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Collectors Corner: Hi Tea!
BY Viia Beaumanis | January 20th, 2022
With the second feature film adaptation of TV’s favourite aristos soon hitting screens, set the stage — and the table — for your watch party with a fabulous tea set. Downton Abbey: A New Era follows the Crawley clan to France’s glittering Côte d’Azur in the 1930s and our selection runs antique and vintage-inspired to gleaming silver, coveted collectables and luxe designer showstoppers.
This ornate 19th century porcelain from Satsuma, Japan, is among the country’s most collectable decorative exports. Prized for its gilded, multicoloured enamel overglaze, it’s edged in real gold and antique Satsuma tea sets are much-coveted heirlooms that only appreciate in value. You can find them online at 1stDibs ($2,200), Etsy ($450) and eBay ($3,260).
Moderne to Mid-Century
If Edwardian-era Asian porcelain is a bit rich for your taste, you’ll find a vast range of retro tea services at various price points, depending on the size and pedigree of the set. Look for classic brands like 1920s Limoges ($360) or still-complete boxed sets ($225). Produced by the venerable (launched in 1890, but now defunct) Colclough, this 15-piece teacup and side plate set ($115) in the colourful, sought-after ‘Harlequin-Ballet’ design is a steal — some vendors price a single cup-saucer at $38. The hunt is half the fun!
Introduced by Spode in 1816, this pastoral landscape in rich cobalt blue was an instant hit and remains a bestseller today. Extremely collectable antique porcelain pieces cost the Earth, but you can complete a set in the brand’s modern (and dishwasher safe) earthenware at very reasonable prices via Amazon: cups and saucers (set of four; US$106) and teapots (US$130) to sugar bowls (US$40) and small sandwich trays (US$57). In Canada, check William Ashley for sales on this always-in-stock classic; the shop is offering 40 per cent off Blue Italian items right now. Or look for something similar but half the cost, like this sweet 10-piece set with tray ($205).
Debuted by England’s Thomas Turner in 1779, the pagodas and love birds pattern of Blue Willow was inspired by the 18th century European craze for Chinoiserie. Widely produced by numerous manufacturers over the last 240 years, including in pink and brown, Blue Willow was very likely in your mum or grandmother’s collection. Certain older items, like this Wedgwood Willow 1940s teapot, will fetch a pretty penny ($200) but, for the most part, only very rare, pre-1890 porcelain pieces garner big bucks. For non-antique items, be sure to shop around. Prices vary — a lot. A set of six cups and saucers on Amazon is $145, while Wayfair would like $50 for one teacup — no saucer. Meanwhile, Etsy vendors will ship a vintage set of six cups and saucers for $75.
The eternal classic, if money’s no object and you’re fine with the endless upkeep of polishing it. The most collectable, centuries-old, solid silver sets with trays cost tens of thousands of dollars while upscale contemporary silver-plated versions are a somewhat more accessible splurge. More dash than cash? Look for stylish vintage bargains. From Edwardian sets like this ($425) or this, ($270) to ‘farmhouse’ style, ($51), Victorian ($125) and sleek 1940s ($72).
Anyone who often serves tea to guests will appreciate a portable, space-saving multi-cup caddy. Pretty gilt-edge porcelain in white ($188), pink ($159), lavender ($122) or watermelon ($100). A basket-style model that gets everything to and from the table with ease, $188. Some come equipped with a candlelit heater to warm the pot ($162).
Reflecting her love of peonies, model Miranda Kerr’s line for Wedgwood’s Royal Albert line includes ultra-feminine mugs ($60) through the full High Tea spread, teapots to cake stands. Celebrated English designer Jasper Conran does chic Chinoiserie cup-saucer sets in white ($97) and platinum-edged green ($135). The Butterfly Parade collection by Christian Lacroix is a knockout with the price tags to go with it; cup and saucer sets from $150, teapots $435.
Just Treat Yourself
Not looking to invest in a full service? Elevate your own daily tea with a ‘trio.’ Also known as a ‘luncheon set,’ these include matching teacup, saucer, and side plate. When you’re just looking for a single set, you can splurge a little and the options are literally endless. Lady-like bone china ($42), blush glass for summer ($38), charmingly mismatched ($55), hand-painted art deco ($210), pretty gilded pastels ($44), full golden glam ($62), one-of-a-kind cool ($32) — why not serve yourself tea and a nosh in high style?
Note: Prices are accurate at time of publication