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A brief history of tea & porcelain

This is a big year of celebration on Prince Edward Island. It has been 150 years since the Charlottetown Conference that led to the creation of Canada.

PEI2014-sliderDuring the 19th century, tea drinking played an important role in social life in North America.  In the early 19th century, alcohol consumption rates were high across the country. But with the rise of the temperance movement, people were now being urged to drink tea or coffee in the workplace.

If I were living in 1864, I would think I would love tea as much as I do today! Over seven days at the conference, there were formal meetings, social outings, grand balls and banquets. Tea would have been served! Black tea leaves from the Assam district of India would likely be in the pot.

[caption id="attachment_1381" align="aligncenter" width="500"]I'm the one on the left!! I'm the one on the left!![/caption]

The women guests during the conference were no doubt versed in the proper manner in which to drink tea when using a cup and saucer. If one is seated at a table, the proper manner to drink tea is to raise the teacup only, placing it back into the saucer in between sips. .. the tea cup should never be held or waved in the air. Fingers should be curled inwards, no finger should extend away from the handle of the cup.

I’ve taken most of the following information from the history museum website and I'm happy to share pictures of a tea set from this era which I inherited from my grandmother’s aunt. She would have lived in the mid 19th century. It is hand painted porcelain. Unfortunately there are no markings of the manufacturer on the set.

[caption id="attachment_1378" align="aligncenter" width="2140"]I wonder if my great-great aunt painted these. I wonder if my great-great aunt painted these.[/caption]

Have "a snow-white cloth" and "beautiful china." These are "essentials." A book of etiquette published in Canada in the 1880s offered this advice to the bride on how to set her table. By the second half of the nineteenth century increasingly ample supplies of porcelain, and lower prices for at least some of it, put porcelain within reach of more people than ever before.

[caption id="attachment_1379" align="aligncenter" width="3264"]The tea pours perfectly from this pot! The tea pours perfectly from this pot![/caption]

Even those who could not afford porcelain in the ordinary way had a chance to acquire it by methods that were common business practices of the day. At the end of the eighteenth century, Worcester teaware was being offered in exchange for furs in New Brunswick.

French porcelain, much of it moderately priced, came rapidly to the fore in the Canadian market. As early as the 1860s some importers of ceramic wares were setting up their own decorating studios. They would order undecorated table wares from their overseas suppliers and then add decoration in Canada, according to customers' requirements. This practice gave new employment opportunities. Professional china painters opened their own studios. Amateurs, particularly ladies, took up china painting.

[caption id="attachment_1380" align="aligncenter" width="3258"]The saucer is deep and perhaps tea was drunk from it if too hot in the cup. The saucer is deep and perhaps tea was drunk from it if too hot in the cup.[/caption]

 Here's to tea and Canada!


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