Tea Services

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.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items you’re thinking about offering items in auction or you simply would like a valuation, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website


The demand for wares from many porcelain factories has taken something of a downturn in recent times, but many of the products emanating from the doors of the Shelley factory have always kept their appeal.

The Shelley factory, established in 1872, was first known as Wileman & Co., then as Foley and as Shelley from 1925, becoming Shelley Potteries Ltd. in 1929 and finally Shelley China Ltd. in 1965. Shelley, under the direction of Art Director, Frederick Rhead, produced a number of hand painted earthenware grotesques, animals and Toby jugs in the 1890s which were deliberately made to look ugly. These achieved great success, but it was not until the 1920s that Shelley pieces achieved their ultimate success. Their high quality Art Deco tableware became famous with the help of a national advertising campaign.

After the Art Deco success came the figures of fairies and other characters, as well as nursery wares based on the illustrations of Mabel Lucie Attwell.

Shelley pieces are always popular in auctions and the two main collecting areas are the Art Deco tea wares and the Mabel Lucie Attwell related pieces, which tend to represent children, the clergy and golfers.

Although Shelley figures are amongst the strangest ever produced they are still very collectable. The most interest tends to be in the chubby cheeked child studies accompanied by fairy folk. Many of these are modelled riding a variety of animals and birds, or standing on toadstools, sometimes with the addition of rabbits.

Senior Valuer Michael Dowse

For more information or if you have similar items, please get in touch with us, full details can be found on our company website