Antique teacups remain some of the most popular collectibles for several reasons. Their dainty designs and affordable prices mean that they will be desirable for a long time to come.
A History of Teacups
While teacups had been used in China since 220 AD or so, the teacup as it is known today was not in common use in Europe until the early 1600s. Tea was sipped from small bowls. Since the ruling classes in Europe most often used silver or pewter, it was quickly obvious that a different vessel for drinking hot beverages must be developed or scorched fingers would hound the royal house.
Within a few years porcelain was being manufactured in Europe and cups with delicate handles were being created. The teacup was born.
Collecting Antique Teacups
Tea and tea time reached its pinnacle during Victorian times. Giving teacups and saucers as gifts was popular among the ladies of the upper class. The cups were given as gifts for many different occasions, including bridal showers, weddings, and hostess gifts.
Coffee cups sometimes get mistaken for teacups. The teacup will usually have its handle placed higher and may be very ornate. Sometimes it will be footed, which means that the cup sits on a small pedestal. Teacups will have, or have had at one time, a matching saucer. They are more delicate than coffee cups as well.
Some popular manufacturers to collect are:
- Royal Doulton
Another popular way to collect cups is by theme, design, color, or type. Some of these are:
- Rose designs
- Floral designs
- Occupied Japan
What to Look For
Of course, there is no right or wrong way to collect antique teacups. They are a wonderful collectible because of the infinite variety and the low cost of the items. You can find teacups of many vintages at local antique shops, thrift stores, and garage sales. If you have trouble finding teacups locally then you are sure to find an unending source for them on eBay. There are a few things that you should look for:
- Repairs are sometimes hard to identify but a thorough inspection should let you know if any repairs have been made.
- New teacups that have the look of old. Watch for that Made in China stamp.
- Check for extreme staining inside the bowl of the cup. It might not always come off.
- Run your fingers around the edges to find small nicks that you might not be able to see.
- Bone china is more valuable than porcelain. Research and teach yourself to spot the difference.
- If you are buying online be sure that you read and thoroughly understand the seller's return policy. Always get insurance if it is to be mailed.
Caring for Your Vintage Teacups
Remember that your antique china is more delicate than your everyday china. While it is completely safe to use on a regular basis you will want to be careful about how you handle, clean, and store it.
- Never put it in the dishwasher.
- Always hand wash with a mild soap. Baby shampoo works perfectly.
- Do not soak your antique and vintage teacups or other china. This can cause problems with the glaze, or even chip off gold leaf.
- Don't use acidic materials, such as lemon, on your vintage teacups. If you have used lemon in your tea be sure to clean it quickly.
- Store behind glass when possible.
- If you must store your teacups away for a time use a sealable plastic container. Place a folded tea towel in the bottom and then place the cups on it. Lay a piece of cardboard over the rims and add a second row if necessary.
Enjoy and Use Your Cups
Collecting antique teacups and other tea things is an enjoyable hobby for many people. It is a pleasure to be able to use these beautiful antiques in everyday life. Having a cup of tea in a beautiful cup and pouring from a special teapot is a comforting tradition that has lasted for decades. With some gentle care they can last for several more generations.