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A vintage teacup is a fine Christmas gift

Columnist Sandy Erdman says a teacup collection is within the reach of everyone.

Antiques & Collectibles — Sandy Erdman column sig

Thinking of a nice Christmas gift? How about a teacup to start a collection or add to a collection.

A teacup collection is within the reach of everyone, no matter their budget.

In the 17th century most teacups were custom-made for the wealthy, and were fashioned out of fine silver. Since everything consumed out of these cups was steaming hot, it soon became quite clear that cups made of metal and hot liquids did not mix.

Soon afterwards, teacups began to be made of porcelain and other materials.

What's the difference?

Before you can begin to successfully collect teacups, you should make sure that you know the difference between a teacup and a coffee cup. To the untrained eye, these two cups do not look all that different. Coffee cups are usually bigger than teacups. Teacups have quite a delicate look to them, usually have a matching saucer, and their handles are set higher on the side of the cup than the handles on coffee cups.


Of course a cup can be whatever you want it to be.

A demitasse cup (half cup) can also be used for tea. If you love it for tea, buy it, that's why I have several hundred.

Do your research

Arm yourself with knowledge to guard against finding reproductions. Learn about your collecting interests. Go to antique shops and handle as many genuine pieces as possible.

Compare genuine pieces with those known to be a fake, ask questions of other collectors and dealers and join collecting clubs for continuing education on your collectible.

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Purchase and study reference guides such as "Kovels' Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide, 2022."

Learn to pay attention to details. To be a true collector you need to do your homework and try to learn as much as you can about the history of tea cups.

Did you know that the first teacups made in Europe didn't even have handles? It can also be helpful to know the manufacturer's name on some of the top-selling teacup so you will recognize them when you run across them. This can simply be done by reading the stamp as it typically reads something like “Royal Albert fine bone china ENGLAND.”

So what about bone china? Today there are no bones in the china. Teacups with such names as Spode, Royal Doulton, Havilland and Limoges are collectible.


Christmas Tea Cups.jpg
Christmas teacups at New Generations of Harmony start at about $3 and go up to $20. The typical price point is about $12.<br/><br/>

A teacup or set to keep your eyes open for is those out of Occupied Japan. A bit of history: after World War II, the United States occupied Japan, so anything that left the country had to be stamped “Made in Occupied Japan.” The Japanese were not happy with this and whenever they thought they could get away with not using the stamp, they did, and any goods that left Japan simply said, “Made in Japan.” As a result, not too many items were stamped with “Made In Occupied Japan” and now they are extremely rare and very collectible.

So what about Nippon? Nippon basically means, “made in Japan,” so when you see a “Nippon” mark on the underside of a base of a piece of ceramic, you know that you have a piece that was made in Japan.

Where are all the teacups?

In antique shops, garage and estate sales, auctions, flea markets, thrift and gift shops, Salvation Army, Goodwill as well as online websites.

“There is no time like the holidays to wear your fanciest clothes and use your prettiest dishes," said Erica Thilges, manager of New Generations of Harmony.

The store has a Bavarian Germany coffee/teapot with poinsettias, a Santa three-piece tea-for-one set and other collectible Christmas teacups and saucers by Lefton and Tuscan.

If you have a teacup tucked away, there's no time like Christmas to pull it out and let it fill your mind with memories of Christmases past.

Merry Christmas.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at .

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