The first basic teapot design was first created by porters during the Yuan Dynasty. History indicates that it was probably derived from wine pots and ceramic kettles that were made of metals such as bronze. However, the basic design of the teapot has scarcely evolved in close to a half millennium. Even in this 21st century when tea preparation has shifted from using loose leaf tea to using teabags, the teapot has remained largely unchanged and ubiquitous. If you have an interest in collecting or assembling antique teapots, possibly, you are looking for information on how to know a date/period when various pots were made.
If you want to know how to date antique teapots, here is a simple answer- it is difficult to know the exact date when an antique teapot was made, but you can estimate the period it was made based on their shapes and the numbers/symbols on them. For example, teapots made until the 1700s had a rounded shape. After the 1700s, teapots began to take the pear shape. By the 1800s, teapots took straight sides. After that, they went back to the round shape, but this time they were fatter than those made before the 1700s. Another way of dating teapots is to look at features. Antique teapots made in early 1700 didn’t feature glazing under the lid and the inside of the teapot rim.
Other things that might help you know the period a teapot was designed;
- Check to see if there are any trademarks, names, or other numbers on the bottom of a teapot. These marks/symbols could lead you to the manufacturer, which will give you an idea when the manufacturer existed or made teapots of similar designs to the one you have.
- Also, you can compare the teapot to pictures of teapots in collectibles and antiques books and magazines. Also, there are online sites that sell antiques. You may find documentation and information on such sites regarding what year it was made. The design and type of spout can also help you date antique teapot.
- The size of the teapot, although not straightforward, may give you a clue on when a teapot was made as well. For instance, teapots made in the 18th century had a smaller shape because tea was expensive at that time. Therefore, only small amounts were brewed, which explains why the teapots had smaller sizes.
To date an antique teapot, you must assess its condition. And although most of the antique teapots should show signs of wear and tear, the condition of the teapot should show its quality. Of course, you will not find teapots that were used in the 17th century, since it is highly unlikely that any of these are lying in anyone’s basement, but you can find teapots that were used several decades or one century ago.
Keep in mind that you may not be able to estimate the exact time when an antique teapot was made, but at least several things can give you a clue.
Here is a procedure you can use to date antique teapots
Step 1 – check the signs of wear and tear
Before you even try to date back an antique, you should confirm the teapot in question is vintage. If it is ceramic or porcelain, does it have cracks on the surface? If it is made of silver, does it have worn spots?
On its inside, you should see discoloration because of steeping tea for many years. Also, the handle should show signs of wear due to many years of handling. A teapot in tip-top condition is unlikely to be vintage.
Step 2 – Check for markings
Check the base of the pot. Are there any markings? Markings can help you in determining the manufacturer of a teapot and the possible year it was made. You may need to use reference books and magazines to know what the markings stand for.
Look for books that list pottery marks or silver marks. You may not be able to memorize most of them; so focus on the marks on your teapot.
Step 3 – Look at the shape of the teapot
As we mentioned earlier, you can estimate the age of a teapot based on its shape. In the 18th century, teapots went through significant changes.
The round shape of the teapots we see today was popular between 1730 and 1760. The pear shape was popular from 1750 to 1755. From 1790-1810, most of the teapots had straight sides. From 1810-1835, the teapots grew rounder and the sides widened. Teapots made from the 19th century to date have assumed a rounder shape.
However, this is not to mean that just because a teapot has straight sides, it is antique. Teapots come in a variety of shapes. However, the more unusual and interesting the shape of the teapot is, the more antique it might be.
Step 4 – Analyze the features of the teapot
One of the major features of antique teapots is the uneven nature of the holes leading to the spout. If a teapot features three or four holes, this could indicate it dates back to the 18th century. The holes should be uneven. If they have perfect, rounded holes, the teapot is most likely to be made in the 20th century.
Also, analyze the lid. How well does it fit into the teapot? Has it worn out because of many years of usage? If the glaze on the front part of the lid of a ceramic or porcelain pot is still perfect, the pot is unlikely to be old.
NOTE- the more antique a teapot is, the higher its value and thus the higher the cost. Therefore, know that teapots made a few decades ago might not cost as much as those made one century ago. However, the value is based on the condition and authenticity of a teapot.
Related Article: How to Value Antique Teapots? Antique Teapot Appraisal
Let’s talk about the numbers, letters, and symbols you may find on the bottom part of most antique teapots in greater depth.
What Do the Numbers and Letters on the Bottom Part of Antique Teapots Mean?
Letters, symbols, or numbers on the bottom part of many teapots may have different meanings. Sometimes, a potter could combine pictures, symbols, and letters.
It goes without saying that the tradition of drinking tea dates back thousands of years, and it all started with brewing tea in teapots. Maybe over the past few years, some people are not using teapots to brew and serve tea, but the original and best way of brewing tea is to use a teapot.
For people who have an interest in collecting antique teapots, you may have found many of them with visible marks on the bottom.
Here is a general meaning of marks, numbers, letters, and symbols you may find in teapots;
In most cases, marks on the bottom part of a teapot indicate a type of manufacturing code or mark. These marks may contain numbers only, words, letters, or a mix of all the three. You will find others with pictures, company logos, or animals. They are mostly a way of businesses showcasing their brand. These marks were inscribed into the teapots by manufacturers to show the originality of their wares.
- Numbers and hallmarks
Hallmarks can refer to the marks on a teapot and were mostly associated with silversmiths. A company’s hallmark usually has the name and the country of origin as well as the date ware was made. You may find manufacturers using a series of numbers to signify production number, color code, or year produced.
In addition to marks and numbers, some pottery manufacturers used symbols as decoration. You may find antique teapots bearing symbols of animals embossed on them or hand-painted initials.
If you find initials of a pottery company that is no longer in business, you might need to search it online to know what the symbols meant and when the company existed. This may even give you the year when your antique teapot was made.
How Symbols, Numbers, and Marks Can Help You Date Antique Teapot
Some pottery companies no longer exist despite them being in business for decades. You may find out that they produced hundreds of different codes in different periods that can help you estimate the period an antique teapot was made.
Using numbers, symbols, or marks in a teapot, you can talk to collectors to find out what they mean and if they can link the numbers to certain periods. Serious collections may have inside information that can help you date your antique teapot.
Besides, there are books referencing potter manufacturers- you can find those that contain information about teapot manufacturers. You can even find books that solely focus on marks and symbols, which manufacturers were using.
How to Collect Antique and Vintage Teapots
If you want to start your own collection antique teapots, here are a few tips to guide you;
- Know how to differentiate vintage from newer models
Until the marking of ceramics was normalized in the 19th century, most of the teapots didn’t have markings.
- Don’t wait for too long
Currently, the prices of porcelain and ceramic teapots made in the 18th and 19th centuries are at an all-time low. In the near future, the demand may skyrocket as more and more people are turning to vintage teapots. Therefore, the best time to buy is now.
- Stick to your budget
If you can tolerate a little wear and tear, antique teapots are the best bet. You can get a 200-year old English teapot with some imperfection, for under $100.
For more information on dating antique teapots, talk with antique collectors and look for books on deciphering marks and symbols in teapots.