The Greatest Retro Afternoon Tea Sets

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It was in the 1800s that tea drinking in Britain shifted from being a luxury reserved for the privileged few, to becoming a staple for commoners like you and I. Mass-produced pottery and porcelain from which to enjoy a brew was suddenly in demand... and thus, the tea set was born.

Nowadays, tea sets range from the sublime to the ridiculous. In fact, the most expensive ever sold at auction fetched over £500,000 in 2012 in London. That's one pricey cuppa. 

But fear not: You don't need a bulging wallet to snap up a retro classic, and what better excuse than a new tea set to invite your friends round for a natter... and a thick wedge of cake?

Best for Victorian Enthusiasts



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It seems even HRH The Queen likes a cuppa. The traditionally British ritual of afternoon tea first gained popularity in the 1800s after Queen Victoria 'borrowed' the idea from one of her friends, who'd taken to having cakes, biscuits and Darjeeling served in her dressing room to tide her over until dinner. After all, in those days there was no 4pm Twix fix from the office vending machine.

Vic started hosting her own tea parties and the pottery which became known as Royal Albert (after her beloved husband) even produced a commemorative tea set for her Diamond Jubilee. 

Give your tea party a regal edge by dipping into Royal Albert's archive of traditional floral designs, or get a similar but more modern look with a Cath Kidston and cup set. Serve your tea with Victoria Sponge and cucumber sandwiches – crusts off, remember: One is not a peasant.

Best for Post-Ironic Hipsters

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They're so bad, they're good; so ugly, they're chic; and so dreadfully past it, they're bang on trend. Tea sets shaped like vegetables may seem like an utterly bizarre idea, but it turns out they're not only a thing, they're also rather popular. 

Floridian ceramicist Dodie Thayer's vintage lettuce-shaped designs have become collectors' items after proving popular with the likes of socialites Wallis Simpson, Jackie Onassis and Brooke Astor.

For all-out ironic cool, we would suggest some ace bright green cabbage leaf bowls, a celery-shaped serving dish and assorted vegetable-shaped tableware. Bonus points if you find one with a smiling face. 

Tea served in these quirky sets is best enjoyed with a sense of humour, a cheeky wink – and a job lot of pink wafers!

Best for Patriotic Tea Lovers



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From stamps to coins, tea towels to biscuit tins, Royal wedding memorabilia is big business – none more so than commemorative tea sets. Who didn't have a slightly chipped and stained Charles and Diana mug knocking around in the '80s? Royal couples are traditionally invited to choose their own bone china dinner service – made by the likes of pottery aficionados Royal Doulton or Royal Crown Derby – as a wedding present, and you can seek out replicas of the real thing.

Or why not go full-on retro classic by making up a mismatched Royal set from cheaper items? Serve your cake on a Charles and Di teaplate, your nibbles in an Anne and Mark Phillips bowl, brew your tea in a Wills and Kate teapot, and drink your PG tips from Andrew and Fergie. For more tasteful designs (minus the retro-tastic photos), Emma Bridgewater has several. Sup your tea from these, and you'll have a guaranteed happy ever after. Ahem...

Best for an Art Deco Glamour Puss



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Channel the glamour of the Great Gatsby era with '20s-inspired tea sets on geometric designs and angular shapes. Being over-the-top is most definitely the order of the day and, if money is no object, go for the real thing with a bone china art deco set by Staffordshire-based company Shelley.

Or make up your own dazzling set fit for a party with cups, saucers, teapots and cake stands in black and gold, polished to within an inch of their life. More is more when it comes to '20s tea parties, so stock up on devilled eggs and grilled oysters, followed by dainty petit fours and sticky lemon gateaux. Oh, and a post-tea champagne cocktail, just for good measure.

Best for Mid-Century Modern Fans



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Keen to add a style-conscious twist to your tea party and set out your stall as the trendsetter on your street? Then a mid-century modern patterned tea set – a retro era that is uber-trendy right now – is the perfect way to serve up your brew.

Painter and designer Kathie Winkle produced more than 100 different sets in her trademark mid-century geometric patterns – some of which still lurk at the back of kitchen cupboards today. Or, for a more modern take on the mid-century style, cups and mugs in Orla Kiely's retro designs look super cool. Tea in these sets is best served after a classic '50s spread of bridge rolls and tinned peaches.

Best for the Accident-Prone



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From classic pale blue – that may remind you of school dinner plates – to those glorious retro shades of brown, avocado and yellow, melamine tea sets are mid-century vintage at its best. Bright, fun and far more durable than delicate bone china, plastic melamine tableware hit peak popularity in the '50s and '60s. Made in what were then considered to be hip and happening new shapes, they were sold on the promise of being unbreakable.

But eventually it was felt that they simply didn't have the kudos of ceramic tea sets and were cast aside like a bad smell. Among the best-known brands of this type are Melaware (stylish shapes) and Gaydon (cute pastel shades). Tea served in a set of these plastic fantastic retro sets is best enjoyed with a slice of classic pineapple upside-down cake – the Queen of retro desserts.

Best for Children of the '80s



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With her choice of eye-popping colours, bold designs and angry, angular shapes, American designer Dorothy Hafner's Flash tableware is a true '80s icon – with a price tag to match. If your budget doesn't stretch that far, why not serve your cuppa from another '80s classic? We're talking Star Wars and, in particular, either an R2-D2 or a BB-8 teapot (yes, they do exist!)

Bulk out your tea set with some more retro flashbacks, such as a Rubik's Cube, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or even a ghetto blaster. A robot and Gameboy-shaped mugs, Garfield plates and teaspoons, WWF napkins... Sets like this are crying out for '80s nibbles, so stock up on vol-au-vents, cheese and pineapple on sticks and a Viennetta if you're feeling fancy. 

Looking for More Fabulous Collectables?



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Check out these amazing vinyl treasures, and incredible gifts inspired by the Queen.
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