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Getting a Handle on Cups and Cans: A potted guide to dating

Updated on May 29, 2013

Let's Get Canning!

Ceramics from the later half of the nineteenth century are generally, and conveniently, marked by their maker, making for simple attribution. In this lens, we look at the development of cup and can design from the turn of the eighteenth to mid nineteenth centuries when, with a few notable exceptions, the pieces rarely carried a manufacturer's mark, and how shape can be a helpful guide in establishing the earliest possible date of manufacture and even in identifying the factory which made it.

The following is a guide for the novice collector to the most common English cup and handle shapes, it omits examples of cups of different, even more complicated or sophisticated designs which we will return to on another day, and other lenses on later cups and those from continental factories.

A tea cup and coffee can collection makes a fabulous display - and once you start, be warned, you'll be hooked!

Picture: Fort Hill Studio : on Ruby Lane

Early 19th C. Spode Porcelain Bute cup
Early 19th C. Spode Porcelain Bute cup

Beautiful Bute

The earliest of the common cup shapes, following as a natural progression from the teabowl, is the Bute shape: a simple bowl, with gentle globular graduation from the foot to the rim and one of the clearest identifiers between the factories producing the Bute cup at that time can be the handle shape, since they were cast in a mould.

The Bute shape was introduced C1780 and in common production until C1820. In effect, the factories took their teabowl shape and stuck a handle on it. Like the simple bowl, the handles were uncomplicated loops to start but quickly became more complex as the factories designed variations and established their individual styles.

Other identifiers: a pattern might be specific to one factory or decorator, a factory mark might (rarely) be present, the type of paste and the decoration. The James Giles studio was decorating cup handles, down the back of the strap, with a series of graduated dots from around 1760. As a few other factories began to adopt this practice, the dots migrated to the sides of the handle and are present on Grainger, Worcester and Chamberlain cups. Later into the 19thC, around 1810-20's, the dots appear on some Davenport handles, then onto Hicks & Meigh cups by the time 1830's are under way.

Chamberlain Worcester Cup & Saucer - Circa 1800 Picture source Ruby Lane
Chamberlain Worcester Cup & Saucer - Circa 1800 Picture source Ruby Lane

Chamberlain Worcester

Robert Chamberlain, apprenticed at Worcester, was operating as an independent decorator in the 1780's and purchased wares 'in the white' from Caughley and Worcester. He and his son, Humphrey, were set up and producing their own porcelain by 1791+ in Worcester and these wares were to be variously termed Chamberlain or Chamberlain Worcester, to distinguish the factory from the Dr Wall, then Flight partnerships.

The deeply dished saucer, seen in the set illustrated, is characteristic of these earlier pieces following the original shape of the C18th teabowls and dishes.

Worcster porcelain crescent mark ©RubyLane
Worcster porcelain crescent mark ©RubyLane

Chelsea and Worcester were producing finely potted coffee cups from very early in the factories existence, graduating from simpler shapes to faceted cups or with spiral fluting and other embellishments. Worcester first produced the Bute shape in the late 1770s for their cups and teabowls. A crescent mark on these wares (hatched on the printed wares and an open crescent on the handpainted pieces) will date them to the first, Dr Wall, period and before 1783. Similar wares were also produced at the Caughley works. Like most, Worcester started off with the simple loop, then introduced a small 'dent' or 'kink' to the strap - one key point to keep in mind with Worcester is that the handles,right through from the earliest production, were ALWAYS carefully formed and applied.

New Hall bute shape cup C1800 © RubyLane
New Hall bute shape cup C1800 © RubyLane

New Hall bute shape cup with loop handle C1800

Spode Bute Shape Cup and Saucer Pattern 908
Spode Bute Shape Cup and Saucer Pattern 908

Spode bute Shape Cup pattern 908 showing distinct Spode 'kink' to the handle

C18th Chinese & Caughley porcelain coffee cups with bridge at lower reversed terminal © RubyLane
C18th Chinese & Caughley porcelain coffee cups with bridge at lower reversed terminal © RubyLane

The Chinese influence was not only seen in the patterns...

but also on the handles

Around the same time, the Caughley factory was producing its Bute shape bowls with first the plain loop then a Chinese type handle, with reversed terminal and with (and without) thumb rest, or with a Spode type handle which itself has characteristics in common with Champion's Bristol pieces.

Chinese cup: Picture source Owen's Antiques on Ruby Lane

Worcester & Caughley cups, ear-shape handles C1780 & 1790. Spiral fluted cups C1790 & C1767-70

Worcester & Caughley cups, ear-shape handles C1780 & 1790. Spiral fluted cups C1790 & C1767-70
Worcester & Caughley cups, ear-shape handles C1780 & 1790. Spiral fluted cups C1790 & C1767-70
Hamilton flute detail: Derby C1800, Coalport C1840 © RubyLane
Hamilton flute detail: Derby C1800, Coalport C1840 © RubyLane

The Flute

C1800 a new cup shape arrived - the Hamilton flute: a Bute shape with fluted sides (in fact, these are more facet-like than what we might now consider fluting). The shape was produced by most of the manufacturers including at Coalport by both the Rose brothers, at Derby and Pinxton (also in Derbyshire), Chamberlain's and Grainger's Worcester, as well as by Minton and Miles Mason.

Many of these are potted with eighteen flutes, with occasional exceptions such as the Miles Masons cups, which have 20 flutes and a few known, but so far unidentified,factories. The Royal Flute - with two broad and one narrow vertical panel was introduced around the same time, so by 1800, these three shapes were dominant (not exclusively so but by far the biggest production and more commonly found).

In the middle 18thC, teacups or bowls were functional in design, some richly decorated, but the basic design always with practical purpose in mind. When tax on tea was cut from an eye-watering 119% down to 12.5% in 1784, accompanied by a corresponding imposition of tax onto silver, at a time of falling Chinese porcelain imports, the manufacture of porcelain became an attractive proposition for many makers and production burgeoned. The expanding network of canals made transport commercially viable, both clays and other basic materials to the factory, and then distributing the finished goods to their markets.

Beware the trap

The Porringer and Bell shape arrived, modeled on the silver porringers of the period and the successful London shape, introduced c1812, dominated into the 1820's. Until this period, these named shapes were universally recognized among the manufacturers and their clients. A Coalport London shape tea service would be the same shape as a Spode London shape service, with minor variations of course in handle shape. With increased demand for teawares, an abundance of shapes and moldings developed, each named by the individual manufacturer and none too careful about using another factory's name for its own shape. So that, Minton's Bath Embossed shape is equivalent to Grainger's Dresden Embossed, while Grainger's Oxford Embossed shape matches Minton's Dresden Embossed - a booby trap!

Coalport bell-shape C1825-30

Coalport bell-shape C1825-30
Coalport bell-shape C1825-30
John Rose Coalport London Shape Cup and Saucer c.1820
John Rose Coalport London Shape Cup and Saucer c.1820

A Capitally Successful shape

The London

The London shape appeared in 1812 to almost instant popularity, becoming dominant over the bute shape by 1820. Taken up by most manufacturers in the next few years, the shape continued in production as more new shapes, ever more intricately molded and designed, were introduced well into the middle of the century.

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A John Rose Coalport London shape bone china cup and saucer decorated with beautiful hand painted floral sprays within an elaborately gilded under-glaze blue border.

Spode Cup and Saucer ca. 1810
Spode Cup and Saucer ca. 1810

Spode - London shape c1810

This Spode porcelain cup and saucer is London shape, with a neo-classical inspired gilt decoration. Painted Spode mark with pattern number 318 on both pieces.

Cups became more ornamented and manufacturers began to name their factories shapes. The Etruscan shape, Spode’s Bell and Empire shapes, Minton’s ‘French’ shape (with a rather peculiar high loop handle, all evolved from the basic London and the gentle concave profile.

Spode Empire shape C1820-25

Spode Empire shape C1820-25
Spode Empire shape C1820-25
Pembroke shape: Coalport C1825 Spode C1827-30 Private collection, © RubyLane
Pembroke shape: Coalport C1825 Spode C1827-30 Private collection, © RubyLane

Wrought in Porcelain - The Pembroke Handle

The Royal Flute, in the guise of Grainger's Old English, made a late but brief resurgence around 1820 but had disappeared again by 1830 by which time it had been overtaken in popularity by the Pembroke - a shape that had lasting appeal and endures today.

Coalport Pembroke C1825: Although the first teacups in the gadroon style were made at Worcester, John Rose changed the design dramatically, producing a rounder shape closer to the traditional Bute, but shallower and with soft vertical shaping. The most extraordinary feature was the handle was which less in the established ceramic tradition as in that of wrought ironwork, with the upper loop turned in on itself and evolving into the elaborate rococo inspired leaf moulding and scrolling, well before the style was later introduced at Spode. This complicated shape, was time consuming to produce and typical of the attention to detail on the most expensive pieces.

Minton: Bath Embossed

Minton: Bath Embossed
Minton: Bath Embossed

Early C19th Tea cups on Ruby Lane

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Ridgway Cup & Saucer, English ImariRidgway Gadrooned Porcelain Cup & Saucer C1825Hilditch Porcelain Eskimo Child Cup & Saucer C1823Spode Bute Shape Imari Cup and Saucer c.1810
Ridgway Cup & Saucer, English Imari
Ridgway Cup & Saucer, English Imari
Ridgway Gadrooned Porcelain Cup & Saucer C1825
Ridgway Gadrooned Porcelain Cup & Saucer C1825
Hilditch Porcelain Eskimo Child Cup & Saucer C1823
Hilditch Porcelain Eskimo Child Cup & Saucer C1823
Spode Bute Shape Imari Cup and Saucer c.1810
Spode Bute Shape Imari Cup and Saucer c.1810

....and for the coffee addict - these handsome cans

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Bloor Derby Coffee Can c.1830English Porcelain Coffee Can ca. 1810English "Japan" Pattern Baden shape Coffee Cup ca. 1815New Hall Coffee Can 1805, Pattern 538Worcester (Barr) Coffee Can c1805
Bloor Derby Coffee Can c.1830
Bloor Derby Coffee Can c.1830
English Porcelain Coffee Can ca. 1810
English Porcelain Coffee Can ca. 1810
English "Japan" Pattern Baden shape Coffee Cup ca. 1815
English "Japan" Pattern Baden shape Coffee Cup ca. 1815
New Hall Coffee Can 1805, Pattern 538
New Hall Coffee Can 1805, Pattern 538
Worcester (Barr) Coffee Can c1805
Worcester (Barr) Coffee Can c1805

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