Teapots: Short, Stout And Quite Collectible

“I’m a little teapot, short and stout, here is my handle, here is my spout.” Who hasn’t heard this childhood rhyme? Sung by generations of children, it illustrates the popularity of that basic household item, the teapot.

Old or new, teapots are among the most popular collectibles around. With a variety of styles and classifications, these serviceable items are sought the world over.

Some enthusiasts seek only English teapots, others collect novelty pots and, of course, there are some who look only for Chinese or Far Eastern pots. But all teapot collectors are steamed up about the thrill of collecting this favorite treasure.

After all, teapots are attractive to display in a kitchen or dining room and create a warm, welcoming look. With the growing popularity of tea as a health drink, tea is more stylish than ever and attracts young collectors, too.

Just about every manufacturer of china or porcelain has turned out teapots along with most countries, including European, Asian and American manufacturers. Which means that there’s a wealth of teapots out there.

Discerning collectors will want to limit their collection in some way to make it manageable. For example, they may collect versions by design, color or age. Remember that mass-produced pots won’t have much resale value, so you might want to collect only those produced in limited numbers. Rare teapots are worth much more than common ones. In the past 40 years or so, novelty teapots have been mass-produced to take advantage of the growing collector market.

Tea became a popular drink slowly in the West, with England’s first advertisement for tea showing up in the Gazette in September 1658. Today, tea is considered the British national drink and teatime is a daily ritual for many.

According to teapot history, the Chinese did not rely on teapots, but instead brewed their drink with leaves directly in handle-less bowls, such as the ones seen at today’s Chinese restaurants.

Westerners developed a proper teapot as tea became popular at their tables. Generally shorter and rounder than a coffee pot, European teapots were first made of silver. But for those who wanted to try a more traditional Chinese vessel, red clay designs were offered early on. These unglazed pots offered a rich taste of tea, too, since they absorb flavor along the way.

Today, these clay pots from the province of YiXing are still popular with tea drinkers. You can find them online as well as at tea specialty shops. Chinese pots are often simple shapes in earthy tones, decorated with dragons, squirrels, birds or other animals perched on the lids or handle.

The Chinese also produced excellent porcelain that was the envy of British and European potters until Staffordshire and other British china potters developed their own methods of creating and firing strong, yet delicate, ware, perfect for teapots and the Victorian table.

Before long, every china company turned out teapots and decorated them by hand or with design transfers. Today, these very old teapots made prior to 1880 are generally considered the most valuable.

Because tea was an expensive commodity in the 17th century, it was commonly kept under lock and key in a tea caddy. These caddies also are highly popular with antiques lovers. Caddies can be found made from porcelain, carved or inlaid woods, or silver and other metals; they can be quite expensive. They are a beautiful reminder of how rare this common beverage was in previous generations.

Today, thanks to the Internet, collectors the world over are adding teapots from other countries to their collection. All you have to do is pick your price range and watch your favorite auction site to find your treasure. And with with the frigid temperatures and snowy weather, a hot cup of tea sounds like a great idea!

For comments or suggestions on local treasures to be featured in Antique of the Week, Maureen Zambito can be reached via email at: zambitomaureen@hotmail.com or by writing in care of this newspaper.