I was living on a remote island in the Aleutians when I bought my first teacup. We were civilians doing a three-year tour at a military base that was closer to Russia than it was to the United States. The tundra-covered island was small, and the weather was always overcast and windy. But the majestic views of the Bering Sea, offshore volcanoes, and snow-covered mountains more than made up for the lack of sunshine.
As a family, we made regular trips to mainland Alaska for leave and morale purposes, and it was on one of those trips, in 1982, that I purchased a beautiful cup and saucer to bring back home to the island. It was the Green Velvet pattern by Royal Albert and I knew without a doubt that this pretty piece of porcelain would become a close friend, cheering me as I sipped hot tea on cold, dreary Alaskan afternoons.
As any collector knows, the purchase of “just one” can quickly become a hobby … and before you know it, a passion. So it was with me. And teacups.
After returning home to South Carolina, I began my quest. I visited local antique and secondhand shops, and scoured eBay for teacups that not only appealed to the eye, but to the pocketbook as well. My collection grew, and I soon discovered that there were so many gorgeous teacups in the world, I was going to have to narrow down my selection criteria. If I bought a teacup just because it was pretty, I would soon have to build another house in order to display them!
Because I am a romantic at heart, I eventually decided to collect tea cups decorated with pink roses. Apart from sentimental teacups given to me as gifts from special people, my rose teacups are the ones I love the most:
Left: Colclough - Front: Royal Vale - Right: Royal Stafford Berkeley Rose
Are you ready to start your own teacup collection? Here are a few helpful hints:
In order to keep your collection manageable, narrow down your selection criteria. Do you want to collect cups made by a certain porcelain company? Bone china cups made in England? Made in Japan teacups? New, vintage or both? Commemorative issues? Footed teacups? Those from a collection? (I love the Traditional British Song series by Royal Albert.)
Know how much you can afford and then set a spending limit. You will be surprised at the number of beautiful teacups available in the $10-15 range – sometimes less!
Get a “handle” on your teacups! Decide if they are going to be for display only or for actual use. I like to use mine, so before buying any teacup for my collection, I always make sure that the handle is large enough to put a finger through. I want to be comfortable and enjoy drinking from my teacups.
Beware of cracks, crazing (some people don’t mind a bit of crazing) and glued-on handles. Especially in antique and secondhand shops, carefully inspect a teacup before purchasing. Run you finger gently around the rim to feel for chips.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match all those beautiful teacups on your tea table. This is where having a “theme” to your collecting is helpful. You will be able to achieve that eclectic look without any effort or planning.
For fun, collect a few cups that celebrate special occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas, etc. I have used my Happy Birthday teacup on more than one occasion for birthday teas with girlfriends! I also accumulated a lovely selection of assorted “Christmas” teacups (A Cup of Christmas Tea, poinsettias, holly or other winter designs) that I use during the holidays. (You can usually find great deals on these throughout the year on eBay.)
A teacup is a great souvenir to remind you of the places you have visited.
A great resource book is Jim and Susan Harran's Collectible Cups & Saucers: Identification & Values