The popularity of tea through the ages has spurred the development of new materials, plus new techniques for working with them, to create perfect steeping and pouring teapots. Bone china is one such material — a result of experimentation and lots of sweat and ingenuity.
First, let me answer that oft asked question: Yes, there is really bone ash in bone china. Thus the name. Usually cattle bones are used.
History of Bone China (Ultra-condensed Version)
Actually, there is some disagreement about who first came up with the magic mix of ingredients (6 parts bone ash, 4 parts china stone and 3.5 parts china clay) for making bone china. One source credits Josiah Spode as being the first around 1793, but another says it was Thomas Frye at his Bow porcelain factory near Bow in East London in 1748 and that Spode simply perfected Frye’s formula. The bone ash, which strengthened the items that it was used in, came from a cattle market nearby and sometimes included other parts besides the bones. Spode used only the bones, producing a finer quality of bone china and enjoying a commercial success that Frye never achieved. By 1776, as a handful of colonies in the New World were declaring independence from King George III in the UK, Spode had gained full ownership of the pottery factory that would from then on bear his name.
Storing and Caring for Your Fine Bone China Teapots
The surest way to avoid chipping, cracking, or breaking a fine bone china teapot is not to have any. Ha! But since they are so beautiful and irresistible, we need some better options here. First, use the teapot with care and a steady hand. When possible, hold the teapot by its handle in one hand and with the other hand support it underneath. When removing and replacing the teapot lid, try not to bump it against the sides of the teapot opening. Don’t use pieces that have been mended. Store in closed cabinets that are in out-of-the-way areas.
Gilded teapots should have extra care taken on the gilt parts, especially if the piece is an antique, and possibly even avoid washing that part of them altogether. Both gilded and non- gilded teapots should be hand-cleaned with gentle soap if needed, but not immersed in water, and thoroughly dried before storing to prevent any mold growth. Don’t attempt to clean mended pieces with any liquid.
If you break a valuable piece, take it to a professional restorer (your local museum or fine china shop may be able to refer you to one). Don’t try to use glue of any kind. If you want to test the teapot for that bone china “ring,” hold it up and tap carefully with a finger.
Some Great Bone China Teapots from Modern Makers
Nothing epitomizes a British-style Afternoon Tea like a fine bone china teapot. Either as part of an entire set or as the star of the tea table, their designs will add just the right touch of elegance while remaining very practical, since they help keep your tea warm longer. Both of these modern versions have a fairly classic teapot design, that is, a wide bottom and a low-mounted and gently-curved spout.
- Wild Roses Bone China Teapot — Part of the Wild Roses Bone China Tea Set that includes 6 teacups and saucers and a sugar/creamer set. The unique pattern features clusters of mauve, yellow and pale pink roses and buds with green foliage. Each piece is enhanced with an elegant speckled gold trim. A gorgeous ensemble for afternoon tea!
- English Cottage Fine Bone China — Decorated in stunning detail, this 6-cup teapot features a scene of an old English cottage, among a lovely field of flowers. Matching pieces are available: Open Sugar Bowl & Creamer Set, Set of 4 Teacups & Saucers, Full Tea Set.
Some Great Bone China Teapots Antiques
Other potteries started making bone china as well. Here are some of the competitors in what had become quite a burgeoning segment of the fine teapot market:
- Antique Aynsley England Bone China Teapot — Founded in 1775, a year before Josiah Spode took over and renamed the pottery factory in Stoke on Trent, Master Potter John Aynsley founded his pottery in Staffordshire. While the founder considered this endeavor as more of a hobby, his grandson, John Aynsley II, took the business very seriously. They began making bone china in 1861 in a specially built factory. As of September 2012, they are one of the few potteries in that area still operating. Their most famous patterns include Pembroke, Cottage Garden, Little Sweetheart, Wild Tudor, and Orchard Gold.
- Rare C.J. Mason Bone China Teapot, Cobalt, Red & Gilt, Chinoiserie, c.1835 — A gorgeous bone china pedestal teapot decorated in a willow variant with gilding, cobalt blue, and Chinese red. It is about 11-1/4″ long. The finial of the lid is missing, and would have been a strawberry or an acorn.
- Minton Teapot, Bone China, Antique c.1825, Handpainted, English — A rare example of Minton’s return to bone china production in 1824 (they had stopped for about eight years). It has a flattened melon shape, a molded spout, a fruit finial on the lid, a complex handle, a gadrooned collar, body and base, and a 15-hole triangular strainer. About 10” from spout to handle. The pattern number 677 is hand-painted in puce on the base and agrees with Minton’s wares of this period. The teapot and lid both ring when tapped.
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