Keen to have a cuppa

This week on the blog, a bunch of teacups classified according to how cute I think they are. It won’t be as fun as talking to God on the porcelain telephone, but teacups also give us heaps of scope!

Thinking about it – depending on your taste, most of you will be either tea or coffee drinkers (or maybe both, if you’re really breaking boundaries), as is the case in our office.  On the other hand, all of us can relate to making a storm in a teacup or feeling that something it isn’t our cup of tea, regardless of whether we actually drink tea or not. So, this Friday afternoon, grab your cuppa, relax and get lost for a moment in the teacups of yesteryear…

With your and, of course, Jessie’s permission, I’ve borrowed her rating system because we are already familiar with that. Well, except that this time the ranking is back to front, so that our expectations can increase from the beginning to the end.

Cute rating: not at all. Bone china vessels are frequently found on Christchurch sites, and although they’re a bit of cut above the basic refined earthenware vessels, they’re usually relatively plain in decoration. These were fairly affordable, and perfect for your daily caffeine dose. Left: gilt banded teacup, featuring a thin line on the rim and body. Right: sprigged teacup. This technique is easily identifiable by the small blue applied moulded sprigs of floral and foliage motifs, frequently used in the mid-late 19th century (Brooks 2005: 43). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Cute rating: everyday, as these were very popular in the 19th century. Fair enough. Left: Rhine pattern. A typical romantic pattern displaying a castle and people in a boat sailing on the river surrounded by large trees. Right: Asiatic Pheasants teacup. This pattern is likely the most common floral pattern of the 19th century, but is usually found in a pale blue colour rather than black. Both decorative styles were relatively low-cost but a tidy option for drinking coffee or tea. Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Cute rating: boring? Not at all. I kind of like it, to be honest. The garland on top features repetitive dots and a ribbon with geometric elements hanging. This set seems a bit solemn, but these would have been a perfectly functional vessel for a morning or afternoon tea. Image: C. Dickson.

Cute rating: understated, in a lovely shade of pink. I love this type of aesthetic design. This style often places emphasis on asymmetry in design, combining geometric shapes with fans, birds, bamboo and blossoms inspired by Japanese imagery (Samford 1997: 19). Aesthetic decoration is relatively common on Christchurch sites dating to the 1880-1890s period. Image: C. Dickson.

Cute rating: relatively elegant teacup and saucer set. This motif was identified as the Napier pattern through the mark, which also indicates that it was made by William Brownfield, a Staffordshire potter, who operated from 1850 to 1871 under this name (Godden 1991: 110). Image: J. Garland.

Cute rating: attractive because of its naïve semblance. As the name indicates, sponged decoration is formed by the application of a sponge (Brooks 2005: 42). Also, this teacup and saucer set have extra points from me as the repetitive spirals remind me a little of the koru, the Māori symbol of creation, which also symbolises how life both changes and stays the same. Getting thoughtful and meditative at this stage… Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Cute rating: minimalist fancy (by me). I guess this one is quite difficult to fit into our cute ranking. But I needed to include it. A teacup with plenty of insects! It puzzles me a bit! Ladybugs and butterflies are lovely little creatures though…but I don’t have the same feeling with the ants, cockroaches, beetles or what’s that? I’m not too sure. Perhaps, this teacup might be the best choice when offering a hot drink to someone who doesn’t please us to much… On the other hand, it could also be the favourite cup of an entomologist! Image: J. Garland.

Cute rating: very. With exotic connotations, an excellent companion for a relaxing moment – let yourself be seduced by (admittedly English depictions of) the Ancient Orient and the Moorish culture, travelling to India, Persia or wherever you want. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out (so far) the name of this pattern, which displays a variety of elements: buildings with minarets, palm trees, columns and three men with beards and black robes, it looks like one of them is teaching, lecturing or just rambling on, while the others listen. These patterns are based on English impressions of ‘exotic’ locations, showing a romanticised imagery of those, don’t necessarily depicted as they were. Anyway, lovely! Image: J. Garland.

Cute rating: majestic, as grand and noble as the rearing equestrian statue suggests. This one is a slightly different shape from the others, making it even prettier -the teacup has a flared rim and a sophisticated handle, both of which grant it a superb style. This pattern name is Walmer, inspired by the Walmer Castle, a defensive structure built by Henry VIII in the 16th century to defend the Downs of southeast Kent against foreign invasion (Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017). Image: J. Garland.

Cute rating: the best of the bunch (in my opinion). Jessie is holding a precious treasure in this photo. Who doesn’t want this delightful cup and saucer? No words to describe how lovely they are! Also, this set has everything that we, as archaeologists, could ask of an artefact – the vessels are nearly complete, decorated with the flow blue technique displaying a beautiful Asiatic inspired scene and there is a mark on the base with the name of the pattern and the manufacturer! The pattern is Amoy, which use to be the name of the port city of Xiamen in China. The scene shows two Chinese figures, one is seated, and the other is standing. There is a fringed parasol between them and they are flanked by trees and other plants…an idyllic spot for a cuppa (or a smoke, as we can see from the pipes in the hands of the two figures). The maker’s mark indicate that they were made in England by Davenport c. 1844 (Mason 1982: 15). Image: M. Lillo Bernabeu.

Unquestionably, the consumption of both tea and coffee became an important part of New Zealand culture from the 19th century onwards. The archaeological record confirms this popular habit through the range of teacups and saucers found on Christchurch sites, and around the country. Nowadays, smoko, morning and afternoon tea are all essential in our daily lives to give us the energy for the day or, paradoxically, as a moment of personal relaxation or an enjoyable social moment with mates and friends. Keen to have a cuppa? Always.

Maria Lillo Bernabeu


Brooks, A., 2005. An Archaeological Guide to British Ceramics in Australia 1788-1901. The Australasian Society for Historical Archaeology & La Trobe University, Australia.

Godden, G., 1991. Encyclopaedia of British Pottery and Porcelain Marks. Crown Publishers, New York.

Mason, V., 1982. Popular Patterns of Flow Blue China. Library of Congress, Wallace Homestead Book Company, Iowa.

Samford, Patricia M., 1997. Response to a market: Dating English underglaze transfer‐printed wares. Historical Archaeology 31 (2): 1‐30.

Transferware Collector’s Club, 2005-2017. Welmar [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 December 2016].

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