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Antique Tea Cups, Collecting Gracious Living

Updated on February 13, 2013
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Collecting antique tea cups is a popular hobby for many people.  These beautiful vessels remind their owners of another era, a slower pace, and a more elegant lifestyle. 

Most of these lovely antiques can continue to be gently used and enjoyed on a regular basis.  Some very delicate, rare, or special cups should probably be left for display only, and some that may be cracked or chipped and no longer useable, are wonderful for various crafts and decorations.

Most tea cups are very affordable and can be purchased for less than ten dollars.  This makes them a very attractive collectible.

image via SXC
image via SXC

Tea Cup History

Tea cups have been used in China since ancient times.  These early teacups were nothing more than small bowls that were held in the hands while tea was sipped from them. 

Once tea became popular in Europe the tea cup needed to be redesigned.  The nobility used silver or pewter for their tea and the heat made the metal hot and impossible to hold.  Dainty, fragile porcelain cups were developed with small handles.   Tea cups continued to develop and change until Victorian times when they were at the height of popularity and the pinnacle of creative and beautiful design.

It was during the Victorian Age that taking tea became the rage all over the world, due in large part, to Queen Victoria.  Victorian ladies of means spent afternoons visiting friends, and having fanciful and delicately prepared foods to go with their tea. Giving a friend a tea cup and saucer as a gift was popular for many different occasions.

Tea Cups, Collecting Gracious Living One Cup at a Time

It isn’t difficult to build a collection of vintage tea cups. Hundreds of sites have them listed on a daily basis. Other places, besides the Internet, to get antique tea cups are:

  • Thrift shops
  • Local antique stores
  • Garage sales
  • Rummage sales

Be careful, though. Coffee cups are sometimes mistaken for tea cups. There are a few ways to tell the two apart.

  • Tea cups has the handle places higher
  • More ornately embellished
  • Comes with a saucer
  • More delicate

Some Popular Manufacturers of Teacups

Like anything else, some manufacturers are more popular than others. Some pieces will command higher prices than others. It is hard to predict what will be popular from year to year. Some of the most consistently popular manufacturers are:

  • Limoges
  • Meissen
  • Havilland
  • Royal Doulton
  • Wedgwood


Tea cups can also be collected according to a particular design or color:

  • Roses
  • Other florals
  • Butterflies
  • Gold edged
  • Pink


Tea cups can be collected according to where they were made, as well.

  • Occupied Japan
  • Nippon
  • Czech
  • Bavarian

Collecting and Cleaning

As with any collectible it is important to educate yourself about the rarity and values of certain cups.  Learn what to look for and what to stay away from. Here are some tips that may help:

  • Check for staining.  It may come off and then again it may not.
  • Made in China is not vintage
  • Use finger tips to detect small nicks
  • Teach yourself the difference between bone china and porcelain.
  • Look for old glue lines
  • If you are buying online be sure that you read and thoroughly understand the seller’s return policy.  Always get insurance if it is to be mailed.

Caring for Your Vintage Tea Cup

Antique and vintage china needs to be used and handled with care.  They are more delicate and often harder to replace than a new tea cup.  Be careful with storage and cleaning, especially, as these are times when the cup is prone to being chipped or dropped.

Always  hand wash with a mild soap.

Don’t use the dishwasher for antique china

Don’t soak it because it will mess up the glaze

If you use lemon in your tea, or other acidic material in the cup, rinse it immediately

Whether you use your antique tea cup collection everyday or keep it behind glass, tea cups are fascinating collectibles.


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    • profile image

      Kim 7 years ago

      Can anyone tell me why some Johnson Brothers tea cups are called "joke cups"?

    • profile image

      Sol 7 years ago

      I have to say that my grandmother always kept her tea set behind glass, for practical reasons. I've heard that this is a wise way to store them, because it will reflect sunlight away from the cups, which can prevent fading. Thanks for the other care tips of tea cups!

    • profile image

      Sandra Whitt 7 years ago

      I have a two handle cup and saucer set of 4. K&A Selb Bavaria. What is the history behind having two handles?

    • profile image

      Andrew 8 years ago

      I inherited a collection of old tea cups --mostly from England--they were my grandmothers--she passed a few years ago at the age of 97.

    • profile image

      Rob 8 years ago

      I have some old teacups my grandmother had given me. When you look through the bottom and hold them up to a light you can see what looks like a watermark of the image of the queen. When the cup is simply sitting on the saucer no image can be seen? Anyone familiar with this image? Is it common?



      Tampa, FL

    • Meschill profile image

      Meschill 8 years ago from Central Texas

      I enjoyed your hub! I collect tea cups as did my grandmother; I still have four of hers that she collected when a group of friend's had a little tea club where they would get together and everyone would bring an antique tea cup and saucer to exchange.

    • profile image

      ISABEL 8 years ago


    • profile image

      Eflonrei 8 years ago

      Thank you for such an informative article. I would like to have a small collection of tea cups to enjoy tea with friends over, and have often thought antique ones were nicer than many new ones.

    • Joy At Home profile image

      Joy At Home 8 years ago from United States

      In spite of being quite a tea drinker, tea cups are not something I've chosen to collect (wouldn't know where to put them if I did), but I enjoyed reading this hub immensely. Sometimes for anniversary or something, my husband will give me other tea things, like a silver loose-tea-leaf spoon, and I look forward to the day when I might have space for collecting something just because. Lovely hub!

    • Hovalis profile image

      Hovalis 8 years ago from Australia

      I have a friend that collects antique Noritake tea cups (well it was initially tea cups, the collection has somewhat expanded) of a certain pattern. The craftsmanship in these cups is exquisite. It's a hobby you don't hear much about these days, though. Thanks for this hub. A great read!

    • JamaGenee profile image

      Joanna McKenna 8 years ago from Central Oklahoma

      Whenever I visit a local thrift shop, fine tea cups and saucers are the first things I look for. Alas, there's usually one or the other, but rarely a matching set. But I won't stop looking. When my daughter was a teen, we used to have afternoon tea occasionally. Fancy linens, little sandwiches and sweets, the whole bit. Sooo civilised!

    • Christa Dovel profile image

      Christa Dovel 8 years ago from The Rocky Mountains, North America

      I have one lovely little tea cup with pink roses on it. It was given to me by my husbands grandma, along with a silver teaspoon.

    • Jerilee Wei profile image

      Jerilee Wei 8 years ago from United States

      Own some beautiful bone china ones thanks to great grandma who collected them. Don't drink tea but they are a gracious reminder of the woman who collected them. Good hub!

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 8 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      I am a lover of tea and tea cups! I have Royal Doulton and Limoge. Aside from their exquisite beauty, I have to say tea really tastes exeptionally wonderful in these cups.