What fun it is for a little girl to have a tea party with with her friends or her dolls. It was certainly popular in the 1800s and it’s still popular today! Just search on the internet for “child’s tea party” and all kinds of beautiful images appear.
In 1891 the Ladies Home Journal was offering a Children’s Britannia Tea Set as a premium. They describe it as “very pretty in design, brightly polished and hard to break…the teapot is 3 1/2 inches high.” The little girl is pouring cream in a teacup for one of her dolls. You’ll note that there is a spoon in the teacup in her left hand.
Although popular in the 1800s, vintage or relatively new children’s teasets can still be found today. The “American Girl” doll line was even offering their own version. But what of the actual antique version of this children’s playtime pottery…the pieces that are over 100 years old. How much of that did survive? Considering its fragile nature and the fact that it was handled by children, you wouldn’t think too much of it still remains.
The plates that would have been used for little cakes and sandwiches measure for the most part 4 to 5 inches in diameter. If one of these little plates were separated from the set, most likely you would have no idea that the plate were part of a child’s teaset….you’d just think it was a small plate.
The plates shown below are the “Alaska” pattern by Whittaker, “Delhi” by Wileman and “May Blossom” by British Anchor (from left to right).
Saucers can be mistaken for open salts or butter pats. Even the waste bowl could have been mistaken for a handleless cup or small bowl. The waste bowl shown below next to the teapot is by Hope and Carter. The teapot is in the “Chintz” pattern by Ridgways which has an 1882 registration mark. This teapot is only 3 and 1/4 inches high! There’s no mistaking it for something else, that’s for sure.
The smallest of the plates shown below is the blue, measuring 4 and 1/2 inches. This plate is unmarked but could possibly be Benjamin Godwin or an early Ridgway.
The pattern of the plate in the middle of the bottom row above is “Stanley” by Hammersley & Son.
The picture above shows the wide variety in the size of saucers. The little Chintz pattern saucer on the lower right side measures just over 3 inches.
And the picture above shows the diameters of the cups. The “Chintz” measures 2 and 1/4 inches across. You’ll note that I’ve included demitasse spoons on the saucers of some of these cups. More on spoons later!
The pieces which I discussed above have all been included in Lorraine Punchard’s Book “Playtime Pottery & Porcelain From the United Kingdom & the United States” by Lorraine Punchard. I’ve added some other small cups to the grouping above. The playtime sets varied in size…the smaller sizes were made to be used with dolls and the slightly larger sizes were intended to be used with other children. I’m thinking that the dimensions of the sets increased with the age of the children using them. Little hands could only grasp smaller cups. But what of these other smaller cups not specifically identified as children’s pottery? Were they coffee cups…demitasse shall we say?
Well, here the spoons enter the discussion. In the 1886-87 Meriden Britannia Catalog, small spoons, spoons that measured in the 4 inch range, were called “coffee spoons”. These spoons today are called demitasse spoons. And although you might think a demitasse spoon is a demitasse spoon and they’re all the same size-wise, they’re not.
They can range from 3 and 3/4 inches to 4 and 3/4 inches or so. And when you are talking about something so small to begin with, an 1/8th of an inch difference can matter dramatically. The smaller spoons would be in scale with the smaller sized tea sets and the longer with the larger sized children’s tea sets.
So, if these tiny spoons were called “coffee spoons” in the 1880s, then the coffee cups, too, must have been small. And these other small cups that I’ve included could be just that, coffee cups.
Going back to the first illustration as well as the one below, spoons were shown with the tea set. But what spoons were being used? Were any spoons specifically made and identified as children’s toy spoons for use with tea sets? I see that toy aluminum flatware was being offered, mostly made in Germany. But what of these well-made, fine pottery tea sets? Wouldn’t it be more fitting to have sterling flatware or silverplate flatware as an accompaniment? Did they use demitasse spoons? And what of forks or cake servers? If the child were truly serving some sort of beverage and cake to her (or his) little friends, wouldn’t they need utensils in scale with the dishes? You would think so…
Sterling and silverplate demitasse spoons, including some of those smaller 3 and 3/4 inch sizes can be found here at my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/queenofsienna/search?search_query=demitasse&order=date_desc&view_type=list&ref=shop_search
And transferware, including children’s tea set sizes, can be found here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/queenofsienna/search?search_query=transferware&order=date_desc&view_type=list&ref=shop_search