Please Come to Tea, Part 2: Little Toy Dishes

Antique Photo girl with big hair bow toy tea with bisque doll

Little child-sized and toy dishes were made in abundance in England’s Staffordshire district potteries, especially throughout the 19th century. Staffordshire, which is a district of six towns on the western edge of England near Wales, was well suited to the pottery industry because of the ready availability of clay, salt, lead, and coal. As with Thuringia (Germany) being a center of toymaking before the advent of the china dolls made there, Staffordshire made pottery before the advent of porcelain. It was a center for pottery production since the early 17th century, noted for reddish brown wares. In 1720, potter John Astbury discovered that adding heated flint to the clay produced a more desirable lighter clay known as creamware. Soon after this discovery, beautiful English made pottery began to grace the tables of well-to-do families in England and America. Of course, modifications to the pottery continued to improve and add variations from soft paste or semi-porcelain, to ironstone and fine bone china.

Antique feather edge and creamware shards

18th century creamware and feather edge shards

DSC02202

The two little 3″ Leeds feather edged plates, circa 1790-1800

DSC02239

This tiny cup, saucer, and teapot are all hand painted. Though not part of the same set, the painting and color are similar enough on both that they display well together. The London style handleless cup and deep dish saucer date to 1810. The cup is only 1 5/8″ tall. The pot is pearlware dating to about 1820. It has the characteristic ball shape, raised rim, slightly curved spout, and plain handle of early English teapots.  It is 4″ tall.

DSC02246

This photo shows the size of these little dishes, and how they display with an antique china doll. Moira is a stout 19″ tall. Her hair style is a molded snood. She is planning to have tea at home with no guests–she is wearing her morning dress with tiny waived braid (rickrack) trim.

Thanks to the Children

Children’s and toy dishes were made alongside those created for adults. The play dishes, then as now, were a whimsy that delighted adults as well as children. Dinner and tea sets were charming gifts for children from parents, grandparents, and adoring aunts and uncles. And so, we can thank these wealthy and merchant class children for the little dishes that have been cherished, and those that have made it through well preserved (or not), and passed down through time to become available to us, as admirers and collectors in our time.

DSC02190

Two sugar boxes or bowls. First is a beige rectangular one with an Adam Buck transfer from about 1820. The lid is missing its finial, and is actually the matching teapot lid, which was the same size-it has a steam hole in the opposite side. Second is a circa 1835 hand painted bowl with pink luster trim. Both are small (doll sized)  at about 2 1/2″ tall.

The poor children, though, deserve just as much, if not more, thanks for our little whimsies. Poor children have always had to work just as soon as their parents could find employment for them, and the Staffordshire potteries did offer employment for many children throughout the 19th century. Children as young as five or six years could fetch, carry, prepare raw materials, and provide power for the few machines that potters used. Many children at age eight to ten were working 72 hour weeks to the detriment of their health and education. At age 14, most children working in potteries became apprenticed to a particular trade-thrower, presser, transferer, or paintress. In 1840 Parliamentary inquiries were made into the state of children employed in mines and factories, leading to child labor laws.

Applying transfers

Preparing plates for transfers which were applied on tissue paper

 

DSC02192

Two sugar bowls dating 1835-1840 have light blue transfers. The lids for both have not survived. These bowls without the lids measure 3″ tall by 4″ wide, and 2 1/2″ tall by 5″ wide.

To Teach, to Play, to Cherish

With so much to teach the young ones in the way of ettiquette, it was inevitable for child sized and toy tea and dinner sets to become more readily available. Children learned rituals and manners by having dinner or tea parties with their peers or by serving their dolls.

 

DSC02209

Girl with a Goat is a pattern dating 1860 to 1870. Notice the fancy handle on the cup. This transfer is a pleasant forest green. The set was also made in red and a lovely flow blue, and I saw one for sale in an amazing mulberry color. It is a child sized set with the saucer being 5″ in diameter.

The 1860’s marked the start of mass production of toy dishes. After this time, parents could be more generous with their children with gift giving. An 1890 Butler Brothers catalog is evidence that there were toy sets available for the taste and means of every family. Children’s tea sets were available in price from five cents to five dollars. By studying the quality of sets we find today, we can guess which ones were at which end of this spectrum!

DSC02265

This doll “house” with the 8″ Ginny and Muffy dolls always photographs dark. You can see the two Fishers plates on their shelf. Barely over 2″ across, one is red and one is blue. Below is a slightly larger plate with a blue floral transfer.

Transferware became the decoration of choice for English pottery after its development in the second half of the 18th century. Early designs were based on Chinese designs, called Chinoiserie. Early transferware was blue because only underglaze cobalt blue could withstand the heat of the glost ovens. Lead oxide gave wares the characteristic depth of color that made them so successful.

DSC02195

Examples of early blue transfers, circa 1830 to 1840. The Kite Flyer plate on the stand to the right is a favorite colonial scene. The other scenic transfer is Monastery on the Hill. The transfers on this pattern are often more clear, and it has a nice floral border. These are doll sized dishes. The little tureen is just 3″ across.

By 1800 some English scenes became available as transfer designs. After the Napoleonic Wars, in 1815, there was a trade boom and European scenes and subjects were in vogue. Pieces made for export to America were often very dark blue, and some had patriotic subjects.

Later developments allowed for other monochrome colors in transferware such as green, mild red known as puce, mulberry, black, and sepia or brown. Polychrome designs were made by adding painted colors over a transfer design.

DSC02210

The sepia color Dresden Flowers teapot is circa 1830. It has a flanged rim with a well-fitting recessed lid. It is 2 5/8″ tall. The vegetable bowl, also in sepia, is Souveneir and dates 1830-1840. It is 4″ across. Both of these little treasures are perfect in the 1:4 scale doll house.

DSC02213

These plates in graduated sizes are also Dresden Flowers like the teapot above. This transfer is moss green, though this pattern has not been recorded as available in green. The largest plate measures 3 1/2″ in diameter.

DSC02203

These soft paste plates are not a recorded pattern, though they have the characteristics of toy Staffordshire. 3″ and 3 1/4″

DSC02206

A desirable transferware sheet pattern in soft paste dating circa 1830’s, Dimity is found most often in blue. This green collection shows some breaks and blurring to the transfers, which is typical, as these were considered as play dishes and were meant to be inexpensive toys. Dimity has been found in puce, sepia, and black as well as blue and green.

DSC02241

This blue May with Pets sugar pot (or biscuit jar) is from around 1880. It measures just under 5″ to the top of the lid. The other tall sugar pot shares a shape, or blank, with several documented tea sets from circa 1862. I have not found this red transfer of oak leaves and acorns in the reference books. This one has seen rough times with a broken handle and missing lid. It is 4″ tall without the lid.

DSC02236

This pattern, a lovely example of transfer with hand painting and gold trim added, is called Amherst Japan. There is a child’s tea set in this pattern, circa 1854, but no mention of a child’s dinner set. This small tray may be a piece from a full size dinner set. It measures 6″ across.

DSC02238

The Amherst Japan tray is the right size to be a serving piece in the 1:4 doll house. It is shown here with two pieces of the French set that is described below.

DSC02194

While Staffordshire is the place for children’s play dishes, there were lovely sets from other places as well. These tureens are part of a set made in France. The pottery, known as “Old Paris,” is very white, and the red and gold painted accents are quite detailed. The finials are two nobs that look like hops berries. The tureens date circa 1870-1880 and measure 5″ across.

Toy Copeland Lavender Leaf dish set

This lovely Lavender Leaf partial dinner set has recently joined my collection. I love how well made it is. The transfer pattern is clear and sharp, the deep lavender blue color is superb, and the little dishes are even and not too heavy. It dates to 1840-1850 and is doll sized. The square covered dish is just 2 3/4″ across.

For Your Pleasure and Continued Education

Staffordshire has been home to well known potteries such as Wedgwood, Copeland, and Ridgway, as well as to hundreds of small firms that have come and gone through the years. The variety and patterns available for antique toy Staffordshire dishes are too numerous to document–more are being discovered now, and several that I have shown you here are not in the reference books. The best reference books with color illustrations are Doris Lecher’s English Toy China, and Lorraine Punchard’s Playtime Pottery and Porcelain. Find them new and/or used from BN.com.

DSC02208

These two child sized collections are displayed in a small cabinet. The top shelf holds blue and green tureens, cups, saucers, and plates from the Maidenhair Fern collection. Below it is a tea set with the transfer known as May with Pets. The tall sugar pot with this set is also referred to as a biscuit jar. Both sets date to 1880-1890.

DSC02207

This is the large green Maidenhair Fern tureen. I especially like this find because it came with the pottery ladle! The ladles for dinner sets are rare because they were so easily broken. The tureen is 6 1/2″ long and the ladle measures 3 3/4″.

DSC02189

This darling sugar jar is from the Old Mother Hubbard collection, circa 1870 to 1890. It is 4″ tall. One reference claims this is English while the other says American made.

Living in the Pacific Northwest, I do not find toy Staffordshire at my local antique shops and sales. Luckily, it is fairly available on eBay and Ruby Lane, if one is not too discerning in searching for particular patterns and colors. When you are ready to shop for your own toy Staffordshire dishes, I highly recommend Nancy Barrister’s Ruby Lane shop, “Childhood Antiques.” She offers a good selection of antique children’s tea and dinner sets. Additionally, if your budget can only handle single pieces rather than sets, she has a good revolving selection on eBay at nbarrister. Nancy is a friendy and accomodating seller who provides professional packing for your treasures.

For a broader view of the scope of English toy china dishes, an observation of how they changed over the years, and more information on the makers of these pottery whimsies and their marks, I highly recommend two books:

  • English Toy China by Doris Anderson Lechler. 1989; Antique Publications, Marietta, Ohio.
  • Playtime Pottery & Porcelain from the United Kingdom & the United States by Lorraine Punchard. 1996; Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, PA.
DSC02242

Miranda’s Humphrey’s Clock tea set is now complete. Here we have the last sugar bowl of our mystery grouping from Part 1 of this article, at circa 1900. It is open and intentionally has no lid. This sugar bowl is 2″ tall, while Miranda is 26″ tall.

Now that you are well on your way to appreciating Staffordshire children’s dishes, please come to tea and tell me about your observations and finds!

 

Advertisements

Please Come to Tea, Part 1: A History of Tea and Equipage in England

 

Antique postcard two girls doll and Staffordhire tea set (2)

Damp winter days are the time to cuddle up with a hot cup of tea and a good book, but spring Valentines, bunnies, and baskets beg for a tea party! All the antique dolls are invited, and there will be plenty of dishes to go around with all the lovelies that were made in the Staffordshire district in England, and a few other places of note as well. There will be plenty to share for two articles on this subject:

While Germany is the place of origin for fine antique china (glazed porcelain) dolls, England is unequivocally the place where delicate and whimsical children’s dishes were made in beautiful abundance. Antique children’s Staffordshire dishes are the perfect compliment for antique dolls. The depth in their history, and the wide variety that these little toys provide, make them a joy to collect, display, and play with!

When Tea Came to England

The history of English porcelain, and that of play dishes, is closely connected with the history of tea in England. Great Britain has been one of the world’s  greatest consumers of tea since the 18th century. Tea was already know by the upper classes in Europe  when green tea, exported from China, was first offered in London coffeehouses in 1657. Coffeehouse owner Thomas Garraway had to explain the new beverage in pamphlets and advertisements. For 30 September 1658, he offered “That Excellent, and by all Physicians approved, China drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, by other nations Tay, alias Tee, …sold at ye Cophee-house in Sweetings-Rents, by the Royal Exchange, London.”  By 1659, coffee, chocolate, and “tee” were sold in London in almost every street, with tea being mostly consumed by men of upper and mercantile classes.

Catherine of Braganza

Catherine of Braganza

In 1662 princess Catherine of Braganza from Portugal married Charles II and brought with her the preference for tea, which had already become common in Europe. As tea was her temperance drink of choice, it gained social acceptance among the aristocracy. Catherine of Braganza’s choice of tea was also instrumental in the popularization of tea in Britain. Because tea was introduced primarily through male frequented coffee houses, there would have been far less social acceptability for women to drink this beverage had it not been for her example. Catherine of Braganza’s use of tea as a court beverage, rather than a medicinal drink, influenced its popularity.

Black tea overtook green tea in popularity in the 1720s when sugar and milk were added to tea, a practice that was not done in China. The growth in the import of tea parallels that of sugar in the 18th century. Between 1720 and 1750 the imports of tea to Britain through the British East India Company more than quadrupled. Tea was particularly interesting to the Atlantic world, not only because it was easy to cultivate, but also because of how easy it was to prepare, and its ability to revive the spirits and cure mild colds.

Porcelain for Serving and for Showing

When tea was served in such a grand setting as that of Catherine of Braganza, it was generally in the company of female friends within a bedchamber or closet (a small room for entertaining guests near the bedchamber). The tea itself and the delicate pieces of porcelain for brewing and drinking it were displayed in the closet. Inventories for wealthy households during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries list tea equipage in these small private closets or boudoirs, not in kitchens or dining rooms.

17th century tea drinking

The earliest English equipages for making tea date to the 1660s. Small porcelain tea bowls were used by the fashionable; they were occasionally shipped with the tea itself. Tea-drinking hastened the search for a European imitation of Chinese porcelain, which was first successfully produced in England at the Chelsea porcelain manufactory established around 1745 and quickly imitated. Chelsea is the first important porcelain manufactory in England; its earliest soft-paste porcelain aimed at the aristocratic market.

Soft-paste porcelain resulted from the earliest attempts of European potters to replicate Chinese porcelain at a time when its composition was little understood. The earliest formulations were mixtures of clay and ground-up glass.

Tea-set-Getty-Museum-chg early Leeds type

Still Life: Tea Set  Jean-Etienne Liotard (Swiss, 1702-89) About 1781-83

The tea equipage in the painting above has the characteristic shape of early Leeds Pottery with Chinese scenes which were popular at that time. The teapot on the left has a round shape, a raised rim, and plain handle and spout with a very slight curve. Behind it is a tea caddy, a piece that is not commonly found in sets after the early 1800’s. The bowls or cups are handleless and the saucers are deep dish. There is a large slop basin, or waste bowl, in the upper right corner. This was a necessary piece for English sets, as it was never appropriate to pour fresh tea onto cold tea in a cup. Next is the sugar bowl, which is large, with tongs on top. Sugar was less refined in the 18th century, so more was needed, hence a larger bowl. The milk jug, or cream pitcher, has a small pointed spout.

In her blog, Unique Histories from the 18th and 19th Centuries, Geri Walton offers more on English tea equipage:

When tea was introduced to the English in the mid 1600s, the English drank it using the traditional handleless bowls the Chinese used, and referred to a “dish of tea” rather than a cup. These handleless bowls were about half as large as teacups are now. They held just a few sips, anything from two or three elegantly sipped mouthfuls to two or three tablespoons. Interestingly, coffee cups had always been larger, and straight-sided, in comparison to the smaller, curved teacups. Coffee cups also gained a handle before teacups. Eventually, however, the English adapted the handle for teacups from the handle used on “posset” cups. Posset cups served as containers for hot spiced medieval drinks of curdled milk mixed with wine or ale, and these cups acquired handles to prevent injury to sensitive fingers. However, teacup handles did not appear until the nineteenth century. By the late 1800’s there were many choices of tea cup styles available.

To Follow the Queen: Etiquette and Manners

If you have read Jane Austen, then you realize how complex, and how very important, etiquette was to people–especially in England–in the 18th and 19th centuries. Tea and dinner evolved into complex rituals requiring the correct accoutrements.

Even Americans followed a proper etiquette, which changed over time. I have always been intrigued with this passage about tea drinking manners from Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The setting here is Upper New York State circa 1866:

Eliza Jane was more bossy than ever [after a term at Malone Academy]. She said Almanzo’s boots made too much noise. She even told Mother that she was mortified because father drank tea from his saucer.

“My land! How else would he cool it?” Mother asked.

“It isn’t the style to drink out of saucers any more,” Eliza Jane said. “Nice people drink out of the cup.”

“Eliza Jane!” Alice cried. “Be Ashamed! I guess Father’s as nice as anybody!”

Mother actually stopped working. She took her hands out of the dishpan and turned to face Eliza Jane. “Young lady,” she said, “if you have to show off your fine education, you tell me where saucers come from.”

Eliza Jane Wilder as a young woman

Eliza Jane Wilder

Eliza Jane opened her mouth, and shut it, and looked foolish.

“They come from China,” Mother said. “Dutch sailors brought them from China, two hundred years ago, the first time sailors ever sailed around the Cape of Good Hope and found China. Up to that time, folks drank out of cups; they didn’t have saucers. Ever since they’ve had saucers, they’ve drunk out of them. I guess a thing that folks have done for two hundred years we can keep on doing. We’re not likely to change, for a new-fangled notion that you’ve got in Malone Academy.”

That shut up Eliza Jane.

Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Farmer Boy, Harper & Row; New York, 1933.

. . . We would have to surmise from the history above that people in England and America didn’t have saucers before 1665, and possibly the cups referred to before then in the above passage were posset cups!? And we do indeed drink tea out of cups these days.   😉

DSC02200

Late 1700’s Feather Edge Leed’s England toy plates blend well with little 18th century pewter plates and Victorian toy forks and knives. The plates are only 3″ in diameter.

With so much to teach the young ones in the way of ettiquette, it was inevitable for child sized and toy tea and dinner sets to become available, along with dessert and toilette sets, not long after full sized English-made sets were part of middle and upper class households. Children learned rituals and manners by having dinner or tea parties with their peers, or by serving their dolls. The second part of this series will present a diversity of English toy dishes with the joy they bring in their charm and whimsy!

DSC02188

A century’s worth of children’s sugar boxes or bowls. Tune in next time to find out how they rank from circa 1820 to circa 1900!