The World Is a Tea Party Presents: Your Guide to Teapot Styles

Over the years, my humans and I have looked into quite a few of my cousin teapots. They come in such an array of styles and, quite frankly, I’m a bit prouder to be related to some than to others. The ultimate choice, of course, is up to you humans. Shop with care. We teapots are essentially for steeping tea, after all, not just for decoration. #TOOOT!


Sections in This Guide


Teapot Styles — Victorian

Teapot Styles — Art Deco

Teapot Styles — Asian Traditions

Teapot Styles — Baroque & Rococo

Teapot Styles — Modern

Teapot Styles — Objectified Designs

Teapot Styles — Transferware

Teapot Styles — True Treasures

Teapot Styles — Typically American

What Is a Veilleuse Teapot?

The Teapot as Sculpture?

The World’s Most Valuable Teapots


Teapot Styles — Victorian


Teapot styles tend to parallel the styles of other objects, from buildings, to art works, to furniture and clothing. Since the era of Queen Victoria ushered in the Afternoon Tea (credited to Anna, the Duchess of Bedford, one of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting), how appropriate to take a look at teapot styles from that period. Time to go exploring.

The Queen Victoria era is said to have lasted her entire reign (1837-1901 — longer than any other British monarch before or after her). Her domain spanned the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and Ireland, and those countries saw progress in industry, politics, science, and the military. She also had a tremendous influence on fashions, behavior in general, and especially in the elevation of tea to the status it has enjoyed ever since: not just a beverage but a true necessity for civilized living. The emergence of a merchant class helped, also, to propel tea time into a daily event. That meant that teapot makers had to kick into high gear, competing with each other for the most elegant and slightly ornate designs (though not as overdone as Baroque and Rococo).

A Couple Samples of Victorian Style Teapots

The elegance of the Victorian era has such appeal that it has lasted through the ages, with teapot makers even today producing teapots that are made in that style.

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A Few Samples of Actual Victorian Era Teapots

Compare the above Victorian-style teapots with the actual ones below.

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Stick with a basic black tea (Assam, Darjeeling, Keemun, Yunnan, Ceylon) for a more authentic tea time, or go more modern with a nice Chinese or Japanese green tea. You could also enjoy some Earl Grey.

Lots of choices!

A few Victorian era tea time tips:

  • During the Victorian era, the phrase “to take tea” was used by the lower classes and considered by the upper classes to be a vulgar expression. They preferred “to drink tea.”
  • Milk, sugar, and lemon slices were always on hand for use in teas according to individual taste.
  • In the late 1880’s, certain hotels like The Ritz in Boston, The Plaza in New York, and others in the UK were noted for their tea services where Victorian ladies and their gentlemen would meet in the late afternoon for tea and conversation.
  • Foods served at tea time were things like bread and butter, crumpets, wafer thin crust-less sandwiches, shrimp and fish pates, and small cakes. The idea was to stave off hunger pangs until dinner time, which was fashionably late (around 8 or 9 pm).

Break out those whalebone corsets, bustles, and high-collared dresses for the women, and striped pants and tailcoats for the men, and have a good old-fashioned Victorian tea time pouring from that special teapot!

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Teapot Styles — Art Deco


Teapot styles tend to parallel the styles of other objects, from buildings, to art works, to furniture and clothing. The Art Deco period is one that especially stands out and that was reflected in teapot designs. Those designs had a wide range of approaches and materials. Time to go exploring.

When someone thinks of art deco, images of the Jazz Age and bathtub gin come to mind, as does the BBC series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot mysteries starring David Suchet. Art deco only lasted officially about 14 years (1925-1939), dying when the designs began to be mass produced and therefore took on a cheap and gaudy air, but the style has left a lasting impression, so much so that a revival of sorts flared up in the 1980s as a graphic design style and a tie-in with the 1930s film noir sense of glamour in jewelry and fashion. And collecting art deco pieces, especially teapots, is quite the rage even today.

A Few Samples

These teapots show the range of styles, all incorporating the basic ideas of geometry and industrial materials.

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Of course, you are going to want to serve an art deco style tea in these. They are going to be teas that are artful and tasty. I would go for a Darjeeling or a lovely Taiwan oolong. You may even want to try a Ceylon green tea or some Nilgiri black tea. Lots of choices!

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Teapot Styles — Asian Traditions


A very Asian style of teapot is the Kyusu. A distinctive style of clay teapot is from the Yixing area of China. But others abound. They speak of hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years of craftsmanship building up and being preserved as an object of delight to tea drinkers today.

Some Very Asian Teapots

Asia encompasses a pretty wide swath of the land masses of this planet. We always think of China and Japan, but there’s also Taiwan, Thailand, Myanmar (Burma), Tibet, Laos, Korea, Vietnam, and more. Each has its own culture and style, especially where teapots are concerned, although there are also common threads. Usable or merely decorative, teapots with that Asian flair can be the perfect touch for a tea time that is focused on the tea.

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Teapot Styles — Baroque & Rococo


Teapot styles tend to parallel the styles of other objects, from buildings, to art works, to furniture and clothing. Baroque and Rococo are very similar styles, and sometimes Rococo is referred to as “Late Baroque.” Both are known for their frills and embellishments, with Rococo being rather extreme. Some used the term “Baroque” initially to underline the excesses — redundant and noisy details. Time to go exploring.

The Baroque period started around 1600, while the Rococo period in the arts is closely associated with France and two of their monarchs: Louis XV (ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death on 10 May 1774) and Louis XVI (King of France and Navarre from 1774 until 1791, then King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before his deposition and execution during the French Revolution). However, the two styles prevailed in Britain, Germany, and other countries.

During the Baroque period, the influence of this style was everywhere. In Italy, Caravaggio was perfecting his chiaroscuro painting style. In Bavaria, Czech lands, Poland, and The Ukraine, pear domes appeared on churches and survive today as a quaint and very recognizable feature. Rubens, a Flemish painter, was a proponent of an extravagant Baroque style that emphasized movement, color, and sensuality. Teapot makers picked up this style trend in their wares.

Rococo took these details even further, some say in a way that was meant to emphasize absurdity in Baroque, but others (yours truly included) think this was just human nature pushing the envelope, as the saying goes. Rococo art and architecture were ornate and are characterized by creamy, pastel-like colors, asymmetrical designs, curves, gold, and more playful and often witty artistic themes. Teapots made in this style are no exception.

A Few Samples

I searched online for actual teapots from these eras and found a lot of reproductions, “in the style of,” and “vintage” or “antique” but few actually from this period. No worries. These samples will still show the range of styles.

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Of course, you are going to want to serve Baroque or Rococo style teas in these. They are going to be teas that are artful and tasty. I would go for Lapsang Souchong which dates back to the 17th century during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). You may even want to try a nice black Ceylon tea (tea growing started in Ceylon as early as the 1700s). A nice Chinese green tea is another choice that will take you back in time. Lots of choices!

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Teapot Styles — Modern


What is modern? When it comes to teapots, the sky seems to be the limit and there is no one agreed upon design standard. Time to check out a few.

Sleek and Elegant Designs

This seems to be the styling that most readily comes to many people’s minds when they think “modern.” It certainly was what popped up most often in online searches.

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More are available, such as these three Asian-inspired designs. These and the above teapots say, “Hey, I really know how to steep tea, but I don’t have to be ugly.” And I agree – TOOOT!!

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Metal and Glass Designs

Metal and glass epitomize our modern age. New techniques in making both led to their widespread use throughout our environment, ranging from soaring skyscrapers to common items for your home. The teapot is no exception.

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Retro Designs

Nostalgia is in full bloom in the hearts and minds of many ceramists and potters, inspiring them to create teapots that echo eras gone by, such as the Scatter Rose Fine Bone China 6-cup Victorian Teapot shown below at left, or introduce elements of another time and/or country as in the Japanese-styled teapot below at right.

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Oddballs and Cuties

Odd teapot styles abound. The goal often seems to push the envelope of acceptance on what the traditional shape of a teapot is. This teapot (called the “Donut Teapot”) shown here certainly does that.

As for cuties, they abound, too, with everything from cupcakes to James Sadler Shakespeare’s Cottage Teapot featured in their designs.

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Whichever design you choose, your tea time will certainly be a special one!

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Teapot Styles — Objectified Designs


The limits of the human imagination seem so large as to be practically universal (that is, virtually endless and hugely immense), and when coupled with people’s love of tea and their knowledge and skill in ceramics, you end up with some rather unique, fun, and often quirky teapots. The basics (spout, body, handle, lid) are all there but shaped a bit differently. They’re sure to liven up any tea time. Let’s check out some designs based on common objects. Whichever design you choose, your tea time will certainly be a special one!

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Teapot Styles — Transferware


Transferware revolutionized teaware designs. Teawares and decorations go together like tea and cookies. Hand-painting teacups and teapots had been popular for centuries. But they were slow to make and had to be limited in detail.

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Where It Started

As tea in Europe became more popular, the demand for fancier teawares grew. Famed potter John Sadler and his associate Guy Green developed a method in 1756 for transferring more detailed images onto teapots, teacups, and other china wares. They claimed that their method could “without the aid or assistance of any other person or persons, within the space of six hours, print upwards of 1,200 earthenware tiles of different patterns, which were more in number, and better, and neater than 100 skillful pot painters could have painted in the like space of time in the common and usual way of painting with a pencil.”

The Method

An engraver skillfully etches a copper plate with the design. Printers ink is rubbed across the entire surface and the excess wiped off, leaving ink only in the etched parts. A sheet of paper is laid on the plate and pressed to pick up the ink from the etched parts. Then that same sheet is laid face down on the dish. Here is where a bit of experience is needed. Getting the paper positioned properly on something shaped like a dinner plate is relatively simple but on a gravy boat, coffeepot or teapot is another matter. Once in position, the paper is rubbed to transfer the ink to the dish. Once the ink is dry, the dish is placed in a kiln to burn out any excess. Finally, the dish is glazed and fired again in the kiln, giving the piece a shine.

The secret of this method didn’t stay secret long, and transferware, as it came to be known, became the dominant type of dinnerware. This peaked between 1815 and 1835, with transfer prints being at their height of creativity and quality. The U.S. market for these wares exploded with tons of transferware being produced in England and imported for sale there. This was the revolution. Now, complex patterns and images could be reproduced by the thousands relatively quickly and therefore much more affordably.

Blue Willow, one of the best known transferware patterns, was introduced in the 1790s by Johnson Brothers. My mother grew up eating off of this pattern dishware and so bought a set when she could afford to (we still young children). I grew up with that pattern, picking at the foods I didn’t like and pushing them from one part of the design to another, and gobbling the foods I did like. When grandma died, her set went to my mother, who then had two complete sets plus extra pieces added through the years. We had a lot of very fine meals on those dishes. And yes, the combined super set contained two teapots, two coffeepots, two cream and sugar sets, and at least a dozen teacups and saucers.

Other transferware patterns ranged in subject matter from bucolic scenes to those inspired by Asian, Greek, and Roman cultures, and scenes around England.

Most experts say to hand wash these pieces with a gentle detergent, but you can place them in the dishwasher if each piece is placed far enough apart that it doesn’t touch any other piece during the various cycles.

Collecting

Transferware has been mass produced since the mid-18th century, so you will find thousands of pieces available for sale online. If you want to collect it, my best recommendation is that you become a member of Transferware Collectors Club. They will help you weed out the so-so pieces from the truly good ones.

Blue on white, red on white, and brown on white are the most common colors, but today’s collectors mainly go for the two-tone patterns. You will rarely see pieces made from the 1750s through the late 1800s for sale anywhere. If you do, be sure to check it out thoroughly. Most of the pieces you will find for sale are those made during the 20th century which will be less valuable but equally appealing.

Rare pieces are those that are “flubbed” during the application of the pattern to the dish. Changes in design are also something to look for. In Blue Willow, for example, some have three men on the bridge and others have only two. The set we had contained a mix of both.

If you choose to seek out transferware, here’s wishing you much success. First and foremost, buy those pieces you like. Cheers!

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Teapot Styles — True Treasures


Awhile back I wrote about some expensive teapots. But price does not make something a true treasure. Provenance does. That is, it’s the story behind the item that makes it truly desirable. This is as true of teapots as it is of Fabergé bejeweled eggs or Chippendale furniture. With that in mind, here are some teapots that have that magic thing: a provenance that makes them true treasures.

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Yes, as you can see, these teapots are generally kept out of circulation and on display, not “in harness” in someone’s kitchen or tea parlor. That is, they are retired now, although they probably steeped up a storm in their early days. Becoming a true treasure apparently takes time as well as a great provenance.

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Teapot Styles — Typically American


To say that anything is typically American, even teapot styles, is to discount about 99% of the country. (I should clarify that I am using “American” here in the widespread meaning of referring to us “Yanks,” that is, citizens of the United States. Sorry, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and South America!) We come from such a broad spectrum of cultures, and each has brought pieces of that culture here, blending those pieces with what was already here, that to say anything is typical brings a chuckle to my lips.

Case in point was when a friend from Germany visited years ago. He and some other economy students at his university were on a trip to visit a business park here in the U.S. He asked me to recommend a typically American restaurant. My brain screeched to a halt, and then it began cranking so fast, trying to think of something that could be described as typically American, that you could hear my brain gears creaking. I finally opted for one of those high-class pizza places. Truth be told, however, it was not what I would consider typical. The same applies to teapots. We each have in mind an idea of what we consider typical.

The teapots chosen to show below are but a miniscule sampling of the variety that teapot makers here have available.

Some Teapots Considered Typically American

They are all quite different yet all useful (just like a good teapot should be). And they all evoke the spirit of this country: “be free to be yourself.”

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You will, no doubt, have teapots that you consider typically American. We’d love to see them!

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What Is a Veilleuse Teapot?


Just when you think you’ve heard about every kind of teapot out there, along comes the veilleuse-théière.

When people know you are interested in tea and all things related, they start telling you about this and that — a tea room you gotta try, a new tea on the market, and of course a teapot museum such as the one in Trenton, Tennessee. One of hubby’s co-workers told him about the museum and the town, saying it had info on teapots. Well, it turned out to be about the world’s largest collection of veilleuse-théières, with over 650 different ones, all sought out and purchased by Dr. Frederick C. Freed, born and raised in Trenton. And that spurred the question: What is a veilleuse-théière?

“Veilleuse” (VAY-yerz) is a French word meaning “night light” or “side light.” And “théière” (TAY-ee-yair) means “teapot.” Okay, so what is a “night light teapot”?

Well, they’re not those cute little teapot-shaped night light covers you’ve probably seen advertised here and there. They are basically teapots that sit on a warming stand. It’s not a stand like you may be used to, but it is fairly similar. The big difference is the height. Teapot warmers today are usually only a couple of inches high, whereas the veilleuse (the stand part) can be twice as tall as the teapot, which is usually on the small side, with a 2-cup capacity on average.

The designs vary widely and clearly span decades of art trends, from Baroque, Rococo, and Art Deco, to those eras when a fascination with Egyptian, Japanese, and other Asian designs were all the rage. Some teapot/stand shapes include male and female figures, buildings, elephants, dragons, and other objects, where they are designed so interwoven that it can be hard to tell where the teapot ends and the stand begins. Other designs have a stand and teapot that are clearly distinguished, with the stand being in the shape of a column or a bulbous pot and the teapot being fairly normal in shape, with the handle and spout easily differentiated.

So how can you get one? Keep a sharp eye out. They come up for sale on auction sites and even e-Bay.com. You will, of course, want to be sure you are getting the genuine article. And be prepared to spend a rather tidy sum of money. One recently sold for $500 online.

For those of us (me included) who have a rather tighter budget, go for a regular warming stand for your teapot. Most ceramic, porcelain, glass, and metal teapots can sit on them safely. Either that, or just drink your tea fast so it doesn’t cool!

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The Teapot as Sculpture?


No matter what useful object there is out there, some artist can take it over and make it into something extraordinary. The teapot has been a key subject over the centuries for such makeovers. And taking it a step further to the sculpture stage seems to be quite the rage. I’ve certainly come across a fair number of these in my “travels” around the internet, especially sites that focuses on sharing pictures.

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When transcending a teapot from function to form, from steeper to statue, from kitchen necessity to décor frivolity, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, it needs to retain the essential elements of that teapot that is its heart and soul. That means there must be a handle, a spout, an interior cavity to hold liquid, an access to that interior, and of course a way to sit upright. Second, it must in some elevate the form above the function, emphasize the aesthetic over the practical, look so delightful, beautiful, or just plain unusual that you wouldn’t think of it first as a teapot but as a sculpture.

The line between objectified teapots and these teapot sculptures can be pretty ephemeral, shifting, and impossible to define in any very straightforward manner. It’s the sort of thing about which you say “I’ll know it when I see it.” Sadler is the example that comes quickly to mind here. They do teapots shaped like Big Ben, cottages, Henry VIII, and so on. The style, colors, and overall designs keeps these from making that transcendence to sculpture. But their usability and quality make them very collectible!

A final word on those teapot sculptures: if you see one you like and can afford it, go ahead and buy it. A tea lover can never have too much tea paraphernalia around.

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The World’s Most Valuable Teapots


How much would you pay for a teapot? A hundred dollars? A thousand? How about $2 million? Yes, there is a teapot that sold at auction for $2 million, making it one of the most valuable teapots in the world. Want to know more? Read on.

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Go digging in your attic, your basement, that old box of stuff the executor of Aunt Mable’s will sent you years ago, etc., and you might find another of the world’s most valuable teapots. Happy hunting!

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