Miniature Enamelled Teapot & Three Tea Cups for an Ancestral Altar
China for the Southeast Asian Chinese Market
height of teapot: 8cm, diameter of teacup: 4.5cm, height of teacup: 2.8cm
This miniature teapot and three teacups are too small to be used conventionally. It is most likely that they were intended to have a symbolic or ritual purpose. Possibly they were for use on an altar in a Southeast Asian Chinese family home – probably among the Chinese of Thailand – to serve wine to the ancestors. Or, the items were used in the symbolic tea ceremony that is part of the wedding of particularly Hokkien Chinese in Southeast Asia where by the bride symbolically serves tea to her parents-in-law using a miniature tea set.
The items are made of enamelled copper, and most probably were produced in Canton (Gungzhou) in the 19th century. The ‘business’ and bright colours of the enamel designs reflects Thai tastes, and enamelled copperwares were imported to Thailand (Siam) from China in the 19th century.
The three teacups are similar but are not a precise match. The enamel on the teapot has some cracking and chipping. The items represent interesting study pieces. We have not seen such a small enamel copperware teapot before.
Habu, A. & D. Rooney (ed.), Royal Porcelain from Siam: Unpacking the Ring Collection, Hermes Publishing, 2013.
Treasures of Two Nations: Thai Royal Gifts to the United States of America, Smithsonian Institution, 1997.
UK art market
Inventory no.: 3531