found not only at antiques fairs and at auctions but also in second-hand shops and occasionally in flea markets and boot sales.
Most 20th century pots are marked with a maker's backstamp, but not all. Sadler's Daintee Ladye and Motor Car were not always marked, for instance, and in the case of the Daintee Ladye, where several similar pots have been made by other companies, this can cause confusion. The car, however, is identifiable by its licence plate, 0KT42.
CHECKING FOR CHIPS AND CRACKS
Examine any teapot carefully before you buy it. The spout, lid and inner rim are all prone to damage. Ensure there are no chips, cracks or signs of restoration. Make sure, too, that the handle isn't cracked and that it hasn't been repaired or restored.
Fine glazing cracks can and do occur to the interior of any teapot, especially if it has been well used. The interior is often also heavily stained. Soaking for a few hours in a weak solution of household bleach should remove staining and clear up the crazing, but don't leave the bleach in too long or the smell will linger.
The Complete Clarice Cliff -- by Howard, Pat Watson; Paperback
Collectible Teapots: A Reference and Price Guide
by Tina M. Carter
Bodum Assam 6-Cup Tea Press (Kitchen)
Winter Greetings Scenic Enamel Tea Kettle
Holiday Gold-Banded Fine China Coffeepot with Lid
Collectible Teapot & Tea 2004 Calendar
by Joni Miller, Martin Brigdale
by Leonard Griffin, et al
Cliff and Her Contemporaries: Susie Cooper, Keith Murray, Charlotte Rhead, and
the Carlton Ware Designers (Schiffer Book for Collectors) -- by Helen
Tea With Clarice Cliff: A Celebration of Her Art Deco Teaware
by Leonard Griffin
by Michael Whiteway, Augusto
Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies, & Society 1700-1880
by Antigone Clarke, Joseph O'Kelly
Warman's English & Continental Pottery & Porcelain (3rd Ed)
by Al Bagdade
Marks & Monograms on European and Oriental Pottery and Porcelain
by Wm. Chaffers
The Arcanum: The Extraordinary True Story
by Janet Gleeson