There has always been an interest in collecting antiques in general, and antique teapots in particular, as they often combine quality workmanship with investment value. Although there are a variety of ways to shop for antiques, including dedicated bricks and mortar shops, those looking for the widest choice and the best bargains are heading most often to eBay.
Points for Valuing Antique Teapots
Just as with any other product, there are always a few key points to consider.
Research the Market
A common piece of advice given when looking for antiques is only to buy items that are actually liked and are considered interesting, because then doing the research to understand what they are and what they are worth becomes a pleasure rather than a chore. Here are some key points which will help in identifying the best pieces amongst those for sale on eBay and judging their value.
Condition Is Crucial
Most antiques show signs of their age, particularly in the case of items such as teapots, which were used as functional household goods. In particular, it is expected that handles will look worn, indeed if they look too new, it is often a sign that a teapot is a modern reproduction (or has been restored). It is also common for ceramic teapots to show signs of chipping, small cracks and damaged glazing. On metal teapots (particularly silver), typical signs of household wear and tear include worn patches or discolouration, small dents, and loose hinges on lids. More significant damage, such as serious cracks or dents and missing spouts, lids, or handles is likely to have a negative impact on the value of an antique teapot. Sellers are obliged to mention any relevant details such as damage or restoration work, and professional sellers generally do so and provide clear photographs to assist interested parties in forming their own judgement on the condition of the item. Amateur sellers may lack this sort of professional knowledge so, if in doubt, use the eBay messaging system to ask for further information. Ideally, sellers should provide clear pictures of antique teapots in order to see the item from all angles, including from the bottom. This is another area in which professional (or experienced) sellers tend to differ from amateurs. Again, use the eBay messaging system to ask for more pictures and to advise sellers of features wanted to be seen, such as any markings on the base of the teapot.
Look for Relevant Markings
Many antique teapots have markings giving useful information about them, including their manufacturer and date of manufacture. Professional sellers are likely to interpret the information and provide pictures to support their description; however, private sellers may not understand the markings themselves and may simply provide pictures. Some private sellers on eBay may not understand the importance of the markings; in which case it might be best to contact them using eBay's messaging system to ask for the information.
Comparing Shape and Style
As a rule of thumb, in the 18th century, teapots were initially round and then developed into a more triangular shape, narrowing from top to bottom. By the late 18th Century, teapot sides had become straight, but by the early 19th Century, sides were becoming rounder and pots wider until they settled on the modern shape. That said, there are always exceptions to general rules: for example, the pear shape was briefly popular in 1730, and various fruit designs came in and out of favour throughout the 18th Century. Similarly, the older a teapot is, the smaller it is likely to be since tea was initially extremely expensive and therefore only available as a luxury for the rich; as the price dropped, it developed into a drink available to everyone, even those on low incomes, so teapots became larger.
Comparing Decoration and Material
The material should also be appropriate for the time, for example porcelain was invented in the early 18th century and popular until the 19th century when it was largely replaced by bone china. Silver teapots were invented in the 17th Century and were popular until the mid-18th Century. After this time not only were fewer silver teapots made, but it also became more common to use lower grades of silver or silver plate. Silver teapots should be hallmarked to indicate what percentage of the metal used is actually pure silver. The best-quality teapots are likely to be hallmarked .950 (95 per cent silver); but it is more common to see .925 (92.5 per cent silver) or even sometimes .835 (83.5 per cent silver). Silver plate is not hallmarked as such, however, it may be marked ENPS or EPBM. The decoration should be in keeping with the style of the period. The colours used on ceramic teapots should reflect the dyes and printing processes available at the time and the ageing process. Like new handles, colours which are unexpectedly bright may be a sign that a teapot is a modern reproduction (or has been badly restored).
Inspect the Holes Inside the Teapot
If they are perfectly round, the teapot is more likely to be modern (or a modern reproduction). In earlier teapots made by hand, they are likely to be imperfect.
Antiques and Reproduction Antiques on eBay
eBay has a distinct category for Antiques and a specific subcategory for Reproduction Antiques. As their name implies, reproduction antiques are modern pieces which are created in the style of pieces from a past age. It is perfectly legitimate to sell such items as long as they are clearly identified as reproductions. There are some sellers (particularly amateurs) who use categories incorrectly and so sometimes reproduction items are inappropriately listed in the category for genuine antiques (and vice versa), which is why buyers should read the description carefully and ensure that any confusion is resolved through the eBay messaging system before a bid is placed. It is also common for amateur sellers to list items on eBay in the category of Antiques because they believe them to be of a certain age but do not have the knowledge (or enthusiasm) to verify this. It is then down to the buyer to make an informed decision as to whether or not to bid. In these situations, sellers are encouraged to post clear pictures of the item so that the opportunity to examine it closely is given. Use eBay’s messaging system to ask the seller for any further information that is needed. In short, if a seller describes an item as being a genuine antique, then expect that it is just that, but if an item is described as being “believed to be” of a certain age, then use own judgement on this matter.
Finding Antique Teapots on eBay
Antique teapots can be found under various categories on eBay. Asian antique teapots are often listed under Antiques>Asian/Oriental Antiques>Tea pots/Sets, while silver antique teapots are usually listed under Antiques>Silver>Tea/Coffee Pots/Sets.. Many antique teapots are listed in the Pottery, Porcelain & Glass category. Either browse by period (under Date-Lined Ceramics) or look at celebrated manufacturers such as Wedgwood, Spode, Royal Worcester, Minton, and Denby. As this will bring up all items relating to that manufacturer, narrow down the results by using the search term "tea pot". Usefully, eBay allows to save searches and has the option of receiving an update when new listings are added which meet the search criteria.
Buying on eBay allows collectors the opportunity to purchase antique teapots from all over the world and know that they are protected from fraud by eBay's buyer protection policies. Since the history of the teapot is also the history of the domestic home, collecting them provides not only an investment, but also a glimpse into the past.