Friday, November 12, 2010

Collections 13 - Tea pots

I started collecting novelty tea pots when I met Jane. We lived for a while in a small terraced cottage and they seemed appropriate; there was also a china shop down the road that used to have a window full of them. It began almost as a joke (the only 'art' we could afford) and sort of grew - long after I stopped buying them, friends would give us gaudy pots as gifts.

For the last fourteen years these have been in crates, so it was fun to take out a few for old times sake. I especially like the cactus with the vulture; my boys liked the fish, Jane remembered buying me the sailor. I have boxes of the them and suspect they might be worth putting on eBay. Or maybe a pub might want them - because to be honest, though I shall keep a few, I don't.

On the other hand, I might regret selling them. For if I ever become famous they could take on a whole new value. The artist, Andy Warhol, used to collect novelty cookie jars that he bought at flea markets. Their intrinsic value was a few dollars a piece and yet, after his death, his collection of 175 jars sold for $275,000. They are now on display in a corporate museum.

It is strange to think of the value of an object being attributed to its previous owner, especially if an identical item is widely available. The cookie jars, for example, were elevated to the status of art works merely because Warhol had chosen them. There was a similar furore a while ago when someone tried to sell an 'original fax' he had received from (I think) David Hockney. It lead to a debate on what constitutes original art.

I suspect many galleries were uncomfortable with the question. Most promote similar vagaries of value, foremost amongst them being the 'limited edition print'; in essence a lithograph or digital copy (intrinsic value a few pounds) with a pencil signature in the corner giving it a putative value of, say, £250 - or, depending on the signature, upwards to many thousands of pounds.

My tea pots will never be worth much, but they are not an entirely random collection. You might notice that the handles and spouts are always integral to the design, rather than simply stuck onto a fancy pot. The latter is the more common practice with novelty crockery and finding the integrated designs was always a challenge.

Now I've pointed that out you might notice it on other tea pots; perhaps also on cookie jars, cruet sets, mugs... even works of art.


  1. I used to collect teapots too. Mine were smaller and less decorative but they had to be unusual.(one was an elephant, it's trunk was the spout). I boxed them up and realized I'd never display them again when we moved here so I parted with them. I don't think they had any value, but I think yours look good and you could probably sell them on Ebay.

  2. I have resisted the urge to collect anything except books...and fabric...and hairy dogs...

  3. It's always good to have a collection I think - it is good for the mind and the soul and engenders peace of mile. On the bad side you often lose a lot of house space. My vice is Lego... at least teapots are a little more grown-up! ;-)

  4. I want first dibs on the cactus, if you can bear to part with it. You have made me feel better about my collection of finger puppets.

  5. The novelty teapots don't seem to fetch much on Ebay, I suspect they have to be very unusual or rare, and then there is the cost of postage, and hoping they don't break. Maybe a stall at a flea market or car boot next year would be good. It would look attractive and may do quite well. I only collect books now really, though we do have a fine collection of cobwebs I just noticed....