The Joys of Identifying Antique Tea Sets
How to Find More Information on Heirlooms
Most householders have something in the cupboard that was passed on from a previous generation or even bought in a previous era. These things have sentimental value because they belonged to Great Auntie Myra or even Grandma.
After a recent cleanup, I was able to bring some family treasures into the house from the garage. A few amongst them caught my eye. At first, they seemed like worthless, odd pieces that made me wonder why there were three not four in a set, and whether one had gotten smashed or lost. Single teacup and saucer sets also abounded because of the old tradition of giving a particular family member a special cup for a birthday or Christmas.
I began to wonder where were these things made, if it was possible to date them more precisely, and if they had any significance to the world outside the family. The Internet is a wonderful thing, and I remembered back to a few months before when I had typed in "antique china dog" and found my very own shelf ornaments staring back at me, as they happened to be Victorian Staffordshire figures.
Most products have a manufacturing mark on the back, and normally we take very little notice of these marks. However, the marks and the appearance of the item were my only clues, alongside what I knew of the family history, which was that we had owned them for at least forty years. Some were rumoured to have been owned by generations that could imply more than 100 years.
The internet is very useful, as typing in a keyword from the manufacturer's mark can often bring up pictures of similar items for sale on e-bay or a specialised antique site. It can also lead back to the history of the manufacturer. Once you have searched and found examples or a manufacturer's name, you have to make a judgement call as to whether the connections you have made are correct.
One frustrating thing can be that the clue is not a word. For example, in one case a Japanese cup had a picture of a crown, and another case a Chinese cup had an indescribable circle with a possible "H."
In the case of my Japanese cup, I could make a good guess that it was a post-war import into Australia, as many Japanese items were associated with that era. The crown was not identical to the crown associated with famous "royal" brands and lacked an identifying initial, so I did not speculate any further.
Chinese Blue and White Cups
In the case of my Chinese cup, the circle with an "H" appeared similar to the mark for the Hull company of America, but there was nothing to indicate that Hull had employed a Chinese manufacturer and some sources indicated an "H" might merely indicate hand painted. The surface was textured to touch so I decided to leave that possibility open. I had assumed the perfection of the pattern was not hand-painted, but apparently, stencils could be used to get a professional-looking finish. Later investigations brought me to the realisation that as it was blue and white, it fitted the category of Chinese blue and white porcelain even if I could not assign an artist or manufacturer.
Anchor Hocking Fire King
This set was able to be identified with some certainty:
If the cup and saucer are inspected in good light, the stamp clearly says: "Oven Fire King Ware made in the USA". About.com antiques explains that this particular stamp was used by Anchor Hocking to identify their wares during the 1950s. Comparison with items on sale (for example e-bay) shows that this is a peach lustre laurel teacup and matching saucer. Note the laurel leaf clearly featured around the cup and saucer.
The shiny surface may not be safe for today's dishwashers, but I can remember making tea for my teacher in one of these cups. It appeared to be her favourite and I believe the cups were popular with many coffee and tea drinkers. It is popular to refer to this sort of item as "retro" because it has a touch of modernity to it as well as age.
H. Aynsley & Co
This unique tea set is clearly stamped "H. Aynsley & Co, Ltd. Stoke on Trent." Two of the tea cups are pink and one is green, however, they clearly go together because the same beautiful rose is in the centre of each plate and inside the rim of the cup.
Herbert James Aynsley was the son of John Aynsley and started his own business in the commerce street works in Longton, Stroke-on-Trent in 1873. this appears to have been an independent company, as there is also a company known today as Aynsley established in 1775. The connections between the two companies would have been close, however.
The Gold patterning and rose appear to be a feature of many Aynsley pieces (both by the parent company & H. Aynsley & Co.) but once again I feel it is wisest to stop the identification process without attempting to pin down the pattern & manufacturing date. An Aynsley expert may be able to do so, however.
The final set featured on this page is labelled, "Towerbrite made in Australia".
These cream and sugar pots glow a coppery colour, and I seem to remember sets of saucepans were available during the 1960s and 1970s in all sorts of shiny colours. The material may be anodised aluminum.
The pots are best described as retro or vintage, as the process used to create them is a twentieth-century development. The use of aluminum cookware is unpopular nowadays because of a possible health risk, however, these shiny items are very nice to put in a display cabinet.
I wish I could find more history of the Towerbrite company, but most Internet links lead to items on sale.
about.com antiques "Pottery and porcelain marks", from http://antiques.about.com/od/researchingantiques/ig/Pottery-and-Porcelain-Marks/
"About antique china and modern fine porcelain" from http://www.figurines-sculpture.com/antique-china.html
Commerce Street Works, Longton, Stroke-on-Trent, from http://www.thepotteries.org/works/longton/commerce_st.htm
Jan Erik Nilsson " Marks on later chinese porcelain" from http://gotheborg.com/marks/20thcenturychina.shtml.bak
Schroy, Ellen, T. Warman's Depression Glass: identification and value guide", excerpt or ebook available from http://books.google.com.au/books?id=g1FmuUdl8h4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
"Japanese porcelain marks" from http://gotheborg.com/marks/index_jap_marks.htm
The antique store, "pottery" from http://www.theantiquestore.com.au/c/4450339/1/pottery.html