Tea or coffee?

A look back at the days when making a brew had to have a certain style

The humble brew is anything but when you look back in history. The traditional tea or coffee set ruled in the days long before anyone had dreamed up teabags and instant granules! There are many variations on the traditional set and generally the more pieces, the more desirable it is. Similarly, a set is always worth more than the value of its individual items such as kettles, hot milk jugs and bachelor teapots. Sets became popular in the late 1700s thanks to lower tea prices and a rise in availability of different blends. The traditional three-piece tea set (consisting of a teapot, sugar bowl and cream jug) is much more common than a four-piece, which usually adds a coffee pot, and is more sought-after with collectors. A set is only a set if all the marks on each piece are the same. Milk jugs and sugar basins should bear one full set of marks; teapots and coffee pots should bear the full marks on the body with maker’s mark, lion passant, date letter and monarch’s head duty mark on the lid. Likewise, if there is a silver handle or detachable finial these should also be marked.


Designs in tea sets tend to follow fashions of the time, with most services on the market today harking from the Victorian period. The teapot lid is nearly always domed, getting higher as time and fashions moved on. Teapots often had stands to stop the table surface from being scorched underneath and bone fillets were a common material used between the handle and teapot body to prevent heat being conducted to the drinker’s hand. Tea sets are not exclusively sold as one; when sold separately, dainty sugar basins were often called sweet meat baskets although they were likely only ever used for sugar. Tea kettles were also designed and sold individually, and when considering the minute differences between a coffee pot and a hot water jug (a coffee pot has a long curved or straight spout emanating from the belly of the body whereas a hot water jug has a shorter spout similar to a milk jug) many people disputed the practicalities of owning both.

More information and sales details from Birmingham auctioneers Fellows on 0121 212 5500 www.fellows.co.uk