By Michelle Glynn
It takes talent honed over a period of time to master the art of antiquing – skills that are cultivated by research, practice, patience and, ultimately, a trained eye.
A common artifact found at any local second-hand store, flea market or estate sale is bone china teacups and saucers. But are they worth anything, including use?
Although in the U.S., coffee is the beverage of choice, with the recent release of the “Downton Abbey” movie, more Americans may be putting down their mugs and picking up vintage teacups and saucers. The television version was nominated 15 times for an Emmy Award, comparable to another PBS station favorite, “Antiques Roadshow,” proving that Americans are partial to historic finds and practices.
“Tea cups seem to be nostalgic to some people and a nuisance to others,” said Anita Pfeiffer, owner of Mambrino King in East Aurora. “I’ve had them given to me and I’ve had folks want to charge me $10 a set.”
However, Pfeiffer said she believes there’s a resurgence in teacups and saucers because people are getting tired of plastic, paper and poor customer service. Her wine bar uses teacups and teapots because she believes that, when people are treated more elegantly, they feel better about themselves.
“Teacups are sort of like wine glasses. I buy really nice wine glasses, because red wine drinkers feel it changes the taste of the wine. If I bought dollar store wine glasses, it dubs the taste of the wine down. Just as mugs dumb tea down,” Pfeiffer said. “Some things are an experience. Tea and wine are two of those.”
Historically, afternoon tea was considered to be a ladies’ social occasion and, in Western New York, there are a couple of places where it can be enjoyed.
The historic Asa Ransom House in Clarence serves afternoon tea by reservation on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Herbal tea, black tea and green tea all have their individual health benefits. Favorite teas for afternoon tea include black teas and herbal teas such as chamomile and mint.
High tea, also known as just tea – not to be confused with afternoon tea – is a more substantial meal taken at about 6 p.m. It includes a main dish, usually hot, as well as the usual food accoutrements served at afternoon tea.
The White Linen Tea House in Sanborn is another option. Adjacent to Shawnee Country Barns Antique Village, which includes Patricia’s Back Barn, one can start to build a collection of cups and saucers, and enjoy a proper tea service at home.
Prices can vary. Some, like a Spatterware cup and saucer from the 1840s for sale at Muleskinner Antiques in Williamsville, cost $25.
Festivals, estate sales, Etsy.com and eBay are also places to look, just be sure to know what to look for in porcelain and ceramics. The website www.OneKingsLane.com, a design website that features vintage dealers, provides guidelines to use when shopping for vintage items:
•Conduct the light test. To ascertain whether a design is true porcelain, take out your phone, hold it up to the piece, and see if the light shines through. If it does, then the piece is porcelain. If it doesn’t, the item is likely stoneware or earthenware.
•Discern transfer ware from hand-painted pieces. Take a close look at the edges of a piece. If the pattern is cut off at the lip of a dish, then it’s likely transfer ware, which means the design was printed onto the piece and not hand-painted. Designs done by hand will have a fuller, more fluid pattern, complete with brushstroke details and minor imperfections.
•Look for marks. Symbols on the underside of a piece can help you determine when a piece was made. Hand-painted marks on ceramics suggest an 18th-century origin or earlier, while impressed or printed marks denote a more recent date.
The consensus from the runway is that vintage-inspired jewelry will be making a comeback. Look for chandelier earrings and pearls and, if a piece claims to be a designer one, try to have it authenticated.
According to blogger Karen Ratzlaff, one-way to tell if a piece is truly vintage is by examining the clasps and pin closures.
“Talk to an expert,” said Sarah Blawat, president of Sarah’s Vintage Jewelry in Williamsville. “So much of what we do is based on examination of the quality of the pieces. There are telltale signs of poor workmanship, and discrepancies in uniformity.”
Blawat also said the ability to do this comes from years of handling jewelry.