In the 1650s, the newest exciting development had arrived on Britain’s shores, this time it was tea from China. As it was brought back from overseas, tea was incredibly scarce and as such its price was very high; in 1664, the cost of tea was already 40s per pound, although this is not as high as what it would become when taxed in the 18th century. This resulted in only the social elite enjoying a cup of tea, and most commonly tea was enjoyed in coffee houses, and teapots were therefore not yet a household item.
As the East India Company imported larger quantities of tea, it became more widely available and a larger section of the British population were able to enjoy it meaning that, by 1669, tea was available nearly everywhere. Likely due to the fact that tea was first enjoyed in coffee houses, the first known teapot resembles a coffee pot, with a tapering cylindrical shape and standing much taller than what we now know as a teapot at 13.5 inches tall. Into the 1680s, these teapots were given a conical cover for the spout that was fixed to the pot via a chain.
As Queen Anne took the throne in 1702, teapots had become much more widely used and had formed two common groups. The first style of teapot was the pear shaped style which began to appear in 1705. The pear shaped pot usually had a domed lid and sometimes featured a finial. This form was generally supplied with a heater and stand as well as having a baluster shaped handle on one side. This iteration would disappear by 1725 but does make a reappearance in the 1740s, only this time as an inverted pear shape.
The second group was the more spherical, or globular, shape which appeared in 1710. The globular teapot had a flush, hinged lid as well as a narrow moulded rim foot and a straight sided, tapering spout.
Both generalised groups of teapots have polygonal examples – that is, teapots that are made up of straight sided segments – but six or seven sided teapots are incredibly rare. There is one known example of a seven sided globular teapot, made by Isaac Ribouleau in 1724. This is so unique because polygonal teapots are much more technically difficult and time consuming to make.
Other than the occasional band of engraving round the shoulder of the teapot, they remain quite plain until c.1740 when scrollwork and chased shells begin to be applied for decoration. ‘Chasing’ is the process of decorating the front of a piece of metal by indenting the back, without cutting or engraving.
From 1755 until 1770, silver teapots became incredibly uncommon and it is likely that this either reflects a change in drinking habits or changing trends producing a favour for porcelain. This dip in popularity could also be in response to the outrageous taxes placed on tea, up to 119%! In 1765, the Leeds creamware globular teapot seemed to kickstart a resurgence and this, combined with the Commutation Act of 1784 – which reduced tax on tea from 119% to 12.5% – saw teapots return in all their forms. It’s around this time, in 1780, that a form of teapot with a detachable, openwork stand appeared; however, the plain, oval teapot remained the most popular in the 1780s and 90s.
In the later years of George III’s tenure on the throne, during the last decade of the 18th century, there was a revival of chasing and embossing teapots with flower and foliage designs. At the turn of the century, the spherical, partly fluted teapot with classical decoration was superseded by a more oblong shaped pot that sat on four spherical feet. This was then changed again when teapots became more melon shaped. It was at this time that the capacity of a teapot greatly increased and the previously wooden or ivory handles were replaced by silver handles with ivory washers for insulation.
As Britain entered into the Victorian era, the design quality often suffered as there was a tendency to over-decorate the silver. In the early 19th century, the last major addition to the shape of the teapot, a raised collar was added between the cover and body. Whilst this seems to just be for decoration, there is some speculation that it could also be to prevent overspills.
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