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The Teacup




The teacup: both utilitarian and decorative, it is an object that straddles many facets of 18th century life. Seemingly rooted in the homestead and domesticity, this piece of china is not simply a vessel for taking afternoon tea but rather a unit of social and economic currency. The ever-expanding trade networks into Asia, Africa and America facilitated the importation of both tea and fine china to those who could afford it, thus teacups became tokens of a person’s social standing. Afternoon tea rituals were a feminine social staple and ingrained in the female psyche from a young age: miniature sets were given to young girls of middle class families as didactic tools to introduce them into the art of afternoon tea serving.The aesthetic of the teacup is wrapped up in a fragile femininity too: virginal white china or porcelain, often painted in pale hues with floral designs, it is a highly prized item that can be callously broken. Nevertheless as the century progressed, porcelain and china began to be manufactured in Britain meaning that its citizens were no longer dependent on expensive imports. Tea prices dropped throughout the century meaning that a wider spectrum of society was able to access the beverage and therefore needed perhaps more plebeian teacups to drink from. Drinking tea is an undeniable staple in British society, and the teacup should be considered much the same. 




[Figure 1] V&A Teacup and saucer, circa. 1790-1800, Lowestoft UK            [Figure 2] V&A Teacup and saucer, circa. 1785-1790 Lowestoft UK 



A Brief History of the Teacup


The use of the word "teacup" in literature surged as of the mid 18th-century, but why was this? Both tea and the appropriately named 'china' originated in none other than China around the second century AD, so the teacup was centuries old by this time. Chinese porcelain was loved all over Europe but it was not until the early 18th century that the Europeans managed to successfully replicate the fine asian porcelain. Prior to this, Chinese porcelain teacups had an exclusivity about them that enticed many wealthy Britons and they were seen as a status symbol for a long time, yet there was still a desire to replicate the original. Toiling away for decades, the British did not manage to crack the code to fine china production until the 18th century. 



        [Figure 3] Google NGram of "porcelain" in literature from 1690-1810


[Figure 4] Google NGram of "teacup" from 1690-1810 






So who was responsible for this revolutionary breakthrough? The Royal Worcester Porcelain Works was the most prestigious porcelain manufacturer in Britain as it revolutionised the industry in the mid 18th century. Under the masterful hand of Dr. Wall, the Worcester Porcelain Works developed a top secret way of making porcelain which meant that Britain was no longer reliant upon expensive foreign imports, but could rather produce fine china domestically. He also concentrated on transferring patterns and blue and white engravings onto china to make what we now view today as a standard design. So impressed was the King upon a visit in 1788 that he named it the Royal Worcester Porcelain Works - quite the promotion. Teacups were therefore democratised and this fact, hand in hand with plummeting tea prices, meant that the teacup descended from its pedestal throughout the century and took up its mantle that we know today - as something to be found abundantly in any well stocked British kitchen.  






The Birth of Woman: A Rite of Passage


The teacup was a decidedly feminine object in the 18th century. With ties to the homestead and domesticity it naturally fell into a woman's place, however the fragility of the cup but also it's nature as a commodity linked it with women, who were at the time seen to be vain and superficial. Joseph Addison in The Spectator scathingly criticises capricious, vain women who obsess over commodity, especially china cups:





 Joseph Addison, No. 10 - The Lover in The Spectator, Thursday 18th March 1714 



The delicacy of the egg shell and the china cup paralleled here shows how fragile the cup and therefore women were seen to be: physical pleasures that were of a "weak and transitory nature". The "fashion is changeable" regarding the teacup, meaning that they were closely linked with trends and could waft in and out of fashion - however these statements are also applicable to women in the 18th century. With changeable natures and an emphasis on their physical attributes, the teacup and the woman are very much two conflated figures.



[Figure 5] Museum of Royal Worcester: A Children's Tea Set, 1798         




[Figure 6] Worcester: A Miniature Teacup and Saucer, 1765



So when did the teacup and woman begin to become linked? Daughters of rich families were given these miniature sets as toys to help them understand social codes and what would be required of them when they were no doubt wives of an equal if not higher social standing. The tea-drinking ritual was vital to a woman's social life and so it is logical that they should be instructed in this from an early age, however the miniature teacup was used didactically for a variety of purposes. Firstly and most obviously, it was to train young girls regarding the mechanics of tea drinking and tea preparation. However this act also reinforces gender roles and traps women from a  young age in a cycle bereft of emancipation. In the 18th century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Mary Wollstonecraft both wrote hugely influential texts regarding child's play and education; Émile and a Vindication of the Rights of Woman respectively. Rousseau argues that girls naturally gravitate towards dolls, finery and jewellery - they have an innate disposition to avoid sciences and discovery:

"[G]irls prefer things which appeal to the eye, and can be used for dressing-up—mirrors, jewellery, finery, and specially dolls." p. 930



Not only are these things exclusively for girls, but they are indeed damaging for boys:



“When you leave free scope to a child's heedlessness, you must put anything he could spoil out of his way, and leave nothing fragile or costly within his reach. Let the room be furnished with plain and solid furniture; no mirrors, china, or useless ornaments. My pupil Emile, who is brought up in the country, shall have a room just like a peasant's." p.158


China is a commodity, a costly and fragile accessory entirely inappropriate to a young boys room. Anything made of china is a useless ornament, something that Rousseau equates with femininity. The child's teacup was for girls, and this artificial gendering of child's toys still rings true today.



However Wollstonecraft, in her iconic reply Émile, states that  girls indeed do not tend towards jewellery or in this case tea-sets. Rather, they have them imposed upon them in order to maintain gender roles. 



"I will venture to affirm, that a girl, whose spirits have not been damped by inactivity, or innocence tainted by false shame, will always be a romp, and the doll will never excite attention unless confinement allows her no alternative. Girls and boys, in short, would play harmlessly together, if the distinction of sex was not inculcated long before nature makes any difference." p. 110



These two iconic 18th century texts provide a lens through which this miniature teacup can be viewed: the miniature set was used to teach girls about the social rules that they would one day be expected to conform to and obey, but through no choice of their own. There is nothing innately feminine in a teacup, yet it is confined - much like girls - to a world of affected feminine tropes. The teacup is therefore rooted in the domestic, indoor spaces of 18th century life as it was decorative and ornamental, much like a woman.



































[Figure 7] (Left)Nathaniel Hone Print of Portrait of Amelia Hone London, 1771    

[Figure 8] (Right) Philippe Mercier: Print of A Lady Taking Tea, circa. 1740-1765


These two portraits reveal a lot about how women wished to be represented in the 18th century, furthermore the fact that these paintings eventually became prints means that they would perhaps be circulated more widely than an actual portrait. A woman and a teacup was an image desired by the masses then, and the two are therefore deliberately linked by the nation's psyche. Whether or not these women chose to be represented in this way however is a wholly different matter.



Binaries: Man is to Woman as Coffee is to Tea




Parallels therefore can be drawn between the feminine teacup and the masculine coffeecup, which is rooted in the outdoor, public, masculine space of the coffeehouse. The public coffeeshop was a place where men discussed politics, read journals, exchanged ideas - it was no place for a woman, and the realm of afternoon tea was not entirely a space for a man. A far cry from the minuscule, feminine teacup, this significantly taller and less decorative coffee can features the image of a man on a rather masculine buffalo. Colourless, the coffee cup is the public, masculine counterpart to the delicate feminine porcelain. 







[Figure 9] Museum of Royal Worcester: Artist Unknown, Factory Mark of Royal Worcester Porcelain Works, Boy on a Buffalo Coffee Can, 1754



Indeed yet more danger for masculinity is seen when it comes into contact with the feminized teacup. In a satirical subversion of the gender of the teacup, John Wallis satirises the Duchess of Devonshire and her inappropriately overt political standing by placing her as a militant, active figure and her husband in a domestic role with a child over his knee and a teacup at his side, a domestic feminine staple:





[Figure 10] John Wallis: The Devonshire Amusement, London 1784, from the British Museum 




Plaintively saying "This Work does not suit my Fancy", the Duke of Devonshire is lamenting his place in the woman's indoor world, caring for children and - most importantly - drinking tea from a woman's cup. The domestic sphere is condensed into the small teacup here, placed significantly on the table. 






Home and Away




Tea, although hard to believe in contemporary British society, was once a foreign, imported luxury. Not at all home grown and British, tea came to the country via the ever-expanding global trade networks of the colonial British Empire. The world was getting smaller throughout the 18th century, and the middle classes could flaunt their ties to the Empire with their tea equipage. William Hogarth's prints and paintings have proved to be a mine of allegorical teacups: the china is so delicately and obscurely placed on tabletops or in hands that they become hardly noticeable, nevertheless they are symbolic of, primarily, the ever-expanding transoceanic trade networks and all they represented. Upon looking at Hogarth's Taste in High Life, one might be drawn to the small suited monkey or the young Indian boy complete with feathery headdress, however the teacup in the centre woman's hand requires attention. Her and her male companion fawn over the comically small teacup, satirising the upper-classes's obsession with commodity and material goods. The deliberate inclusion of the teacup in the image with a variety of exotic images intrinsically links it to this exoticism: the teacup is stands for everything that the Empire did. 





     [Figure 11]  William Hogarth, Taste in High Life, 1742


[Figure 12] V&A: Attributed to Richard Collins, A Family of Three at Tea, 1727




However domestic tea drinking was not just depicted in satirical artwork. This family portrait from 1727 takes tea-drinking rather seriously. The fact that families were keen to be commemorated in such a way says a lot about just how important tea drinking was: the eyes may be the window to the soul, but the teacup is the window to social standing. Surrounded by their fine tea set, this family is making a bold statement about their inner finesse too. Staring out of the painting, the female figure on the right faintly holds her teacup, asserting her femininity and domestic prowess. Although the tea and the china itself came from abroad towards the beginning of the century, they were both nevertheless becoming something British families wanted to show off.







 Joseph Addison, No. 10 - The Lover in The Spectator, Thursday 18th March 1714 


Indeed the teacup's lack of Britishness was also a problem, as seen in a return to Addison. Addison here deplores a woman's dependance on foreign products, seeing only use in British china. However by the end of the 18th century his wish had been granted, and the teacup had moved from its position of exotic other to something firmly British. The decoration of teacups was a national business, with teacups and porcelain being decorated and made in several locations. Boosting the economy and creating several jobs, the teacup was establishing itself as a vital part of British economy and therefore public and private life. Indeed with the booming success of the Wedgwood factory, Britain was no longer reliant upon imports to create this china. In a fascinating sequence of texts written by Priscilla Wakefield, she writes a series of conversations between a family for seemingly didactic purposes. In one particular text, parents are discussing teacup manufacture with their children. The process of making a teacup involved many hands and tradesman as is explained by the daughter:


















Priscilla Wakefield: Mental Improvements, or the Beauty and Wonders of Nature and Art in a Series of Instructive Conversations, Dublin, 1800 p. 204-205



The labouring over different tradesmen required to make the teacup shows that it boosted the British economy, a sentiment echoed by Mrs Harcourt, her mother:





Wakefield, Mental Improvements, p. 206


Published in 1800, this text cements the move of the teacup from an object firmly from the other, to something made inside Britain and exported out. What was once foreign was now British, and indeed it was so British that it warranted being flaunted all over Europe in such a way.  






The Broken Teacup & the Broken Woman


"Broken tea-cups, wisely kept for shew,

Ranged o'er the chimney, glistened in a row.

Vain transitory splendours! Could not at all

Reprieve the tottering mansion from its fall"

Oliver Goldsmith, The Deserted Village, 1770


The broken teacup is representative of a descent into the lower class, the physical manifestation of a woman broken down and fallen. It is vain, transitory and splendorous - it is of no functionality and is purely decorative, vain in this respect too, and transitory as it has broken and can no longer fulfil the purpose that would give it any kind of meaning. Vain transitory splendours also evoke William Hogarth's A Harlot's Progress as not only does another broken tea cup appear, but also a broken woman. The teacups in the images mirror the harlot's progress in their brokenness. 



Hogarth however does not limit himself to bourgeois conceptions of this everyday object, indeed he pervades the ruffian bawdiness of 18th century Londonian life. In his much celebrated series A Harlot's Progress the descent of a young girl into the wilderness of prostitution and escorts, and with this moral, social, religious transgression comes the allegory too: broken china litters the floor in plates 2 and 5, representing a myriad of brokenness. The appearance of a monkey and young Indian boy yet again ties the plate to colonial expansion. As the china is partly in freefall, partly breaking upon the floor, and we observe the Harlot's ample breast bursting from her dress, and we see how the two actions are mirrored: as the delicate, virginal china breaks, as does the harlot's chastity and modesty. However whilst the movement is physically mirrored, it is interesting to note that the man's hand of the table almost seems to have pushed the china off of the table to break it: the teacup and woman are both subject to man's callous, corrupting touch. 







     [Figure 13 ] William Hogarth: A Harlot's Progress, Plate II, 1732





 [Figure 14] William Hogarth: A Harlot's Progress, Plate 3, 1732




In this plate the tea equipage is significantly less fancy and delicate than the previous. It may be intact unlike the sophisticated china set, however this firmly roots in its plebeian nature; the downgraded teacup mirrors the downgraded social standard of Moll, the protagonist. 





[Figure 15 ] George Woodward: A Hint to the Ladies or a Visit from Dr. Flannel, 1800-1810, London



In this cartoon another fallen teacup is seen which mirrors the woman's sexual status: it is not "proper", indeed it is disturbed and "improper". Furthermore, in a small reader-submitted piece from The Daily Journal in London, a poem is published in which a thin veil between a broken teacup cheekily resembles a "broken" virginity:







Tea: A Poem. Or, Ladies into China Cups; a Metamorphosis
Can any think this Change a Joke 

Since by one casual Slip or Stroke

Teacups and M-----nheads are broke

In hova fert animas, mutatas dicere formas

[My mind takes me to speak of forms changed
into new bodies] from Ovid's Metamorphosis 


The Daily Journal, Tuesday 7 October 1729, issue no. 2730, Anonymous


This sexual liberation is also seen in this "fable", again anonymously published: 



The Gentleman's and London's Magazine, 1741-1794






A Teacupful




John Ash, The New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1775




Upon looking at reports from the Old Bailey for crimes involving teacups, one would anticipate the theft or robbery of fine teacups, however the overwhelming presence of the teacup in these reports entails the teacup as a unit of measurement. 'A teacupful' was a standard, albeit somewhat colloquial, unit of measurement. Clearly accessible to the large majority, the teacup served as a vessel for everything - not just tea. The teacup stored gin, money, and in a more gruesome incident, surgeons find a teacupful of stomach fluid inside the corpse of a dead woman, evidently dead from starvation: 




"However, some time after, two surgeons were sent for, and the body was opened: on opening the body, they found in the stomach but a very small quantity (about a tea cup full) of fluid; the intestines were entirely empty; in short, by the appearance of the inside, they had little doubt but that this woman got her death by being deprived of natural food. " WILLIAM PATMORE, Killing > murder, 25th February 1789.




"Mr. Whittell. Please you my Lord, the Quarrel first begun about a Tea Cup, she took it up in her Hand and said it was hers, and would have it, and he said if she took any thing out of his House he would beat her, but she insisted on keeping it, and he gave her two Blows on the Face; she took then a little clasp'd Knife from her Pocket, and swore she would either have his Life, or he should have her's." Michael Erant, Killing > murder, 3rd June 1742.





In addition to the Old Bailey reports, the teacupful is found throughout recipe books, basic medicinal guides or home-remedy books. Here, Charlotte Mason tells her reader how to cook a chicken "Italian Style" with a "small teacup-full of oil", and Thomas Hayes perhaps rather erroneously prescribes laudanum  for a common cold (see the wiki for laudanum for more information). All of this appearing late in the 18th century, the teacup has now firmly descended from the high life of afternoon tea with middle class ladies into a more bleak life of crime. 








Charlotte Mason, The Ladies's Assistant for Regularly Supplying the Table, 1793          Thomas Hayes, A Serious Address on Neglecting Common Coughs and Colds, 1793



The size had increased too, showing the decline in both price of tea and china. Its luxury was no longer as present:





[Figure 16 ]Museum of Royal Worcester: Tea Service, 1800 




The feminine, lily white china that we see at the start of this wiki has been abandoned. No longer porcelain but bone china, this teacup is substantially larger and whilst still ornately decorated, yet it will hold more tea than its previous incarnation. No longer a luxury item to be savoured over, tea prices had dropped dramatically and therefore the drink was democratised. Joseph Addison comments on this phenomenon:




Addison, The Lover pp. 65-66


Maybe the teacup is not quite capable of holding half a hogshead, but the distinct growth of the tea equipage proves its descent from high-class luxury to universal utility. An object of change and transience, the teacup is more than simply a piece of china used for drinking tea.



Annotated Bibliography


Addison, Joseph, No. 10 - The Lover in The Spectator, Thursday 18th March 1714 An extremely useful text from The Spectator in which Addison draws parallels between the woman and the teacup, as well as passes comment on the capriciousness of modern consumerist culture 


John Ash, The New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language, London, 1775 Shows how the teacupful had become a standard measurement and therefore accessible to a wide variety of people 


http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17890225-1&div=t17890225-1&terms=patmore#highlight WILLIAM PATMORE, Killing > murder, 25th February 1789.


http://www.oldbaileyonline.org/browse.jsp?id=t17420603-20&div=t17420603-20&terms=michael|erant#highlight Michael Erant, Killing > murder, 3rd June 1742.


These two Old Bailey reports give insight as to how the teacupful was a colloquial measurement used by a broad spectrum of people, which means that the teacup was available to a broad spectrum of society and had been democratised. It also shows that the teacup could engage in a life of crime, and not just high tea! 


https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=y0tgAAAAcAAJ&dq=porcelain+worcester&source=gbs_navlinks_s A brief yet helpful guide to the rise of the Worcester Porcelain Works, published in 1819 it has the added benefit of seeing the entire journey of the works throughout the 18th century. This proves how the manufacture of teacups changed throughout the century. 


 http://0-www.gender.amdigital.co.uk.pugwash.lib.warwick.ac.uk/essays/essay.aspx?docref=Mendelson&type=search A really useful essay about tea drinking and gender in the 18th century


Thomas Hayes, A Serious Address on Neglecting Common Coughs and Colds, 1793 The teacup wasn't just used for tea, it was able to carry perhaps more illicit liquids too 


Charlotte Mason, The Ladies's Assistant for Regularly Supplying the Table, 1793 One of many examples of books written for women as to how best supply their households. A recipe book that confirms the banality of the teacup.   


Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, Émile or On Education, trans. Barbara Foxley, Project Gutenberg, 2011 (first published 1762) A radically important 18th century text, Frenchman Jean-Jacques Rousseau explores education through gendered lens which helps understanding how different objects relating to children were assigned gender in 18th century Europe


Wakefield, Priscilla: Mental Improvements, or the Beauty and Wonders of Nature and Art in a Series of Instructive Conversations, Dublin, 1800

A spin-off from the conduct book, Wakefield's conversations are didactic in purpose hoping to teach the reader. She teaches the reader not only about the profound contribution to British society made by teacup manufacture, but also by the Worcester Porcelain Works


http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=365698&src=0 Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Oxford World's Classics 1792 Regarded as one of the earliest 'feminist' texts as we now understand the term, Wollstonecraft's proto-feminist writings give great insight in to the ways in which women were subjugated in the 18th century particularly as to how young girls were treated and educated. This text provides a lens through which children's toy teacups can be understood as societal tools and not just dismissed as play things.


Tea: A Poem. Or, Ladies into China Cups; a Metamorphosis in The Daily Journal, Tuesday 7 October 1729, issue no. 2730, Anonymous - A fabulous little poem that not only parallels women with teacups but emphasises their sexual fragility 




































Figure 1: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O228429/teacup-and-saucer-lowestoft-porcelain-factory/ V&A Teacup and saucer, circa. 1790-1800 Lowestoft UK 


Figure 2: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O228445/teacup-and-saucer-lowestoft-porcelain-factory/ V&A Teacup and saucer, circa. 1785-1790 Lowestoft UK 


Figure 5: http://www.museumofroyalworcester.org/collection/childrens-tea-set/ Museum of Royal Worcester: A Children's Tea Set, 1798 


Figure 6: http://www.onlinegalleries.com/art-and-antiques/detail/very-rare-18th-century-worcester-porcelain-miniature-cup-%26-saucer/214398 Worcester: A Miniature Teacup and Saucer, 1765 


Figure 7: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=826675001&objectId=3012203&partId=1 Nathaniel Hone Print of Portrait of Amelia Hone London, 1771  from The British Museum


Figure 8: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details/collection_image_gallery.aspx?assetId=652622001&objectId=1650389&partId=1 Philippe Mercier: Print of A Lady Taking Tea, circa. 1740-1765 from The British Museum


Figure 9: http://www.museumofroyalworcester.org/collection/boy-on-a-buffalo-coffee-can/ 

Museum of Royal Worcester: Artist Unknown, Factory Mark of Royal Worcester Porcelain Works, Boy on a Buffalo Coffee Can, 1754


Figure 10: John Wallis: The Devonshire Amusement, London 1784, from the British Museum 


Figure 11: William Hogarth, Taste in High Life, 1742 from The British Museum 


Figure 12: http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O56103/a-family-of-three-at-oil-painting-richard-collins/ Attributed to Richard Collins, A Family of Three at Tea, 1727 from the V&A


Figure 13: William Hogarth: A Harlot's Progress, Plate II, 1732 from the British Museum 


Figure 14: William Hogarth: A Harlot's Progress, Plate III, 1732 from the British Museum


Figure 15:http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=1670133&partId=1&searchText=tea+cup&from=ad&fromDate=1690&to=ad&toDate=1810&page=1  George Woodward: A Hint to the Ladies or a Visit from Dr. Flannel, 1800-1810, London


Figure 16: http://www.museumofroyalworcester.org/collection/tea-service-2/ Museum of Royal Worcester: Tea Service, 1800 



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