When assessing an antique tea cup you can glean a lot of information about it by researching the markings that are stamped, impressed or painted on the underside of the items. To do this you'll need a few antique tea cup books, and Internet access. According to Mike Wilcox of Wilcox and Hall Appraisers, experienced antique appraisers can see much more about a teacup by its marking than just the manufacturer. Experienced appraisers look for specific historical reference points in the markings they have learned throughout their career. But numerous antique tea cup appraisal books are available to help less experienced collectors.
Assessing Antique Tea Cups
Sort, count and match up the pieces you have acquired. A box found in Grandma's attic may include entire tea sets, or single cup and saucer sets. It's fairly easy to match up cups and saucers by their design, but this can be tricky if Grandma collected tea cups made by one specific maker, such as Wedgewood; or if the entire collection represents one specific style, like Depression glass. You may find some items with your tea cups that are not immediately identifiable. This is because antique tea cups were around before tea bags. Tea drinkers of the past used a variety little devices and tools used to prepare their tea; items known as teaware. Don't discard any possible teaware item you find, because teaware has its own special value among collectors.
Clean and catalogue your antique tea cups. Hand wash them gently with a soft cloth using mild dish detergent and warm water. Do not put them in the dishwasher! Use a soft cloth to dry them. As they dry, you can develop a catalogue for the tea cups using a notebook or on your computer. Good antique assessment requires good record keeping. This is essential if you're assessing a very large collection, so you won't get confused and research the same cup more than once. Your spreadsheet columns may read likethis:
Cup # Manufacturer Approximate Year History Cost
You may find some tea cups have memorable stories, photographs or other important details which make them more valuable. For example, a photo of your grandmother drinking tea with a past president using these tea cups would make them extremely valuable.
Research the mark on the bottom of the pieces to determine their approximate age and maker. Mike Wilcox of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers gives the following rules of thumb: Small hand-written marks tend to be used before the 1800s. Printed or stamped marks in colors other than blue tend to be post 1850. The use of the word "royal" before the company name was typically used after 1850. The use of the term "LTD" or " Limited" appear mostly after 1860. The term "Trademark" is used after 1862. The use of registration numbers such as "Rd No.10057" started in 1884.
Cross reference the markings on the china to your books for information about maker and current value. Sometimes you may need to visit a library or antique store to learn more about a mysterious cup sans markings, but that's all part of the fun.
Never put antique tea cups in your microwave. Gold and leads used in paint will damage it.
- series object on white - Tea cup image by Aleksandr Ugorenkov from Fotolia.com