Saturday, July 02, 2016

My first bone china cup: Tuscan "Duchess"

I'd like to announce a new addition to the luxury items I've carefully been collecting over the many years. From the small marble slab I use as a end table top, the Raku vase, vintage Kodak Camera, this or that piece of art ... announcing...

Bone China.

I love hot tea and write about it a lot. I subscribe to TeaTime Magazine and enjoy reading about the history of tea, types of tea, and accessories to brewing it. It is the last part I've been resisting the pull toward. One can begin collecting and never stop. That is OK for some folks, but I live in a 350sf apartment with one closet. I have no room for collections! I have enough books as it is. But tea...

Tea is small. Tea is consumable. But with tea comes ... a teapot. Another teapot. A cozy. A strainer. Perhaps an electric kettle. And teacups.

If a teacup, do I use a glass tumbler with a strainer at the top? A mug? A cup? A porcelain cup? A bone china cup?

In reading edition after edition of TeaTime I became enchanted with all the ritual and history of tea. I admired the lovely table settings charmingly displayed and expertly photographed. I got interested in the discussion of how porcelain, especially bone china, affects the taste of the tea.

Who wouldn't love to sit and sip tea at a charming little teahouse, with the beautiful mismatched china sets lain carefully at table?

current issue of TeaTime photo
I learned that bone china specifically, not porcelain and not ceramic, does enhance the taste of the tea. The UK newspaper Daily Mail had an article in 2013:
They've got it down to a tea! Scientists work out how to make the perfect cuppa... and it needs a china cup 
--Britain drinks 165 million cups of the beverage a year, but there is little agreement on exactly how a proper cuppa should be made
--Scientists say that the cup, freshness and temperature of the water as well as the precise moment the milk is added are all crucial to tea's chemistry
It seems that the bone ash added to the clay mixture plus the thinness of the cup somehow make the tea taste better. They don't really know, but that is the theory.

A friend had given me a Whittard teapot with cup, the Clipper pattern. I wrote about that here.

Whittard of Chelsea has been around since 1886. And I was off and running in loving the charm of a perfectly shaped teapot and cup. Here's Whittard with a lesson on how to brew the perfect cuppa--

Perfect Cuppa Guide

I went a direction of Japanese for a while, acquiring a tetsubin (cast iron pot) and several small Japanese cups. I like it because I like small. The tetsubin is a calming color of deep green. However I am still entranced by the china.

I have a Tea Bar, with selected herb teas, which I love. I come home from school and view the selections and choose a tea to match my mood. I've got Rooibos, a South African red bush tea that is more mellow than Red Zinger, Honey Lavender, Green tea, Chamomile, Hibiscus, Rose Hip, English Breakfast, Paris Breakfast, and Pomegranate. I'm not a huge fan of white tea, nor of fruit teas (except the pomegranate), and I like only a few Black teas. I prefer flowery herb.

I decided to buy a bone china cup and saucer. Not one to just go out and buy something, that would be silly, lol. I researched it thoroughly first. Which manufacturers are sought after, what to look for in bone china. For example, much of bone china has a gold or platinum gilding on the rim. Look for wear - is it dim, or rubbed off in spots? Hold the item to the light and if it is actual bone china it will be slightly translucent. Run your finger along the rim to check for small cracks your eye might not pick up. Learn the marks, the identifiable manufacturer mark on the bottom. Is it embedded (pre-1900, or inked, post 1900). I looked at shapes and kinds and the history of bone china. I looked at tons of pics eBay and Ruby Lane and and sites. I made notes, printed out manufacturer marks (so as to ensure I was buying actual china), and THEN sallied forth.

There is one place in town that has vintage and antique items. I also learned the difference between vintage and antique. It cannot be called an antique if it is less than 100 years old. It's a very small town and the block on which the Shabby Chic Cottage is located has a few other stores on it, such as a ceramics gallery, an Asian grocery, and a photography studio. I poked around in the Cottage looking at their many selections of china. The lady proprietors were in absentia, either painting in their warehouse next door or speaking with one of the other store ladies along the block. That's OK, preferable actually. I saw one set I liked very much, and I took note of its properties.

Antique retailers usually sell bone china in something called a trio. It is the cup, the saucer, and a slightly larger dish on which to place your crumpet or petit four you're eating along with sipping the tea. The ladies had a good amount of trios to choose from, but since they have rolling inventory at this moment they had only a few of bone china. I went home to look up the kind I had seen and was interested in purchasing.

It contained the necessary stamp "Made in England", and also the note Bone China, from Tuscan. According to The Potteries, Tuscan was a company located at Stoke-On-Trent, founded in 1898 and sold to Wedgwood in 1966. After that its marks contained the "Royal Tuscan" designation. The entire operation ceased in 2006.
The business was a partnership between Richard Hammersley Plant and his brother Simon Lucas Plant.  They operated from the Tuscan Works in Forrister Street, Longton - which they purchased outright in 1914. The brothers became a Limited Company (R H & S L Plant Ltd.) in 1915.
Harold John Plant (Richard's son) and Frederick Sutton Plant (Simon's son) succeeded their fathers in the management of the business. Frederick died in an accident in 1939 leaving the business in the hands of Harold who continued as manging director and then as chairman until his death in 1960.
Harold's son, Richard Plant, continued the family management of the business until 1966. In 1966 RH & SL Plant were taken over by Wedgwood and the renamed "Royal Tuscan" - the works continued as a manufacturing unit of the  Wedgwood Group - producing mostly hotel ware. The works closed in 2006.

Here is the gorgeous trio I have acquired:

Right now it is 98 degrees and next week it is predicted to go above 100 real temp, so I will not be making hot tea anytime soon! But I am thrilled with the delicate colors, the ladylike pattern of the rose bud with silver leaves, and the two tone baby blue and ivory. I love it and I can't wait to add it to my Whittard and Tetsubin tea accouterments at my tea bar to be loved and admired by me.


Grace to You said...

I had been feeling a little chilly for a while when I pulled up this post and knew immediately I must make myself a cup of tea. It was perfect. :)

I've been wanting to do that for days, anyway...I binge-watched Downton Abbey, all 6 seasons, while my son was on a backpacking trip this week. There were lots of plot elements I wish weren't in it, but nothing explicit, and no bad language...and so beautifully done, it was a little magical. Even the servants' way of life was elegant compared to ours these days, and I find myself longing for that. Maybe I should start with a nice tea cup trio. :)

Elizabeth Prata said...

Great! Tea makes everything better. Just ask peter Rabbit.

east texas rancher said...

Living in Germany in the 1980's I learned to love tea and the rituals of tea. I have three or four china tea sets....that I bought for daughters but they live here. When I teach Bible studies in the fall and winter, I bring out the tea pots and leave them sitting in. As folks come in my home, they pick the cup and saucer they fancy and sit and enjoy hot tea we we read God's word and learn together....

Elizabeth Prata said...

Sounds absolutely lovely!