Teapots are mercurial objects. At least, they are when you first meet one. Beholding a teapot for the first time is an introduction to a spherical mystery. Very much like people, we form impressions of them based on what we observe. When shopping for antique teapots, there are certain manufacturing or artisanal details that provide a biography of the object. We glean clues from the glazing, shape, staining, design, maker’s mark, and underlying composition. I have learned to identify the very old and the very young as they sit there upon the shelf, awaiting a new home.
I have seen it all. Perfection, staining, a sloppy potter’s hand, soul jarring cracks, and most frequently, the chip at the end of the spout. When I first began collecting, the chipped spout would sometimes prevent my purchase. Over time, I encountered so many perfect teapots, that were marred by that one blemish, that I began to accept them.
It was the teapots of the 1940s that made me truly re-think the chip. I love the Hall line of teapots. Beautiful colors, heavy, and workhorse durable. This is why we see so many. They were built to withstand the extreme daily tea-drinking demands of a household. Their era of creation was also a time of “elegant economy.” While they may have been more affordable than their teapot ancestors, the teapots of the 30s and 40s were examples of durability, mass production, and responsibility.
It was from this era that my first Hall teapot purchase was made. Part of the Victorian line, this “Benjamin” in mint green was showcased on a wooden filigreed shelf at an autumn craft fair. For $15.00 it was a steal. Absolutely perfect condition, except for that chip on the spout. Of course, I could not resist this beautiful gem of teapot history. I took it home, and examined it closely. Suddenly, it was if we were sharing a conversation. I could see some evidence of the passage of time, but it was the chip that told the biggest tale. It spoke of family. Long days or difficult events, tempered by the miracle elixir of tea. I saw the women in the kitchen, pouring cup after cup after cup, over many years. Hectic days, a flurry of activity, and in haste, the spout comes in contact with something hard enough to create a chip.
You see….the chip is evidence of a well-loved teapot. One that was a soldier in the front lines of family. Day in and day out, it served, without fainting, always at the ready. The teapots with the chipped spouts are not the dainty show-horses that live a life of luxury in the glass cupboard, only called into duty on special occasions. No, the chipped spout is a badge of honor, a testament to reliability in adversity.
I know what you’re thinking – The chip may not be a result of daily duty, but rather, the clumsy treatment of antique dealers, or the middle folk transferring ownership. That can sometimes be the case. However, I have also learned to spy the chips that are older. They include staining and age. You can see a patina of time. Newer chips are glaring – the fresh chip is bright and sticks out like a sore thumb.
At the end of the day, the chipped spout speaks to you or it does not. The more I learn about teapots and their development over the centuries, I am amazed that any of the early ones still survive. They look delicate, but have an underlying strength that very much relates to the beverage they serve. Tea itself looks delicate, weak, but holds a strength we rely on to get us through each day. After all history has put them through, I will cherish them, and their chipped spouts.