Wednesday, June 11, 2008

They Drink Tea

"There are those who love to get dirty and fix things. / They drink coffee at dawn, beer after work. / And those who stay clean, just appreciate things. / At breakfast they have milk and juice at night. / There are those who do both; they drink tea.”

Yesterday was mostly gray, cold, and wet, so I went to the Old Strathcona Antique Mall, one of my favorite places to while away a rainy afternoon. After spending an hour and a half amongst the treasures of another generation, I purchased two gorgeous teacup and saucer sets and unwittingly became an antiques collector. To celebrate my newfound old-lady hobby, Dusty and I drank our breakfast tea in those lovely teacups this morning, with our pinkies raised.

This isn't the first time I've bought teacups and saucers. Anyone who has been to our house knows Dusty and I are tea snobs who prefer looseleaf tea, so it was only natural that I would gravitate toward collecting teatime dishes. I bought my first "grownup" tea set -- eight teacups and saucers -- at a thrift store in San Bruno, CA, about ten years ago. The entire set was from Pottery Barn and they were immaculate, pure white porcelain with no nicks or scratches. The set only cost $16, but I was a mostly-broke recent college graduate living in a tiny studio apartment, so I questioned the wisdom of buying the set only to leave it in the box for future use.

It was also hard for me to believe someone would get rid of such a beautiful and useful set of dishes for such a low price, so I made up a story about how the owner got rid of it after a nasty divorce. The reason why there were only eight in the set is because she threw the other four cups and saucers at her ex's head. This sordid background story made me really want the set and I went back the next day to buy it. That Christmas, my mom gave me a teapot, sugar bowl, and creamer set decorated with pansies. That tea service and the bitter divorcee's teacup and saucer set have become regular fixtures at our dinner parties.

Shortly after Dusty and I moved to Edmonton, we became friends with Laurel, who has an exquisite collection of patterned teacups and saucers handed down from her mother and aunts. The teacups and saucers are not part of a matching set. In fact, no two are alike. Laurel knew their histories and what styles they were and I really should've paid more attention. All I could think about was that they were as lovely as a field of porcelain flowers. I was clearly falling in love.

A couple of months later, I paid $5 for my first patterned teacup and saucer from Value Village:

It's actually my least favorite because the bowl of the cup isn't quite low or wide enough for my liking, and there are tea stains at the bottom. But it was my first, so it'll stay in the collection. Redheaded stepchildren need love, too.

I got this one a few weeks later at the Old Strathcona Antique Mall:

It's a step up in price and quality. It's only stamped "Made in Japan" at the bottom, just as my first one is only stamped "Made in England", meaning they were both probably mass-produced, but this one seems like it's made of finer material.

So what made me an official collector with the two I purchased yesterday? Well, for starters, their combined cost is double the combined cost of the first two. The handles are more ornate and the colors are more vivid. They are also the first ones that are part of limited edition styles. For example, this one is a Heathcote:

And this one is an Adderley:

I know I wrote that like I know what I'm talking about, but I just read what it says at the bottom of the cup. I don't even know if I'm referring to the parts of the teacup correctly. All I know is that these teacups and saucers are really pretty and I like them a lot.

When one of the vendors at the Antique Mall saw me admiring the Heathcote, he gave me his card and told me he could get me a better deal on Heathcotes, as well as Paragons and Royal Alberts. [The interwebs says some of those styles could fetch up to $40 for one teacup and saucer!] Then he asked me what I look for when I'm "purchasing" for my "collection". [Here I thought I was just buying purdy thangs.] I felt like I should say something intelligent, like "I check that the gilt edges are intact and that there are no markings." Instead, I answered honestly: "I just wait for them to call out to me."

Well, fancy that. I'm an antiques collector now, y'all.

"They Drink Tea" is a poem by Gary Snyder
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