Collecting vintage porcelain is as addicting as baking. Put the two habits together and you have afternoon tea, the heady combination of cake and fine china.
Afternoon tea is a nostalgic ritual that works best with vintage porcelain, preferably mismatched. Channel 4 star Angel Strawbridge (née Adoree) Escape to the castle and author of several books on vintage tea parties, is the poster girl for the trend.
Closer to home, trendy outlets like Cake Café in Dublin and Strandfield in Dundalk showed us how to put together a look based on a bastard assortment of vintage cups and saucers.
Much like the placement of unwanted dogs, there is an ethical dimension to using vintage porcelain. “I really think we all need to talk a bit more about this in terms of sustainability and buying things that are already out there,” says Chantal Fortune, antique dealer and vintage porcelain collector.
“There are so many amazing teapots and jugs, cups, plates and saucers already on the planet.” Many of these were designed as part of a matching set that is no longer complete. For previous generations, an incomplete tea set was anathema, but most sets are ultimately diminished by breakages. Often times they end up in boxed lots at auction houses where they sell for relatively low prices.
“I would look at home auctions across the country,” says Fortune. “If you’re lucky you’ll find a collection that someone else has put together. ”
Its local auction is Mullen’s Laurel Park in Bray, where the current sale of classic and contemporary interiors includes an impressive 88-piece Mason’s Ironstone porcelain dinner, tea and coffee set in a fruit basket design (Lot 337: est. € 200 to € 400) but also several batches of mismatched porcelain with estimates of € 50 to € 100.
Maggie Brady of Pearl Redesigns is an avid vintage and recycling enthusiast based near Newry, County Down. His local auction house is Scarva Auctions. “You will find boxed lots with pieces of this and that with many buyers from the south and little market women buying the porcelain at auction to sell it.”
As an interior designer, Brady has some tips for choosing mismatched porcelain. “You would like them all to have the same finesse. Afternoon tea is a delicacy. Items that are from the same period, even if they have different designs, will fit together better than real antiques combined with retro versions of the same design. And don’t mix the willow pattern with Old Country Rose. “It wouldn’t look good.”
Charity shops and yard sales are another useful source of stray pieces of porcelain. Chantal Fortune remembers discovering a pair of blue and white Victorian pitchers at a garage sale in Wexford. “I think I paid a ten for the pair,” she said.
Flux, she explains, is a type of transfer material where the pattern bleeds into the ceramic and glaze, creating a magically blurry effect. “They have an elegant pear shape, about 18 inches tall, and they look amazing filled with wild flowers. I use them as a centerpiece on the table, combined with other blue and white porcelains.
She is a huge fan of vintage Arklow pottery. “I have this set of willow shaped plates made in Arklow in the 1950s. They’re made like plates with a nice gold rim and they’re a really useful size – somewhere between a plate and a plate.” . They live on the dresser and we use them. They are also dishwasher safe.
One of the glorious things about mismatched porcelain is that if you break a piece, no matter how you mourn the individual item, it’s not the same tragedy as when you break an irreplaceable part of it. ‘a set. Another tip from Fortune to buying vintage china is to shop your grandmother’s closet. Most of the older generation have porcelain.
Ask them about porcelain in the “right cabinet”. If you show appreciation, they may be willing to pass it on.
“I asked my grandmother about her Victorian tea cups – there’s a set of three with their saucers – and she told me they lived in a Japanese cabinet. One day an antique dealer came to the house and took away the furniture. He carried it on his back. My grandmother had eleven children and she told them that the furniture was going to be restored, but that she was in fact selling it. I think of this story every time I use the cups.
See fortunesantiques.com, pearlredesigns.com, scarvaauctions.com and mullenslaurelpark.com