Teacup Treasures: A Primer for Collectors

Get started collecting vintage teacups with this basic guide.

 

It all started innocently enough. We needed some props, so I popped into a vintage shop downtown to see if I could pick up a few cute vintage teacups. The prices surprised me – $25, $30, even $50 or more for a single cup and saucer? I could buy a whole tea service at Home Goods for that much. My only purchase that day was a $12 tea cup with a saucer that had been repaired – good enough for a prop, I figured.

Flea market visits resulted in a few more select purchases, but they were obligatory – pretty enough to use for work, but nothing that got me excited about collecting. That changed when I found treasure at Goodwill. I almost overlooked the pretty cup and saucer, hand painted with violets.  I flipped it over to check the price and saw, to my surprise, the magic words “Haviland Limoges” and a price of just $4.99. Something inside me stirred.

Mikasa Antique Garden Teacup

I checked all the shelves again and found nearby another cup and saucer, this one with a familiar pink and red rose pattern, similar to one I’d bought at a flea market recently. But whereas that one had been produced in China, this one said “bone china” and “Made in England.” The price on this one was just $3.99. I was hooked! For me, it’s not about the cups themselves – I could easily find dozens of beautiful tea cups at my local vintage shops, if I was willing to pay their prices. But I love the thrill of finding the unexpected treasure for a bargain price. Bit by bit, my collection of tea cups and saucers is beginning to grow, and I love the feeling I get when I find something new.

Tips for Tea Cup Collecting

I can’t in any way proclaim to be an expert on tea cups or china, but here are some of the basics I’ve picked up so far. Above all, buy what you love. Tea cup collecting isn’t something to go into as a money making scheme. Choose cups with shapes, patterns and colors that delight your eye and thrill your soul when you see them displayed in your home.

Porcelain versus Bone China

Porcelain is a technical term that refers specifically to a type of hard clay (kaolin clay) only found in China. When fired at intense heat, it has a glassy or translucent surface and is very delicate. Various European craftsmen tried to replicate this product with different kinds of clay to various success,  including those from Limoges, France. Bone china is made by mixing bone ash in with the clay, a process that was invented by Josiah Spode in England in the 1790s. It is stronger and whiter than porcelain, and therefore became very popular throughout Europe.

Vintage teacups and teapot on display.
Photo by Bret Gum.

Tea cups versus Coffee Cups

While it may seem of little practical difference, there are technical differences between coffee cups and tea cups. Tea cups tend to be smaller, more delicate, more ornate and their handles are higher on the side than coffee cups. You can also find demitasse cups in many patterns and styles.

Country of Origin

Most tea cups will have a mark on the bottom that indicates their country of origin and the company that produced it. It might even include the name of the pattern and the date it was produced. You can use online resources to help you track down  information about these marks if you’re interested in knowing more.

There are pretty tea cups available from all over the world, including England, France, China and Japan. Always collect what you like, of course, but one approach to building a collection is to focus on one country or period. Tea cups marked “Occupied Japan,” from the period following World War 2, are considered particularly collectible. But watch out for cheap modern replicas that are tagged “Made in China.”

Tea Cup Manufacturers of Note

As you start to engage in tea cup collecting more and more, you’ll begin to recognize certain manufacturers and patterns that appeal to you. You can research specific details online and in reference guides for collectors. Some of the more notable ones include:

Mixing and Matching Teacups and Saucers

When buying a teacup and saucer set, check carefully to make sure they are an actual match – don’t just compare the pattern, but look at the mark on the bottom to ensure they were produced together. A mismatched set should have a reduced price.

On the other hand, many people enjoy the charming novelty of mismatched cups and saucers. If monetary value isn’t an issue for you, then feel free to mix them us as desired!

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Warm Up Your Afternoon with Biscuits and Tea


Nothing is more classic than a sweet and crumbly biscuit and a steaming cup of your favorite tea. Warm up this afternoon with a relaxing tea break befitting a Dickens tale and let these two cookies steal the show.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Use tea and cookies as an excuse to bring out your favorite china pieces, such as this simple Haviland tea set.

Oatmeal Cookies
Basic yet classy, these traditional oatmeal raisin cookies are the perfect complement to a steaming up of Earl Grey.

Prep: 20 minutes
Bake: 8-10 minutes

Makes 48 cookies

½ cup plus 6 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) butter, softened
¾ cup firmly packed brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt (optional)
3 cups oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup raisins

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Using an electric mixer in a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars on medium speed. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; mix well.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the butter mixture and stir. Add oats and raisins; mix well.
  5. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonful onto 2 ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 8-10 minutes or until light golden brown.
  6. Cool cookies 1 minute on cookie sheets, then remove to a wire rack. Cool completely and store covered tightly.

 

 

Jelly Thumbprint CookiesJelly Thumbprint Cookies
Sweet and buttery cookies with dollop of red raspberry preserves make cheery companions to white or herbal teas.

Prep: 15 minutes
Bake: 12-15 minutes

Makes 36 cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup raspberry preserves
⅓ cup confectioners’ sugar, to serve (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease 2 baking sheets; set aside.
  2. In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and white and brown sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder.
  4. Stir the flour mixture into the butter mixture and mix well.
  5. Form dough into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheets. Using your thumb, make an indentation in each cookie and fill with raspberry preserves. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Let cool completely and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar to serve, if desired.

Tip: For a fancier look, place the dough in a cookie press and bake up some cute or classic shapes. Just make sure to add the traditional thumbprint indent and the raspberry preserves before baking.

 

 



Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea

Re-create an afternoon tea that's based on the Downton Abbey and all its customs.

A Downton Abbey afternoon tea invites guests to stop and smell the roses.

A Downton Abbey afternoon tea invites guests to stop and smell the roses.

We invite you to come and enjoy a fashionable afternoon with dainty treats and tempting teas as we pay tribute to a traditional Downton Abbey afternoon tea, and all the customs and formalities that go along with it. Our afternoon tea takes place in the enchanting Daniel Webster estate in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Built in 1880, the house has all the charm and elegance of the fictional Yorkshire country estate from the period drama “Downton Abbey.”

For aristocrats in the Edwardian era, women attended estate dinners wearing extravagant gowns, silk gloves and hats, while the gentlemen were fashionably attired in tuxedos. Each meal carried its own dress code, and in some instances, women would change several times a day depending on the occasion. In those days, a woman often had a maid to help her dress. To assist in the beauty of the female figure, women relied on tight-laced corsets to create an hourglass shape. Ladies of high society dressed for an afternoon tea in fanciful tea gowns and floral bonnets embellished with pastel ribbons and roses that emulated the shades of a summer bouquet. All across Europe, roses were a constant theme in tearoom decorating, accoutrements and fabrics; trellises of roses even helped transport an English garden indoors.

bedroom
The bedroom is fashioned in reproduction wallpaper from the Royal Albert Museum in London.

Downton Abbey Afternoon Tea Time

A typical afternoon tea began after the lunch dishes were cleared by the servants and the lady of the house summoned her maid to join her upstairs to change into her tea gown. Meanwhile, downstairs in the kitchen, the cooks prepare scones, biscuits, small sandwiches and teacakes. The family and their guests took tea in the drawing room at 5:00 p.m. In Britain, the drink of choice is black tea taken with milk and sugar. To keep up with social status, the food served was designed to impress the guests. The presence of an overly accessorized table with fancy French patisseries, delectable cakes, puddings and fine chocolates would surely coax a smile from cousin Violet herself.

bathroom
The bathroom is light and airy, and includes the original claw-foot tub from 1880.

In the spirit of a Downton Abbey afternoon tea, let us be reminded of this bygone era, where time slipped by slowly and days were spent leisurely sipping tea and enjoying the company of family and friends. The art of taking tea draws on traditions both old and new and encourages us to take time from our hectic schedules to stop and savor the perfect cup of tea. As cousin Violet would say, “It seems a pity to miss such a good pudding.”

 

pudding

 



8 Reasons to Love Berries


Now with spring in full swing and summer on the way, outdoor gatherings and picnics are here to stay. For the meantime, anyway. With so many to host and attend, you’ll be racking your brain for quick food inspiration. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Read on to discover why you should serve berries at your next soirée.

Plate Full of Berries
A bowlful of raspberries and blackberries makes for a classy treat.

They’re quick. When planning a party, you’ve got a million things on your to-do list. Berries are a low maintenance food, making hosting that much less stress-inducing. Just give the berries a light wash, unpack them into a charming bowl and serve. It doesn’t get easier than that!

They’re super. A superfood, that is. Berries–all kinds–are packed with antioxidants that help ward off illnesses. Antioxidants are also known to improve your health and combat the adverse effects of aging. Your guests will thank you for keeping their health in mind. Remember, a handful of berries a day keeps the doctor away.

They’re good for the heart. All berries seem to be heart-healthy fruit, but research shows that blueberries may reduce the risk of a heart attack. However, generally speaking, berries are high in fiber, lowering the risk of high cholesterol. Even guests with a family history of heart disease can benefit from this.

They’re juicy. The water content found in berries is high and food with high levels of water make you fuller faster. Since you won’t feel the need to eat as much, berries can aid in weight loss and guests with strict diets will be grateful to find something tasty to snack on.

They’re versatile. Give your guests the gift of creative leeway with a bowlful of berries. Berries can be eaten alone or sprinkled into salads, yogurts, ice creams, and wherever else life takes them. Guests can mix and match for a refreshing bite or to add some texture.

They’ll keep you on your toes. Sort of. Studies show that berries can reduce the rate of mental decline and memory loss, meaning that guests are more likely to remember “that exquisite berry salad” they had at your get-together.

They’ll look great on your table. With such a vibrant array of colors to choose from, berries will add delight and interest to the tabletops upon which they are bestowed.

They’re delicious. Let’s face it. Berries are delicious and with so many different types to choose from, everyone can find something to enjoy.

 



10 Fun Facts About Tea

A good cup of tea can make anything better

Tea Cups
There is a tea cup for every person’s unique style, from vintage varieties to the latest Lenox patterns.

One of the many things I love about working with my colleagues here at Romantic Homes is that everyone here appreciates a good cup of tea. One beloved staff member even keeps a little collection of beautiful china cups in the office, and she will perk up your work day with a hot cup of tea when she sees you looking stressed.

While visiting the International Home & Housewares show recently in blustery Chicago, I was pleased to meet some folks from Adagio Teas. They gave me a nice warm cup of peach oolong and encouraged me to visit their tea class blog when I returned home.

I did visit the blog, and it’s a great place for tea lovers to hang out and become full-fledged tea aficionados. Here are 10 fun facts about tea to perk up the conversation at your next tea party.

1. Tea is good for you. Among other things, it contains “polyphenols”—antioxidants that repair cells and in doing so, may help our bodies fight help us fend off cardiovascular diseases, cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes mellitus and other maladies. And contrary to popular belief, it’s not just green tea that’s good for you. Black, white, and red tea also have health-giving flavonoids and polyphenols.

2. It takes around 2,000 tiny leaves to make just one pound of finished tea. Tea plants grow wild in parts of Asia, but it can also be farmed. The very best tea comes from high elevations and is hand-picked.

3. Some tea grows in the United States. There is an island tea plantation off the coast of South Carolina and also in Hawaii.

A Malaysia Tea Plantation. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikimedia Commons
A Malaysia Tea Plantation. Photo: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen, Wikimedia Commons

4. You are less likely to get a “caffeine crash” when you drink tea (as opposed to soda or coffee). Why? The high levels of antioxidants in tea slow the absorption of caffeine, which results in a gentler increase caffeine in your system and a longer period of alertness with no crash at the end.

tea cup

5. Do you store your tea near your coffee or in your spice cabinet? Don’t. Store your tea away from “strong, competing aromas” so that you keep the tea’s own delicate flavors intact.

6. Americans tasted their first “iced tea” at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Originally, exhibiting tea merchant Richard Blechynden had planned to give away free samples of his hot tea to attendees. But when a heat wave hit, no one was interested. Parched from the temperature, visitors would pass his booth in search of a cooler refreshment. To save his investment of time and travel, he dumped a load of ice into the brewed tea and served the first iced tea. It was (along with the Egyptian fan dancer) the hit of the Fair, according to the Tea Class blog.

Merchant's Wife at Tea
Boris Kustodiev, “Merchant’s Wife at Tea,” Google Art Project

7. Some tea lovers ponder ideal food-and-tea pairings, just as wine lovers pair food and wine. For your next tea party, check out the suggested pairings on this page.

8. To steep the perfect cup of tea, timing is crucial. And ideal steeping times vary depending on what variety of tea you’re making. For black tea, steeping time is 3-5 minutes. For other steeping times for other varieties, go here.

 

Mary Cassatt, "Afternoon Tea Party," Wikimedia Commons
Mary Cassatt, “Afternoon Tea Party,” Wikimedia Commons

9. People were using ceramic teapots 11,000 ago in Asia and the Middle East. Tea didn’t reach most Europeans until the late 16th century.

10. Genuine “Darjeeling” tea is grown in an area of India at the foot of the Himalayas that’s less than 70 square miles large. For this reason, Darjeeling is highly prized and known as the “Champagne of teas.”