The Cosey Teapot
IT is small wonder that the craze for the gathering together and hoarding of teapots has assailed many a feminine china-hunter in many a land, and that many a noble collection has been made. Teapots are so friendly and appealing, one cannot resist them. No china-loving woman can pass them by, they are so domestic as well as beautiful ; a steam of simple cheer and homeliness ascends forever (though invisible) from their upturned spouts, and a gentle genie of cosiness and welcome dwells therein.
And then their forms are so varied ! Plates, from their nature, necessarily show a prosaic flatness and similarity - of outline ; cups and saucers are limited in their capabilities of diversification ; but teapots ! you may find a new shape for every day in the year.
In America we have an extra incentive and provoker of interest in the extraordinary great age assigned to teapots. You can hardly find one of any pretension to antiquity in America that is asserted to be less than two hundred years old ; and two centuries and a half are as naught to teapot-owners. Sophisticated possessors are a little shy about assigning their old teapots to the Mayflower invoice, since we have heard so many incredulous and bantering jibes about the size and tonnage of that capacious ship ; but country owners. are troubled by no such fears of ridicule, and boldly assert the familiar tradition ; while the pages of our catalogues of loan collections containing entry after entry of " teapots brought over in 1620," " teapots three hundred years old," show the secret faith and belief of even more travelled and studied teapot-owners.
1630—1640—1650 ! It would seem, could we trust tradition, that teapots just swarmed in America in those years. There were none then in England or Holland or China, and no tea even in England ; but it is proudly boasted that we had teapots and, of course, tea also in America. I wonder we do not claim the teapot as a Yankee invention ! The Chinese knew naught of any such " conveniencys at that time; they stupidly steeped their tea in a cup or dish or bowl ; indeed, they do so still in the great shops, and tea-gardens, and yaamens of China, and would doubtless have conservatively clung to the same simple and primitive fashion in all their houses to this day, had not the opened traffic with the western world shown them the restless craze for change common to nearly all Europeans and awakened in them a desire for novelty and improvement.
The first mention of English teapots which I have chanced to see is in the private memorandum book of John Dwight, of Fulham, potter. The date of the en-try is previous to 1695. It is a receipt for " the fine white clay for Dishes or Teapots to endure boiling water." Under date of November, 1695, he says : " The little furnace where the last Red Teapots was burnt I take to be a convenient one for this vse." An entry dated 1691 tells of a "strong Hardy Clay fit for Teapots ; " and again of a " dark coloured Cley for marbled Dishes and teapots to endure boiling water." In Houghton's Collections of 1695 we read : " Of teapots in 1694 there came but ten, and those from Holland, but to our credit be it spoken, we have about Fauxhall made a great many, and I cannot gainsay but they are as good as any came from abroad." The first successful experiment of Bottcher in the manufacture of porcelain took the form of a teapot ; and potters of succeeding years have spent much time and thought in inventing new shapes and decorations for tea-drawing vessels. Would it not be interesting to have a cabinet with a chronological and also a cubical succession of teapots, from the tiny ones of Elersware used in the time of Queen Anne, when tea was sold in ounce packages at the apothecaries, down to the great three-quart teapot used by Dr. Johnson and sold at the sale of Mrs. Piozzi's effects? There would I stop and never admit as a teapot the ugly great spouted earthen casks made in Japan, to satisfy abnormal-minded and craving collectors. Into one of these hideous monstrosities in the possession of a well-known collector, two men were able to crawl, seat themselves, and have the cover placed over them—a sight to make the judicious china-lover grieve.
In still another china-succession might we write the history of the teapot in America, from the simple plebeian undecorated earthenware pot in which was sparingly placed the precious pinch, through the gayly-colored and larger teapot, earthen still, through Wedgwood's varied wares in which our patriotic grandmothers drank their wretched " Liberty Tea," to the fine porcelain treasures of Worcester, Minton, Derby, Sevres, and Dresden of today-a story of the growth of our nation in luxury and elegance.
The earliest known mention of the use of tea by Englishmen is in a letter written ,in 1615 by one wanderer in China to another fellow-soldier, asking for a " pot of the best sort of chaw" and also for " three silver porringers to drink chaw in." By 1664 it* appears to have been sold in England in some considerable quantity, in spite of Pepys's oft-quoted entry in his diary in the year 1665 about tasting " thea a China drink " that he never had drunk before. Pepys was far from rich at that time, and tea may have been in frequent use for some years among persons of wealth and quality without his ever having tasted it. It quickly grew in favor in the court, the first importations all coming from the Continent, from Holland, and soon was plentiful and comparatively cheap. Among the common people and conservative country folk, however, beer still held its own at break-fast and supper until Swift's time.
New England dames followed the fashions, fancies, and tastes of their sisters in Old England as soon as their growing prosperity allowed. When in 1666 the fragrant herb cost sixty shillings a pound in England, I hardly think our frugal Pilgrim Fathers imported much tea. The first mention of tea which I have found shows that in 1690 Benjamin Harris and Daniel Vernon were licensed to sell " in publique," in Boston, " Coffee Tee & Chucaletto." The following year two other tea-houses were licensed. Dr. Benjamin Orman had a "Tinn Teapott " in Boston previous to his death in 1695, an article of novelty and luxury that probably few of his neighbors possessed. Though Felt, in his "New England Customs," and Weeden, in his " Social and Economic History of New England," both say that green tea was first advertised for sale in Boston in 1714, I find in the Boston News Letter of March, 1712, "green and ordinary teas," advertised for sale at "Zabdiel Boyltons (or Boylstons) Apothecary Shop," and in the same year teapots and tea-tables were sold at the Swing Bridge by " Pub-lick Outcry." In 1713 Zabdiel Boylston had Bohea tea ; in 1714 " very fine green tea, the best for color and taste," was advertised; and in 1715 tea was sold at the Coffee House, thus showing that it was being imported in larger quantities. The taste quickly spread, and wherever there was tea there was also a teapot. Weeden says that it is strange that Judge Sewall, with all his fussing about wine, and "chokolet," and "cyder," and " pyes," and cakes, and " almonds and reasons," and oranges and figs, says naught of tea. He does speak of it; he drank at a "great and Thursday" lecture, at Madam Winthrop's house in the year 1709, "Ale Tea & Beer," and he does not especially note it as a rarity. I do not believe, however, though he lived until 1730, when it was sold in every Boston dry-goods, grocers', hardware, millinery, and apothecary shop, and advertised in every Boston newspaper, that he often drank the " cup that cheers but not inebriates." He may have regarded it as did Henry Saville, who wrote deploringly of tea-drinking in 1678 as a " base and unworthy Indian practice," saying sadly, " the truth is, all nations are growing so wicked."
In 1719 Bohea tea was worth twenty-four shillings a pound in Philadelphia. In 1721 it had risen six shillings higher in price, while by 1757 it cost only seven shillings a pound. In 1725 they had both green and Bohea tea in Virginia and the Carolinas, as is shown by the writings of the times ; while, though I have not found it advertised till 1728 in New York, the "tea-water pump " showed its large use in that town. When tea was first introduced into Salem it was boiled in an iron kettle, and after the liquor was strained off, it was then drank without milk or sugar, while the leaves of the herb were placed in a dish, buttered and salted and eaten.
A letter printed in " Holmes's Annals," and written in 1740, thus complains : " Almost every little tradesman's wife must sit sipping tea for an hour or more in the morning, and maybe again in the afternoon, if they can get it, and nothing will please them to sip it out of but chinaware. They talk of bestowing of thirty or forty shillings on a tea equipage, as they call it. There is the silver spoons, the silver tongs, and many other trinkets that I cannot name." Bennett, in his Travels, told the same tale of Boston women. Each woman then carried her own tiny teapot when she made one of those much-deprecated tea-drinking visits, and often her own teacup also, else she might have to drink from a pewter cup. And she frequently brought her own precious thimbleful of tea, especially if she chanced to have a decided fancy in the variety of the herb that she used.
In the latter half of the eighteenth century tea and teapots were common enough in America, and the "China herb" played a part in our national history that would have immortalized it had it no other claims to our love and consideration. In December, 1773, Boston Harbor was made one great " tea-drawing," and after that memorable event many American dames gave up from a sense of duty their favorite beverage, but they did not destroy their tea-sets. Here is the lament of one matron over her empty urn :
" Farewell the tea-board with its gaudy equipage
There is in New Bedford one very interesting old tea-pot which lays a very definite, decided, and special claim to having been brought over in the Mayflower. It is said to have been the property of Elder Brewster, and is known as the " Elder Brewster Teapot." It is a pretty little cylindrical vessel with fluted bands, and is decorated with gilt lines and dark red flowers and border. Scoffers, of course, will bring up to you all the oft-enumerated points—that the Pilgrims had no china, that tea was not known in England, and probably not known in Holland in 162o; that teapots are a comparatively modern invention—but still we feel an interest in this " Elder Brewster Teapot." It brought at the sale of Governor Lyon's effects only $45, which low price was, I fear, an indication that the belief of the scoffers prevailed among the buyers there assembled. The firm of Richard Briggs & Co., of Boston, caused to be manufactured in 1874 a number of reproductions of this tea-pot. Before taking the original to Messrs. Wedgwood, at Etruria, they were careful to obtain the opinion of a china expert, Mr. Townsend, of the South Kensington Museum, who pronounced the " Elder Brewster Teapot " old Delft, and showed to Mr. Briggs several specimens similarly decorated. Whatever it may be—old Delft, old Meissen, old Staffordshire, or even comparatively modern ware—the reproduction is certainly a pretty little teapot, even if the Mayflower episode in the career of the original be said to be fabulous. The story of the acquisition of this teapot by Governor Lyon is very interesting. He bought it from an old lady in Vermont, but only after repeated visits, much cajolery, many rebuffs, and a very stiff purchase sum.
There is in Morristown, in the beautiful old colonial mansion known as Washington's Headquarters, a tall teapot which is dissimilar in shape to the Elder Brewster teapot, but which is exactly like it in paste, in decoration of dull vermilion and maroon, and as a further resemblance, it has the same rather curiously modelled flower as a knob on the cover. This teapot is labelled " Old English ware," and old English Delft it apparently is. It certainly looks like a sister of the Elder Brewster tea-pot.
At this home of the Washington Association may be seen many other curious and interesting teapots—old Spode, Staffordshire, and Wedgwood. Black basalts and cream-ware specimens of good design are found in the well-kept and well-arranged cases. All have a story or a history of past owners to make them interesting, aside from the longing we feel for them as "specimens." I would we could pour out from their spouts in old-time words the stream of Continental tattle that has been poured into them ; we could write therefrom a social and economic history of our country that would excel . in point of detail Boswell's Johnson, Pepys's Diary, and Horace Walpole's Letters all rolled into one.
A famous and curious teapot was the shape known as the Cadogan. They were also used for coffee, and were formed from a model of Indian green-ware brought from abroad by the Marchioness of Rockingham, or the Hon. Mrs. Cadogan, and from her received the name. They were made at the Rockingham works ; and George IV., then Prince Regent, a connoisseur in tea, chancing to see one and to praise the tea that came from it, the Cadogan teapots sprang at once into high fashion. Mortlock, the dealer, ordered for one season's supply £900 worth. This teapot was all in one piece ; it had no cover. It was filled through a hole in the bottom. A slightly spiral tube ran up from this hole nearly to the top of the teapot. It can plainly be seen that when it was filled with an infusion of tea and inverted, that the liquid could only escape through the spout. The teapots were decorated on the outside with raised leaves and flowers. Some of these Cadogan teapots of course came to America, and are now found in collections. I have also seen Japanese " puzzle teapots" fashioned in the same manner, to be filled at the bottom. Another Japanese " puzzle-teapot" looks like a gray earthen dough-nut with a handle and spout, the tea being poured into it through the hollow handle.
George IV. was a connoisseur in teapots not only from a gastronomic point of view, but he was a collector of them as well, and had at the Pavilion at Brighton great pyramids formed of a vast variety of teapots. Many collections of them have been made in England. Mrs. Hawes left to her daughter three hundred choice teapots which were arranged in a room built specially for them. A number that had belonged to Queen Charlotte were in this gathering. Such a collection is interesting and instructive, the pieces being from various factories and lands. Even more instructive still, because gathered with a definite purpose and forming a serial guide to the perfect knowledge of the ceramic productions of a single country, is such a collection of teapots as that in the unrivalled Morse Collection in the Boston Museum of Art. But collections of modern Japanese teapots, gathered simply for the sake of seeing how many different kinds and what grotesque shapes one can get, do not appeal to me. Such is said to be the modern "assorted lot" of Madame de Struve, the wife of the minister to Japan, who gathered together nine hundred and seventy-five Japanese teapots. Such a collection can be formed in a week by any person having money enough to pay for them and interest enough to order the cratefuls sent home; while a collection of good old teapots of Oriental, English, French, and German wares is a matter of a lifetime, especially if historical interest is a desideratum, and good taste as well.
I have not seen in America, as may be found in boudoirs and dining-rooms in France and England, any friezes " three row deep " of teapots round the top of the room ; but one fair New York china-maniac, who says with the vehement exaggeration so typical of American women, " I love my teapots and my tea as I love my life," has a narrow shelf quite round the walltop, about a foot below the ceiling, filled closely with a gay pro-cession of vari-colored, vari-formed teapots. It is a unique and striking decoration—in good' taste, since the frieze teapots are none of them gems, but simply gay and effective bits of Oriental color and grotesque shape. In a cabinet, glass-covered and screened, are all the old tea-pots which she owns, a rare and dainty company of ancients and honorables.
At Stockbridge, in the possession of Mrs. Plumb, may be seen, arranged on shallow shelves, a large and good collection of teapots, gathered chiefly from farmhouses in the country around. Over one hundred old English pieces are among the number, some of them being very beautiful and rare.
Mottoes, names, and inscriptions are often found on ancient teapots found in America. One of Leeds-ware bears on one side the words :
" May all loving friends
Another bears these verses :
" My Lad is far upon the Sea
Another friendly teapot has the lines :
Kindly take this gift of mine
A fourth this good advice :
" Drink only tea & Sober keep."
Many of the sailor mottoes found on Liverpool pitchers are also seen on teapots of Liverpool ware, as if made to some sailor's order for a gift.
Perhaps the teapots most commonly used by our grandmothers are the types here shown ; one a cylindrical Canton china teapot known now as Lowestoft, and one a gayly painted
Bristol pottery teapot. Specimens of the latter and Staffordshire pottery teapots differed much in shape, an hexagonal form being frequent, and the swan or dolphin knob being seen on many of the varied shapes. The black Jackfield teapots with raised designs, looking like black glass, are sometimes found, silver mounted and quaint.
For the perfection, t h e idealization of the teapot we must turn to the productions of Josiah Wedgwood. Appropriate and convenient in shape, elegant in decoration, perfect in manufacture, they have handles adjusted in precisely the best possible balancing place, spouts shaped to empty the contents in the most perfect and thorough manner, covers that slide or fit with ease and yet with exactitude, bases that are perfectly proportioned and levelled—in a Wedgwood teapot we find elegance and fitness equally combined, it obeys and satisfies every artistic, economic, and mathematical rule ; " built by that only law that use be suggestive of beauty." Our modern tastes do not run now to the black basalts, the blue jasper, the cream-ware of Wedgwood ; we fancy a glazed, painted porcelain for everyday use, but the fact remains the same—the Wedgwood tea-pots are the best, the most perfect ever made ; even in China and Japan, the acknowledged home of teapots, where the little vessels are not only used to hold tea, but as an omniparient cistern of every other liquid, even in those countries can be found no more perfect teapots than those of Wedgwood. They deserve the appellation of De Quincey, " an eternal teapot."
( Originally Published Early 1900's )