Here is a lovely little pearlware English tea cup I treated myself to today. Made in Staffordshire around 1795, it is influenced by the Worcestershire factory designs of around 30 years earlier. The transfer print design is obviously inspired by Chinese porcelein. However, the almost urn-like shape speaks of Greek classical influences.
One of the reasons I decided to acquire this particular piece is because the unusual tall figure holding a hoop. He wears an English style hat, in contrast to the distinctively Chinese figure playing a whilstle ahead of him. This, then, is an artifact that is stylistically liminal - caught between two cultures (or, seen another way, combining two world views).
It is also noticeably larger than the earlier Worcestershire cups. Whereas the Worcestershire ones were made for high-end aristocratic tables, this would have belonged to a member of the aspirant middle classes. The size reflects the falling price of 'tay' by this period.
Will I ever drink from it? Yes, but only a tepid cup full I think. So it doesn't really have a practical function for me, so what value does it hold? Well, I love to hold it and think of the places it has been, the people who have held it. It is a survivor and I have become part of its story. When my days are done it will be handed onto my youngest daughter and I hope she will cherish it as I do.
Finally, I cannot resist a tantalising thought: my great-grandmother (one of 23 children) was born in the Potteries where this cup was made and the family had resided there for a few generations before that. Could it be that one of my ancestors was involved in the manufacture of this antique? I'll never know, but it's a thought that warms me on this cold blowy evening.
~ Munro Tweeder-Harris, Esq. ~