Shelley Teacups

[Editor’s note: This article has been updated for style and content accuracy.]

Shelley teacups are among some of the most collectable types of china. Beautiful, surprisingly thin and yet strong translucent bone china, Shelley tea cups come in a huge variety of shapes and patterns including chintz, floral, and art deco. The most famous shape is the “Dainty shape” shown below.

You can find Shelley teacups on eBay, as well as specialized china auction websites, and of course, in antique stores. To become a Shelley teacup collector, understanding the history of the Shelley potteries is the first step to becoming a savvy collector. It’s also helpful to understand the different markings on Shelley china and to be familiar with common mistakes, so that you don’t end up purchasing something that is worthless.

History of Shelley China:
In the 1860’s, the Wileman family were the owners of a large pottery known as the Foley Works located in Staffordshire, England. James B Shelley joined the Wilemans, became the head of the earthenware works and eventually ended up running the china works. In 1881 James then took his son Percy into partnership and after James’ death, Percy took over the china works.

Percy employed the best artists and developed a world renowned bone china along with the well known Dainty shape (shown below). But in 1910, there was concern about using the name Foley, as Foley was actually a pottery region. By 1925, Percy had officially renamed his bone china Shelley. In the 1930’s Shelley also became well known for their Art Deco creations. They were even allowed to continue producing china throughout World War 2, unlike many other British potteries.

Shelley teacup logo
Shelley teacup logo

Understanding the Shelley Teacup Backstamps:
Backstamps identify a piece of china. Shelley’s backstamps changed throughout the years. Some of the earliest Wileman/Shelley china has the Wileman stamp which may look like one of these. Notice that both of the Wileman stamps use the word “Foley”. The W in the middle of the second one identifies it as a Wileman.

For a time, Shelley included the term “Late Foley” because they still wanted recognition of being related to the famous Wileman china.

Shelley teacup bottom

However, be careful to remember that Foley was a pottery region and many pieces, especially tea cups, are sold as a Shelley because they say “Foley” on the back, but they are not. At left is an example of a Foley backstamp that was mistakenly listed on eBay as a Shelley teacup. These teacups are pretty, but they are not the fine, thin, translucent bone china we expect in a Shelley and they are not nearly as valuable. The EBV (between the “Foley” and “China”) is the identifying fact that it is not Shelley, along with the lack of any Shelley or Wileman stamp.

Shelley teacup backstamp
Shelley teacup backstamp

It is also important to remember that a Shelley teacup backstamp is always green. Backstamps from 1910-1966 could look like any of these shown at right:

You may, on a rare occasion, find a piece of china with both a Shelley stamp and another pottery stamp. During the war years and later, Shelley occasionally cooperated with a few other potteries, allowing them to add their own decoration to their famous bone china.

There is at least one stamp that has been identified as an unco-operated connection. Little is known about this potter (Peacock China Pottery), but it is clear that they attempted to cover the green Shelley mark with their peacock mark.

I own one of these rare teacups! Here is a picture of the back and if you look carefully, you can see the green Shelley stamp! Most likely, this teacup was produced as a white teacup and then was pirated and redecorated. I enjoy owning this particular teacup because of it’s unusual history.

Many back-stamps include a pattern number, either stamped or handwritten. One important thing to note is that any pattern number that begins with a 2 identifies the teacup as a second. Many sellers do not realize this. Seconds started in 1919 and represent china that did not meet normal quality standards. However, several patterns arose that are only found on seconds which can be fun to collect. And often, it’s very difficult to impossible to find the reason it was considered a second.

Famous Shelley Teacup Shapes and Patterns:
Shelley teacups come in a wide variety of styles and patterns. Dainty is the most coveted Shelley shape (and probably the most fun to drink tea from!)

Here are some samples of the most popular shapes:

oleander shelley teacup

Some of the most popular patterns include:

dainty blue shelley teacup
Dainty Blue

Prices are most often determined by how popular the style is. If you find a Shelley in an antique store and it’s priced less than $20 you are getting a good deal. But they can venture up to $100 or more, especially if it is a Wileman/Shelley.

As soon as you own your first piece of Shelley china, you will be hooked! I occasionally drink from my Shelley teacups and I feel like a queen! (Many collectors would never drink from their Shelley teacups – but what is the use of a lovely teacup collection if you can’t enjoy your favorite tea in them?) Owning Shelley china is an affordable luxury and every tea enthusiast should own at least one Shelley teacup.

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23 thoughts on “Shelley Teacups

  1. Amy from Cincinnati, Ohio

    I am building a set of Dainty Blue.
    I have noticed that some of the cups have a cluster of 3 flowers on the inside
    while most of my cups have 4 flowers in the cluster. Do you know why there are 2 different patterns??
    Of course, I like the more intricate clusters of 4 better. I just need to solve this mystery. Thank You!

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  3. Linda Ware

    Hi, I have inherited a Shelley tea set, which I love. Having done some homework on the pattern number 2326, it seems it’s ‘Seconds’ quality. I would like to collect more but £45 for a trio and £35 for a cracked and chipped teapot on E-bay seems ridiculous. Do you agree? Many thanks, Linda.

  4. Miranda

    Hello,I have a Shelley tea set/ service that is the Dainty design in white bone china. There are 26 pieces in total in pristine condition. Included is 6 cups, saucers, small plates, 2 small jugs, 2 small squarish plates,sugar bowl (?) with saucer and a large cake/biscuit plate.

    It is a very pretty and delicate set. It was my mother’s and I would like it to go to a new home – one that would use it and appreciate it!!

    1. Hi,
      Whereabouts are you in this wide world?
      I admit that I do collect oddment pieces as I see them ! Hopefully with the aim of possessing a complete service one day
      This has been going on for years now but the dream still eludes me!
      Frank Ellis
      North Yorkshire in the UK (Country of Shelley origin)

  5. Domenica Florio

    I just purchased a pretty tea set, aqua blue cartouches, centered with white roses, fancy gray stenciled scroll work over a white base, in a Lincoln shape, the shelley backstamp is covered with a black peacock..what could this set be worth?

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Hi, Domenica, sounds like a lovely set. Unfortunately, we are not appraisers and could not even hazard a guess as the value. Thanks for reading!

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  7. Lesley

    Please note that the oval between Foley and China contains the letters EB&Co and is the back stamp of E. Brain & Co. who also produced very fine and collectible china, also manufactured in Foley. “Foley China” was used by E. Brain, earlier by Robinson & Co., and Wileman.

  8. kathy

    i have a beautiful teacup which looks old and is very delicate,it looks like a dainty pattern hand painted,with gold,green rim ,scalloped tiny pink and reddish rosebuds,and a single rosebud in the bottom of the teacup,the only thing that puzzels me ,is that there is no mark on the bottom ,whatsoever…..were there early shelleys with no markings, kathy

  9. Sue

    I have a complete Shelley tea set, inherited from my mother. 6 cups, saucer, plates, bread and butter plate, milk and sugar. It is in a tulip pattern with the squared plate shape and more or a cone shaped cup. It was bought around 1942. Does anyone know what this could be worth?

  10. Karen Talley

    I need help. I have a Shelley tea cup that is solid blue on the outside and off-white on the inside. The rim, handle and base are all gold. I’m hoping someone might know what pattern name it has.. The bottom of the cup only says “Fine Bone china, Shelley,England.
    Thank you!

  11. Dob


    I am looking for a white dainty type Shelly tea set.
    They cups should be white and have a pink trim and pink handle.
    They are at least over 100 years old.

    1. JAM

      The Shelley tea cups are new to me (a midwesterner and not of English descent). However, I recently acquired a beautiful cup and saucer which is whilte with a gold band around the top, bottom and handle. At first I thought the green leaves inside (one side) were ivy but there are 2 yellow buds and 1 yellow flower in bloom. Do you know the pattern? it is in tiptop shape.

  12. Joyce Wilkens

    I’m trying to locate an email in order to request from the current Shelley company to use my photographs of two of their Shelley cups in a TEACUP ART book that I am attempting to get published. Do you have an email address for the main factory or corporation? Much appreciated. Thanks for the info on Shelleys.

    1. Hi Joyce,
      Only just seen your request.
      I refer you to Shelley Pottery- The Later Years
      Written by Chris Davenport of Macclesfield , Cheshire,England and published by :Heather Publications Ltd
      PO Box 4
      Cheshire UK
      Telephone (in 1970) 44(01)260 279618

      The Shelley company no longer exists as it closed after a ‘buy out’ in 1966
      but this book also provides links to other appreciation groups such as the Shelley groups of the UK,USA and Australasia

      Another publication is’ The Shelley Style ‘ written by Susan Hill and published by Jazz publications of Stratford on Avon in 1997

      Frank Ellis

  13. Janet Hamilton

    Very interesting and useful information, particularly as I have bought a small Shelley teapot back-stamped in green with Late Foley England together with a royal blue “Cloisello” Ware Rd 633918 mark as well. The teapot is numbered 7919. From what is recorded in your information am I to believe that this teapot was one that was made during the war years?

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