Just My Cup of Tea

By Margaret Growcott


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I’m addicted to china, particularly teacups. For me, tea does not taste right unless it’s from a china cup. And my hobby is much cheaper than golf. I get all the exercise I need walking the streets of Victoria and other Island cities, searching for rare and beautiful china.

When we received a 20-piece Royal Albert bone china tea service as a wedding gift, I was afraid to use it on a regular basis for several years. Now, I own several sets of cups, saucers and mugs, both china and fine pottery, and use them every day, as the whim takes me. After possessing my Royal Albert tea service for three years, I noticed the pattern was called *Enchantment*. I started using it on days when I felt distinctly disenchanted. It helped enormously.

Shortly after this, on one of my mother-in-law’s visits, we went to a country house sale, and although the intention was to bid on some useful, older, if not quite antique, furniture, I was carried away by the sight of a cardboard box of china cups, saucers and plates. I could not believe my ears when the bidding started at $2, so I quickly joined in the nodding and nervous gestures that go on at auctions, and won the bid for $3.50. I had, of course, surreptitiously examined the underneath and, at first, had been deterred by the complete absence of any trade name or pattern. My mother-in-law hastened to assure me that this was a good sign as it was probably so old, it was before manufacturers’ names and pattern numbers were used. Most china, certainly Coalport, was unmarked until about 1815, and then only with the factory name. Pattern numbers were included later, and artists’ marks after 1850. From 1890, leading artists were allowed to sign their work. My haphazard auction set remains a mystery.

Unable to resist garage sales, I hit a lucky one when I discovered pieces of an old matching set of fine pottery, some ruined by dishwasher use, but some delightfully fresh with gold edging. Although no cups, there were plenty of saucers (a dainty dish for cats’ food, or useful for plant holders) and an assortment of plates, bowls and a cream jug. Underneath were the magic words *Harmony Rose* (Alfred Meakin). I was told that a variation of this motif had been done by many china companies and was in fact a copy of a Limoges (French) design. So, *Harmony* came into my life, which, at that time, was hectic and stressful. Months later, I was lucky to find a matching platter in a second-hand store. Now, I was hooked.

From then on, I scoured second-hand stores in pursuit of beautiful drinking vessels. I made myself a rule to try to match up pieces already in my collection, but I discovered ever more delights, which I could not resist, even though they were usually priced anywhere from $12-$48. Some were single cups or cups with saucers; the odd plate and cream jug were also allowed in. My range of lovely titles now extended to *Symphony*, *Heirloom* and *Cottage Garden*.

After a hectic day, I can slip into casual attire while my tea brews, then whilst sipping from an exquisite cup, I am in the *Cotswolds* in *Romantic England*. My friend drops in for a cuppa when her rebellious teenager is causing stress and can be transported for an idyllic few minutes to *Camelot* or *Meadowsweet*, and be revived.

I sometimes travel abroad whilst drinking my tea. *Under African Skies* (Royal Doulton) is an inexpensive but rewarding holiday, so is *Tuscany*, where I can even practise some of that Italian I have been learning at night school. A visit to the U.S. capital is always possible with *Washington* (Booth).

*Sweet Violets*, *Burgundy Roses*, and *Daffodil Time* are excellent sources of inspiration before heading out to the garden.

I try to avoid going into those fascinating second-hand stores when I am on holiday. No room remains in my cabinet for odd china, however captivating. But I must make space for *Old English Countryside* - after all, that is where I grew up - and spend some time with my old school friend *Melinda*.

One of my favourite designs is *Indian Tree*. My mother gave me a plate in this pattern many years ago. The dish is old and has a few minor chips, but the design is so beautiful I could not part with it. *Indian Tree* is a design introduced to Coalport, one of the most famous potteries in Shropshire (now in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire). Based on a printed outline, it was coloured over by hand. No one knows how this design came to Coalport; some believe it came on a piece of silk from India brought home by an officer in the Shropshire Light Infantry. It became such a popular pattern in the 19th century that many potteries started making it, and Coalport used it to train apprentices for many years. I have three pieces, all by different manufacturers. Although the same design, the picture on each is charmingly individual.

The worst enemy of fine china, most of which has real gold paint on the edging, is the dishwasher. On a visit to England, I once sat next to a young woman on a bus journey from Chester to Bristol. She was an artist in a large and well-known china manufacturing company. Her work included painting gold on many of the pieces. She obviously loved her job. And even as one of the company’s prized and highly paid artists, she was searched for gold when she left the factory each day.

If you’re interested in collecting china, the best places to find treasures are on your doorstep. Antique shops are an obvious start and most have a corner with odd china for next to nothing. Fairs and dusty junk shops are wonderful for sifting through baskets of oddments. You will undoubtedly find matching pieces elsewhere later.

And don’t worry about who is going to inherit all this when you downsize. Not long ago, fine china and pottery was considered too old-fashioned and passé by the younger generation. Today, it’s trendy. Flip through any home decorating magazine, and the pages are filled with proof. My daughter-in-law has already stolen a solitary cup, *Silver Lace*, for her morning tea.

As you become a treasure seeker, have a good time on *The Hunt* - made by Crown Trent, by the way.

 

DECEMBER 2009 SENIOR LIVING VANCOUVER ISLAND

 

 

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