The Chitra Collection: British and European Pottery and Stoneware

This tea bowl is made from black-glazed stoneware with gilding and was made circa 1710–33 at the workshop of Martin Schnell in Meissen, Germany. In Meissen at the beginning of the 18th century, Augustus II, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland (1670–1733), employed the scientist Ehrenfried Walther von Tschirnhaus and his assistant, the alchemist Johann Friedrich Böttger, to replicate Oriental porcelain. In 1707, before the discovery of the recipe for porcelain, they succeeded in producing a very hard red stoneware and manufactured a number of fine tea wares. Some pieces, like this one, were gilded and painted by the court painter Marin Schnell in imitation of Oriental lacquer.

Tea was by now also providing refreshment to families at all times of the day. Duncan Forbes, Lord President of the Court of Session, wrote in 1743 to Lord Tweedale that tea had “. . . now become so common, that the meanest familys, even of labouring people, particularly in the Burroughs, make their Morning’s Meal of it . . .; and the same Drug supplies all laboring women with their afternoon entertainments . . . at present there are very few coblers in any of the Burroughs of this Country who do not sit down gravely with their Wives and familys to Tea.” Imports of tea from China rose from 20,000 pounds weight in 1700 to 1 million pounds in 1721.

In its attempt to replicate true Chinese porcelain, the Bow factory in East London developed a soft-paste porcelain that was strengthened with animal bone ash. The pieces were durable and did not crack when filled with hot water, and this allowed Bow to compete with Chinese porcelain and cater to a growing middle-class clientele. At the height of its commerciality in the mid-18th century, the Bow factory employed approximately 300 people. This pot is painted in underglaze blue—one of the least expensive forms of decoration as it could withstand the high firing temperature—and is decorated with a moulded pineapple design, a sign of welcome because the pineapple was a symbol of hospitality in Georgian Britain.

For the British potteries, this was all very encouraging. The proprietors of the tea gardens and other popular places of “publick Entertainment,” families drinking tea at home, and owners of wealthy manor houses who provided tea for their servants during tea breaks all required teapots, tea bowls, saucers, sugar bowls, and cream or milk jugs to brew and serve the tea. As Daniel Defoe wrote in 1713, “It is impossible that Coffee, Tea and Chocolate can be so advanced in their Consumption without an eminent encrease of those Trades that attend them; whence we see the most noble shops in the City taken up with the most valuable utensils of the Tea-table.” But because porcelain was too expensive for the lower classes, other, cheaper types of ceramic wares would have to do. And why not, for the English potters had by now become competent at producing attractive imitations of the Chinese and Japanese originals.

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