The joys of identifying antique tea sets.

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Most householders have something in the cupboard which was passed on from a previous generation, or even bought by themselves in a previous era. These things have sentimental value because they belonged to Great Auntie Myra or even Grandma.

After a recent clean up, 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 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 tea cup 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, was it possible to date them more precisely and did they have 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 key word from the manufacturers 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 a history of the manufacturer. Once you have searched and found examples or a manufacturers 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".

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  • 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.


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  • In the case of my Chinese cup, the circle with a "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 a "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.

Peach lustre laurel oven fire ware

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Anchor Hocking Fire King

This set was able to be identified with some certainty:

If the cup and saucer are inspected in a 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 1950. Comparison with items on sale (for example e-bay) shows that this is a peach lustre laurel tea cup 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.

Aynsley & Co.

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Towerbrite made in Australia

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Anodised aluminium

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 aluminium.

The pots are best described as retro or vintage, as the process used to create them is a twentieth century development. The use of aluminium 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.

Useful references:

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

http://www.aynsley.co.uk/

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Comments 2 comments

Vincenzo 23 months ago

Martha,I am so sorry about your son not passing that test- but he will get it in Jan! Everything hanepps for a reason, and we are kept in the dark the workings of the Lord - so just no fretting!Congrats to Mom Wald the lucky winner, how awesome!I love your sweet teacups - and the little birdie one is extra special to a bird lover like me!I LOVE your golden Ansley - wow it is luscious!I am glad you were able to rest, that's the beauty of co-hosting linky parties, you have one another's backs!Hugs!


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creativearts2009 23 months ago Author

Vincenzo, I am glad you like the Ansely tea cups, but I am not Martha.

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