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November 12, 2012

Tea cups steeped in rich history

Sydney Smith, an 18th century English preacher, wrote “Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea! How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea.”

That sentiment has been shared by tea lovers the world over, but what would tea be without a vessel to drink it in?

Whether crafted from rudimentary clay or fashioned in delicate porcelain and bone china, tea cups have been collected for as long as people have enjoyed tea.

Around the turn of the 20th century, it was fashionable to serve tea from a matching set of English china that included a tea pot, sugar and creamer, cups, saucers and luncheon plates. These sets were cherished by their owners and passed down from mothers, grandmothers and aunts to their daughters and nieces. After World War I, it became popular to collect just the cups. Manufacturers capitalized on the trend and began to create elegant tea-cup and saucer sets for special occasions, souvenirs and gift giving.

Donna Santiago of Lake Placid has been selectively collecting tea cups since she inherited two miniature Bavarian examples from her grandmother when she was only 13 years old. Over the past four decades, her collection has grown to include beautifully decorated cups and saucers from England, France, Bavaria, Czechoslovakia, China and Japan.

When asked what she finds most appealing about her porcelain treasures, she said “I guess it’s the gold. Every tea cup I have is trimmed or decorated in gold.” 

Indeed, all of the examples in her collection are embellished with the precious metal. On some of the older tea cups, the once brilliant trim is barely visible, as it has been worn away by time and use. However, the majority of the cups and saucers in her collection are in pristine condition as they were made during the mid-20th century for those who were passionate about the collecting craze.

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