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!

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