A look at the design, market and legacy of Victorian pottery

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tempest in a Teapot

Strange how a teapot 
Can represent at the same time 
The comforts of solitude 

And the pleasures of company 
--Zen Haiku

One of the questions people ask me most often about Etruscan Majolica is the difference between the two known Shell teapot designs, the "Crooked Spout" and the "Straight Spout."

The truth of the matter is that there is no real way of knowing the maker's intention. My guess based on the available evidence is that the Straight Spout teapot was intended as a coffee pot and not just a variation on the teapot design.

We know that the Crooked Spout teapot is a true teapot because it is labeled as such in the company's 1884 catalog. It is the older of the two designs and is frequently found in Etruscan Ivory Ware. The success of the Shell line was completely unexpected by the company. As the popularity of the pattern grew so grew the number of pieces that were created for it. There is no reason to believe that production of the Crooked Spout teapot was ever curtailed. It is by far more common than the Straight Spout design. Because so many different specialty pieces were created for the Shell pattern I believe the Straight Spout coffee pot was created to round out the service.

To my eye, the Straight Spout is a cleaner, more modern looking design than the Crooked Spout and appears to be a refinement on the older design. It has always been my personal favorite of the two designs.
It does defy the usual Western convention of the coffee pot being larger than the teapot because it is slightly smaller than the Crooked Spout, but the truth is that most majolica was intended as dessert ware and the large line of Shell wares imply more than just ware for dessert use. 

The bottom line is that this is all conjecture but it is still fun to speculate.

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