On the Water

Tea Cup and Saucer

Sugar was a very expensive item when first exported across the Atlantic from the Caribbean plantations in the 1600s. Only the wealthiest members of European society could afford to use it to sweeten the equally exotic and expensive commodities such as coffee, tea, and chocolate. By the late 18th century, when this tea service was made at the Worcester Porcelain manufactory in England, the increasingly well-to-do middle class could afford to buy English porcelain, and the lower cost of tea and sugar made these desirable commodities accessible to many people. These pieces from a tea set represent this social and economic transition. The service, made of fluted porcelain with a gilt scalloped pattern and bordered in royal blue with gold banding, is not characteristic of Worcester’s most refined output of hand-painted tea wares.

The tea set also represents the truly international nature of new tastes and new trades. Although made in England, the porcelain tea service is rooted in the Chinese culture of tea drinking, but with adaptations to suit European tastes. The Chinese did not take tea with sugar or milk, so a milk jug, covered sugar bowl, and sugar tongs were European additions in response to the Atlantic sugar trade. The uncovered bowl in the set was used for “slops,” where waste tea was disposed of before a fresh cup was poured from the teapot.

ID Number:
Place Made:
Worcester, England
ceramic, porcelain, soft-paste, ceramic, porcelain, soft-paste
2 5/8 in x 5.562 cm; 6.6675 cm x 2 3/16 in

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