Antiques Column with Michael Dowse
It is a sad fact, even in our retro loving world and even though a slight increase is perceptible, that a large percentage of tea services from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries have limited value.
The service which upsets many with its lack of value is the one with gilded outlines which is inscribed "genuine 22ct gold". Sadly this cannot be scraped off and "weighed in" for scrap to give the service at least some value.
The gold used to decorate ceramics is always 22ct and it is applied by mixing and heating. One of the earliest forms was honey and gold, ground together and painted onto the article.
When fired at a low temperature the result was thick and rich and could be tooled. By the 1770's mercury gilding was taking over which led to a much thinner, more delicate result.
Had there been an enthusiastic health and safety department operating in the 18th century they would have been very busy investigating unexplained deaths of kiln workers resulting from the poisonous nature of the mercury used in the gilding process.
The other tea service which upsets people with its lack of value is the late Victorian printed and painted service.
These have all been owned by a "great great" relative and are often complete,8 because they were rarely used. The reason they are worth so little is that every home had one and now few homes want one.
With the resurgence of the "cup-cake" and an ever growing interest in baking and decorating cakes, cups, saucers and tea services are making a little bit of a comeback.
Perhaps now is the time to start buying them again.