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Unloved Antiques: Bone China Tea Cup & Saucer Collection

by Mike Wilcox (04/23/12).

An “average” Ansley bone china teacup. It can be had for roughly $25 at auction.

The next item in this series of Unloved Antiques is something that most people have, often inherited from moms, great aunts and grandmothers. Today’s topic? Mid-20th-century bone china teacups. These were often a favorite gift given to the matriarchs of our lives—I know I gave my mother one every year for quite a long time. As I recall, they were used once or twice and then went straight into the china display cabinet. Based on the years I’ve spent in the antiques business, I’m pretty sure this was standard protocol with these fancy teacups, as most estates I’ve been called to appraise had china cabinets jammed with English bone china teacups (and matching saucers), most of them seldom dating earlier than the late 1940s.

Shelly Chintz “Prime Rose.”

Royal Crown Derby’s Imari pattern.

Why such value has been attached to these iconic gifts is probably the fact that they appear to be unique, as Mom/Great Aunt Edna/Grandma only had one of them and not a set. It might also be the “Bone China”* marking found on many just being unfamiliar enough and sounding odd enough to make one think of rarity. While often highly decorative and seemingly unique when viewed on their own, these teacups were mass produced items, pumped out for the eager North American export market by English potters such as Adams, Paragon, Anlsley, Royal Stafford, Royal Albert and scores of others. With some exceptions, the vast majority of these bone china teacups and saucers produced by these companies often sell for less than $25 apiece at auction.

As is always the case, it is certainly worthwhile to use something like our Ask a Worthologist service or Worthopedia price guide if you have an exception example and not one of the more common bone china teacups. Some exceptions, as can be seen to the right, are generally examples with unusual features, such as the flower handle teacups by Paragon, Shelly’s Chintz patterns and Royal Crown Derby’s Imari pattern teacups. Some, like the Paragon flower handle cups, can retail for close to $300, several Chintz patterns for more than $100 and Royal Crown Derby’s Imari cups and saucers also sell for close to $100 each.

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* “Bone China” was developed by English potter Josiah Spode. It is a type of porcelain that is composed of feldspathic material and kaolin or bone ash. It generally containing a minimum of 30 percent phosphate derived from animal bone and calculated calcium phosphate. It is a very durable form of porcelain noted for its whiteness, high mechanical strength and chip resistance.

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Previous “Unloved Antiques” articles:

Unloved Antiques: ‘Limited Edition’ Collectors Plates
Unloved Antiques: Singer Sewing Machines
Unloved Antiques: Decorator Prints
Unloved Antiques: Commemorative Whiskey Decanters
Unloved Antiques: ‘Bronze’ Flatware
Unloved Antiques: 1847 Rogers Brothers Flatware
Unloved Antiques: Hummel Knockoffs
Unloved Antiques: National Geographic Magazines
Unloved Antiques: Dragonware
Unloved Antiques: 19th Century Religious Prints
Unloved Antiques: Depression Glass
Unloved Antiques: Stradivarius-Style Violins
Unloved Antiques: 19th-Century Pump Organs
Unloved Antiques: ‘Starving Artist’ Painting
Unloved Antiques: The American Old Family Bible
Unloved Antiques: That Stack of Old Books
Unloved Antiques: 20th Century Wedgwood Jasperware

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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12 Responses to “Unloved Antiques: Bone China Tea Cup & Saucer Collection”

  1. Ruth Weston says:

    Just a note about one of your photos…probably from my website…sure looks like it on GoAntiques. The Shelley pattern is not “Prime Rose” as stated but Primrose Chintz as it is know to collectors and in the pattern books.
    Ruth Weston
    Time Was Antiques
    http://www.goantiques.com/members/timewas

  2. Mike Wilcox says:

    Hi Ruth, thanks for point the typos out, I’ll have our editor correct that as soon as we can.

    Regards

    Mike Wilcox

    • Veda Gilp says:

      Mike,

      This article interested me greatly, as I have for sale on WorthPoint Classifieds a 24-piece collection of such cups and saucers and almost-matching luncheon plates. I’d be thrilled out of my little head to realize $25 apiece for the cups and saucers, and I’d toss in the plates for free — perhaps. Do you have suggestions for better places to auction these cups and saucers, and would breaking up the collection be a good idea? Thanks for considering my questions.
      By the way, you’re a good writer!

      Veda Gilp

      • Mike Wilcox says:

        Your best bet is to find specialist sites for the collectors for specific companies that made your teacups, most of these sites do have forums and classifieds. You are more likely to get a better return selling, say a Minton teacup to a Minton collector than at a general auction site.

  3. Terry Mangum says:

    These go at our auctions for about $5 a set and we group them in sets of 4-6. (Tell me where they go for $25 and I’ll ship them all there!) We see them in just about every estate that has nicer items and usually are anywhere from 20 to 50 pairs, filling display cases and china cabinets.

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      Values are going to vary depending on your location. Values for the article were set from past online auction results for better quality English bone China teacups and not a general estate auction situation. I have seen countless items sell at estate auctions for far less than their average value simply because there was no one at the sale that either knew what the item was, or had any interest in it.

  4. T. Sally says:

    Well, they may not be worth much, but I sure do love my bone china teacups, and I use them regularly too!

    • Mike Wilcox says:

      The purpose of these articles is to dispel common misconceptions that have grown up about the rarity and value of some items. Personally I think is the main reason to collect anything, is because you are passionate about what you collect.

  5. misty sharp says:

    Hello I have some teacup saucer sets and I came across two that are really odd I was wondering if there was a site I can send pictures of them to and get an estimate of how much they are worth.

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