The sights and scents of spring seduce the senses for but a short period of time. As each new cluster of blossoms take shape, a new set dies away. One of my absolute favorite fragrances of  spring-time splendor is the Korean Spice Viburnum  (Viburnum carlesii).

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My first encounter with this overwhelmingly seductive blossom was back in my college days, walking through the labyrinth of paths that led to class. Spring had a remarkable way of lifting the spirits of the stress-filled college student consumed with papers, exams, and deadlines. Fortunately, landscaping was a priority at my University. No matter which path I took, there was a special batch of color and fragrance to welcome me, creating a beautiful, momentary amnesia that made me smile.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Korean Spice Viburnum was rather large on this campus, but by allowing the larger growth, it produced more blooms, filling the air with an exotically spicy scent. I actually passed by it for a couple of years before finally identifying the species. But I admit to snagging a couple of blossoms on my way to class to get my spring fix prior to being trapped inside the classroom.

Despite being long away from my alma mater, I still spot this variety in my spring travels, and am even lucky enough to have several outside of my office. As a woody-stemmed species, picking blossoms can be tricky, but with enough effort, and fingernails, you can easily fill a vase…or teapot… with these delightful spring ambassadors. As for their spring endurance, their sweet, but spicy, aroma can last for days indoors, and the proliferation of blooms on one large bush is rather sequential, providing a longer enjoyment over the spring season.

Of course, there is no better way to display these spring beauties than in a small teapot. With each blossom stem only being a couple of inches long, I opted for a small “bachelor teapot” from the early 19th century. A black basalt variety that was purchased in England, with the marking “Cyples” on the bottom, indicating a company that produced products in Staffordshire for a only a few decades. I adore the strength and beauty of black basalt or basaltes ware. Originally, it was advertised as “indestructible” since it is fashioned from ground stone and glass to provide a more durable product. My little beauty here has a couple of chips on the lid, which allows me to see the internal construction of a very fine black grain – not a black glaze over other material.

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I will cover black basalt pottery in future posts as I have more than one teapot to share, and feel these unique items should be more appreciated. Besides, there is an intriguing connection between the black basalt popularity and archaeology of the time…stay tuned!

P.S. Behind the Scenes:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor those of you with cats….you can understand the challenge of snapping a few photos within their domain! I know it was curiosity only, but hope the scent of spring gave them something new to enjoy as well. Cheers to a ‘scentsational’ spring!

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I Spy: TeaWares and AnTeaques

The collector’s creed must include a portion about field research. We can look at pictures in books or online until we are salivating all over the keyboard, but nothing compares to physical examination of the objects of our affections. Today, I am introducing a new prompt series to document the items I find during my anteaquing travels. The journey helps me learn many things: size, decoration, markings, pricing, etc. For the most part, the items I feature will be part of those I left behind – the items I did not purchase. The only reason for this designation is that those items I do purchase will be featured in a future post.

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For our first foray in the wonderful world of tea collectibles, I walked through an antique mall in the central region of the country. The only reason I see the regional location as important is due to the pricing of items. Prices can vary greatly from region to region. Now, on our way!

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This first adorable teapot is a lovely example of improvised repair. A Japanese lusterware teapot from the first half of the 20th century, marked on the bottom with “Japan.” As of yet, I do not own a proper Japanese lusterware teapot, and it is on my ‘to-buy’ list, but as lovely as this little affordable beauty may be, closer inspection will discover that the literal gem at the top is a repair. I will admit – a very cute repair, and if you only collect for color, or theme in the room, this repair is quite acceptable. If, however, you collect items that are in reasonably original condition, with very little damage, you would have to walk on by.

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This next group was very tempting as they were full size Sadler teapots, not the miniature versions that we see more frequently in the states. Varieties seen here: Piccadilly, London/Guardsmen, Big Ben. The jury is still out on these, and if I go back and they are still there, I may grab a couple….at $10-$12 they’re a steal…but I have a low tolerance for cutesy. They are obviously current examples of touristware…manufactured in large quantities to appeal to the tourist, with little thought given to classic design. They are travel teapots, and probably not seen in the homes of most Britains. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Sadler teapots, but this is just too much pandering for my taste. If you want to get an idea of the number of these types of teapots out there, just do a quick search on Ebay. Again, they are in perfect condition, and at least half the price you see online, so, hmmmm, maybe I should go get them…but I would feel guilty. I would probably only buy these for resale at a later date. Good heavens…I’m a collector, not a purveyor of teawares! Then again, how does one fund a rather expensive collecting hobby? Decisions, decisions…

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Dragonware from Japan: This set is quite stunning. If I had more room for full sets like this one, I might have been tempted. All I can say is that it is a brown glaze figural set from the 20th century, marked “Japan”. As you can see from the bottom, it is also made of red clay, or redware. Very nice for steeping temps. If you like dragons, this would be a great find!

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Our last find for today’s post: a mid-century teapot made by the Hall company. What I learned from this teapot: these are a tad larger than I envisioned when seeing them for sale online. Also, considering the wear damage, I’m thinking this price was a little high. If the gilt had been perfect, the price would have been much higher, but the amount of wear is extreme in my book. Nevertheless, it still reminds me why Hall teapots are the bomb…totally love their durable quality and sleek designs! Plus, they made plenty to go around.

That’s it for my finds today…stay tuned for more “I Spy” segments as I shop shop shop, and learn, learn, learn!

Teacup Eggstravaganza

Today, we’re going to feature EGGS, and, you guessed it: Teacups! Spring, with its little sister, Easter, provides some of my favorite opportunities for decorating around the house. Flowers come inside, chasing away the gloom of winter, and my tea wares switch over from darker hues to pastels. When Easter gets a little closer, my set of colored marble eggs makes an appearance wherever I need a spot of color. Since tea has become the newest guiding force in my house, teacups naturally welcomed these beauties…in ways that ensure they will make repeated appearances every year from this moment on!

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This first little gem is a 20th century version of Pink Splatter Lusterware. The popularity of this type of china has survived centuries, but was still being made as late as the mid 1900s. Mine is one of the more recent creations from England: Gray’s Pottery, Stoke-On-Trent. Note the contrast of the plastic grass in the white china with pink surroundings. Simple, inexpensive, and a bit retro since we all grew up with this look in our Easter baskets!

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Of course, nothing says “spring” like Wedgwood Jasperware – in PINK! One of my absolute favorite teacups, no matter the season. Again, not a very old tea cup, rather, a more recent mid-century Wedgwood.

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A side addiction that has developed out of my tea addiction is 18th century antiques. This one was sold to me as a “Chinese Export” piece from the late 1790s. Could be…I’m not an expert on collecting 18th century wares just yet, but I’m starting to see the difference when examining closely and holding in my hands. They say the best way to learn about antiques is from an up close and personal examination – as frequently as possible.

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Another 18th century beauty, of the “Famille Rose” variety. This describes the motif choices applied to the porcelain in the form of pink dominant enamel.

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This is a close-up of the beautiful, and delicate, detailing inside another 18th century tea cup, or bowl.

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And now for an alternative to the green nesting material used in some of the previous pictures. Honestly, any dried herb will work here, but this little white flower provides just the right accent and cushion for the egg – or the cup/bowl – I admit, the marble eggs make me a tad nervous with delicate 18th century porcelain. Dried chamomile, or better yet, roman chamomile would compliment beautifully. Since we already make tea from chamomile, the imagery would have a lovely double meaning. I also believe that the natural look is more fitting with the 18th century tea bowls. After all, why not try something that would befit an 18th century retro look…at least retro for those from the 19th and 18th centuries! Happy Easter, my Tea Lovelies!

Welcome to Tea Tableau!

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Being partially from the south, tea has always had a strong hold on the social dimensions of my life. From hot, to iced, to sweet, the infusion was complete. As hot tea edged out sweet iced tea in my daily habits, something started catching my attention. Once you move into hot tea land, the options for steeping become much more varied and flavorful. And then there is the equipment involved. All of the little items that make hot tea so very special: teapots, tea cups, strainers, caddies and cozies, packages and tea bags….can quickly seduce anyone who values the comforting act of making tea.

As a historian, tea has suddenly taken hold of my attention and will not let go. I am fascinated by tea’s very presence and ultimate infusion in our society. For thousands of years, tea has occupied an honored status of sacred ritual for a good half of the globe. As it continued to move west, it brought an influential seduction; A ritual no less sacred, just more accessible.

Even as I am suddenly aware of tea’s influence on our western society, the details of minutia demand attention. When examining tea’s presence in our society, what do you see? I’m beginning to see the graceful and delicate beauty of a teapot. I am seeing the chip on the spout that signifies heavy use tempered by hidden strength. I am noticing the demitasse and the full cup….the matching saucers and the missing pieces. When I sit down to a formal tea, each nuanced, tactile sensation comes together to perform a perfect symphony of tabletop utopia.

It is exactly those moments, those tea tableau moments that I wish to explore here. I am learning something new each day. The journey is introducing me to fantastical stories, exquisite art and craftsmanship which have begun to alter my view of something that had previously existed in the background for me. I believe it is also a key to appreciating some of the peripheral members of our society – those who labored in the kitchens – and who we took for granted. Tea is a method they used to give us comfort, courage, relaxation, and of course, sympathy. Oh the stories that have been shared over a cup of tea. I am no expert on this subject, but I am curious and slightly obsessed – hence the need for a blog to share what I discover along the way. Won’t you join me for a spot of tea?