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( Originally Published 1963 )
The first teacups Europeans ever saw were the handleless ones common in China. European and English potters added handles before 1765. By that time, French potters had had the idea for a trembleuse-that is, a teacup whose saucer was made with a deep depression in the center into which the cup fit so snugly that it could not slip. This style was recommended for those who had shaky hands. The first teacups made in Europe and England were very small, probably because tea was so scarce and expensive. Teacups still are smaller than coffee cups, but they were being made in what we consider average size by the early 1800's.
Other types of cups became popular as the Victorian years piled up. By the 1880's, the elaborately decorated cup had found great favor as a present. It usually displayed the words "Remember Me" in gilt. These cups are hardly antiques, but they are part of the trivia that portray an era-fun to collect and colorful to display (they're easier to display without their saucers). Sprigged ware, lusterware, earthenware, and porcelain all were used to fashion the "Remember Me" cups. Many of these were elaborately decorated, others were merely gaudy. Probably most gift cups were displayed on whatnots. Today, decorators frequently buy such cups to add a whimsical touch to a room, and more than one florist has been known to buy an odd lot of them to hold small bouquets.
Mustache cups fall into the same category-not quite old enough to be antique but part of the record of an era. A mustache cup was made for drinking tea or coffee without letting the mustache touch the liquid. A part of the lip of the cup had a fixed cover with a small opening through which the liquid could drain. The decade of the greatest vogue of these cups was the 1890's. They were made in both bone china and earthenware. Some had the owner's name or the word "Father" lettered in gilt on the side. Left-handed mustache cups were made too, and these were more expensive than righthanded cups. A few years ago (1958) a Californian advertised for sale a collection of 1,000 bone china mustache cups. Whether each one was complete with saucer was not stated.
Not to be confused with mustache cups arc shaving mugs, which also are collectors' items. Shaving mugs were fashionable somewhat longer (18701910) than mustache cups. They also were made of all types of china. Usually they were kept at a barbershop, so the owner's name invariably was part of the decoration. There were more than 150 decorative patterns that indicated occupations. These ranged from musical instruments such as an accordion or flute, to a buggy, boat, or automobile, a steel bridge, or a camera. Even the marble-cutter, surveyor, tailor, and undertaker had special designs. The owner chose the decoration that illustrated his occupation and then had his name placed on the cup too. The insignia of fraternal organizations such as Knights Templar, Knights of Pythias, and the Masonic Lodge also were popular. Occasionally a shaving mug was adorned with a deer's head, a dog, crossed United States flags, or a Gibson Girl's head.
Mugs for drinking also were made of china. Stoneware beer steins are almost as well known as the simply decorated mugs out of which children drank milk or cambric tea. Many mugs to be found in this country are transferprinted Staffordshire. Some are commemorative, some personalized in some way.
Children's mugs and plates could be purchased separately or as part of a set. A set included the mug, a small pitcher, and a deep bowl with a rim about an inch high. Simple and often gay decoration was based on storybook pictures, animals, children playing games, and the like. Mugs and sets were made in transfer-printed Staffordshire, luster, Gaudyware, and other popular Victorian china.
All sets made wholly or in part of china were not meant to be used on the table. Desk sets ornamented with flowered china were an appropriate gift for a lady in late Victorian years. Such a set consisted of a rectangular desk blotter, a hand blotter that was rolled on writing paper to dry the ink, and a stamp box, each one 'with four ornamental corners of china in appropriate sizes. The inkstand held an inkwell of matching china and also accommodated a mother-of-pearl penholder with a gold pen or a simpler kind of pen. Whatever it was made of, the penholder and pen were not necessarily purchased with the desk set.
Inkwells and inkstands were manufactured as separate items too. Both are always interesting, since they were made from many materials-cast iron, brass, silver, pewter, glass-in addition to china. China inkstands often are disguised to look like ornaments. A group of figures, for example, might be lifted from its base to disclose an inkwell and possibly also a sifter. More utilitarian stands might contain one or more decorative inkwells and also have a place to rest a penholder. Old ones had a sifter too.
Individual inkwells usually were either important or attractive pieces, sometimes both. The majority of china ones had metal fittings and a hinged cover. Porcelain inkwells generally had flower and foliage decoration. The blue and white Delft inkwells are particularly stunning. Some rather grotesque pottery ones were made in the form of animals, frogs, and the like (these often were covered with brown glaze). However, all kinds of pottery, with the decoration typical of it, were used to fashion inkwells.
Dresser sets consisted of a china tray large enough to hold brush and comb, a small pin tray, one or two bottles, and a trinket box. A hatpin-holder and a hair-receiver (a two-piece globular dish with a round hole in the center of the cover) matched or harmonized with the set. Some dresser sets or pieces were porcelain, others pottery. The decoration was flowers from field or garden, portraits, and classical motifs, done mostly in pastel colors.
The washstand set was as important as the commode on which it belonged ill a Victorian bedroom, and for some reason there's a fairly brisk market in these at the present time. Many threepiece washstand or chamber sets can be found, consisting of a washbowl about 15 inches in diameter and 7 inches deep, a ewer about 12 inches high, and a chamber pot. The ewer was stored in the washbowl. The chamber pot, which should have a cover, was stowed away in the small cupboard of the commode.
More elaborate washstand sets consisted of seven or eight matching pieces. In addition to the three basic ones, there were a covered soap dish, a shaving dish, a jar or vase 5 to 6 inches high for toothbrushes, a small jug for hot water, and a slop bucket. Complete sets arc at a premium, and it is not too easy to find even a three-piece set without cracks, chips, or crazing.
Families had washstand sets for every bedroom. A variety of pottery was used to make them in England, Europe, and the United States-plain white ironstone, transfer-printed Staffordshire, Limoges, and crockery of uncertain origin. The decoration was as varied as the pottery but usually fairly simple.
From the earliest days of pottery-making, and in every country, many kinds of small boxes have been made of both earthenware and porcelain. Some of these boxes were carried about on the person, others were accessories in bedrooms and other rooms of the house. Cosmetic patches, snuff, powder, matches, trinkets, and candy were some of the things these boxes were meant to hold. One Victorian example is a little graniteware box 3 inches long, 11/2 inches wide, and 11/4 inches high, for wooden matches. The inside of the lid, which lifts off, is corrugated so that matches can be struck on it. On the upper surface are molded the heads of two men smoking pipes. In Staffordshire, a great quantity of miscellaneous boxes were made in such forms as bureaus, washstands, or with figures of lambs, dogs, and the like on the lids.
Other household ware included salt crocks, cracker jars, condiment sets for mustard, pickles, etc., jam jars (sometimes in pairs on a stand), and kitchen sets. The latter consisted of large covered china jars for coffee, rice, barley, smaller ones for spices, and bottles for oil and vinegar. Salt crocks were made to hang on the wall like wooden ones, and often were of stoneware that was nicely designed. Cracker jars were cylindrical, about 5 inches high and almost as wide, with a china lid. Some had silver-plated lids and handles, but most of them had only matching china covers and no handles.
Potteries in the United States were engaged in the production of these utentils for kitchen and dining room during the 1800's. They were made in England and Europe too. Except for salt crocks, the various pieces were likely to be some kind of earthenware, even semi-porcelain. Sprigs and chinoiserie were often chosen for decoration.
Other popular containers of the nineteenth century-and possibly the eighteenth - were ginger jars, potpourri jars, tea caddies, and tobacco jars.
Westerners became acquainted with ginger jars and tea caddies through imports from China. The ginger jar has a china cover that slips down over its neck. The smallest one I have ever seen is only 4 inches high, so low that it looks almost as if it were round instead of the classic urn shape. Potpourri jars, often in pairs, are urnshaped with an inner lid of unglazed china that fits into the neck, and either a matching china outer lid with a knob or the same type of cover as a ginger jar. Potpourri jars, small or large, were made to hold the fragrant mixture of dried flower petals and spices known by that name. Tea caddies were fairly good-sized and often square.
Ginger jars, potpourri jars, and tea caddies in everything from blue and white Chinese ware to English floral designs were possessions of which families were proud. Some handsome porcelain tea caddies were made in Europe. Potpourri jars were made of various kinds of earthenware and porcelain. A large, footed one entirely of pierced creamware was made at Leeds about 1780 and is now a museum piece. Royal Worcester, Sevres, and Meissen have made exquisite ones, even in the twentieth century.
Vases always have been an important part of the output of every factory in Europe and England since the early eighteenth century, and in the United States from the nineteenth century. Chinese ones, centuries old, are priceless. The word "vase" covers a diversity of ornamental containers, from magnificent urns that were never intended to hold flowers to everyday pottery vessels.