Teapots at the British Museum – Part 2

Following on from Part 1, this instalment uses two other teapots I came across in the British Museum as a starting point to reflect on the journey of tea culture across the world; the history of tea drinking is a diaspora of teapots as much as a diaspora of tea.

The teapots pictured below are a Chinese red stoneware teapot from the late 17th century (displayed further back) and a red stoneware teapot made in Staffordshire, England just under 100 years later in 1765 (displayed further forward).

Two red stoneware teapots (photo by the article author)
Two red stoneware teapots (photo by the article author)

The interesting thing about the Chinese teapot is that it was manufactured specifically for export, indicating the growing interest in and demand for Chinese tea and teawares even in the 17th century. By the 18th century, when the Staffordshire teapot was made, European potters had begun to manufacture imitations of Chinese teapots more widely. This particular stoneware teapot is an imitation of yixing ware. The pottery town of Delft, Holland, although most strongly associated with Delftware, was one of the first places to manufacture teawares that imitated yixing.  In England yixing began to be imitated in London and Staffordshire, as with this particular teapot, and by the early 18th century yixing was also being imitated in Meissen, Germany.

When walking by this case, it was the hexagonal designs of the teapots that caught my eye. They are striking, in part because it is not a shape that we strongly associate with teapots today; when thinking of teapots, I would guess that most people conjure up a more rounded shape. The similar shape of both teapots, in addition to the red of the stoneware, makes the design connections between these two teapots evident, and this is in spite of their dates of manufacture being close to a century apart.

Displaying these two teapots next to one another is an effective reminder of the cross-cultural connections that occurred in the history of tea drinking. And, despite the several hundred years that have passed since the manufacture of the Chinese teapot, it seems that some associations with tea drinking have not changed all that much: the Chinese teapot is decorated with figures of Kuixing, the god of literature – what more proof do you need for the compatibility of tea and a good book?!

See more of Elise Nuding’s articles here.

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