The mystery of the bone china or porcelain violets pattern tea service

by Pat May
(Cornwall, UK)

Three embossed lines

Three embossed lines

Dear Peter

In the late 1970's my mother bought a very pretty bone china tea service. It had 12 cups and saucers, 12 plates and 2 bowls. There was a lovely little milk jug but sadly no tea pot. She had no idea who had made the tea service but it looked good and it sat nicely on her shelves alongside her big collection of Wedgwood.

The tea service had only cost her £5 but she was sure it was old. It had a pattern of violets on it but no maker's name.

The tea service was bought from a market stall in Surrey, UK. The person who sold it had no idea where the china had been made nor how old it was and neither did he care. He just wanted to make a sale and go home before the winter cold kicked in.

It had come from a house clearance and ended up on his stall amongst a lot of knick knacks and household goods. This was fortunate for my mother who knew how to snap up a bargain and she arrived home absolutely delighted with her find.

Then the search for the maker began. My mother searched all her reference books but nothing could be found. There was no internet to help her in those days and so in the end she gave up and enjoyed her china whether it was old and valuable or modern and cheap.

In 1994 my mother died and her large collection of china was passed down to me. Some of it I was able to display in my own home. I put some of the lovely Wedgewood in a cabinet but I just didn't have room for all of my mother's china as well as my collection of jugs and ornaments.
I did have a look at the china in the collection and identified some of it but the violets tea service remained a mystery.

I scoured the books for any clue as to who the maker could be. I didn't want to sell
it or give it away until I had found out something about it and so I did one of the worst things possible. I wrapped up the tea service and put it in the loft and there it has stayed for 20 years!

Last week my guilt got the better of me. I crawled into the loft and unwrapped it all again and with the benefit of the internet and the power of Google I was sure I'd find the maker in no time. I was wrong.

I looked at hundreds of images of bone china with violets on it and hundreds of images of impressed china marks but none look anything like the tea service I want to identify. It's a real mystery and I'm hoping someone somewhere can help to solve it.

To me the design looked as if it might be Victorian. It's certainly in the Victorian style but there are many tea services in the UK with similar designs. Some are simply modern copies and have little monetary value.

This tea service my mother thought may be quite old. It is made from a bone china that is so fine you can almost see through it if you hold it up to the light. It's also larger than most modern tea services. Usually you find only four or six place settings in a modern set.

As for the marks themselves. On the base of the saucers there are either three impressed lines or a reversed impressed tick or one impressed line. On the base of the bowls there is an impressed cross. There is nothing on the cups or the plates at all.

I've included a photograph of the three lines on the base of one of the saucers plus a picture of the whole of the base. There is also a photo of the saucer itself showing the violets pattern and also the cup and saucer from the set. There is nothing on the cup.

Can you help to solve the mystery of the violets tea service?

Best regards


Comments for The mystery of the bone china or porcelain violets pattern tea service

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Unmarked bone china or porcelain tea service?
by: Peter

Hi Pat

Interesting story, well told. Many thanks. You have initiated quite a lot of debating points in my head.

I tend to agree this has the styling compatible with the Victorian era. Larger cup, deeper saucer, fancy handle etc. Markings were less important then as a marketing tool and the catch-phrase "bone-china" had yet to be marketed as a luxury, desirable thing - although it had been around as a body since 1799.

The first question to answer is:-

Is this european (i.e. Germanic) or is it UK production?

As you say, it's fine, so it is either going to be bone china or porcelain.

If it is English it will be bone china. If porcelain, it will be German.

How do we tell the difference between bone china and porcelain?

It is mainly in the colour of the body. Bone china is distinctly more pure white in the body colour than porcelain. Porcelain looks very white until you compare it with bone china, then it can look somewhat greyer or blue/grey.

Here's what to do: Get hold of a tea cup made from normal English 20th century bone china (marked as such). Get the two items side by side and have a really good look at them all over.

Are they the same very pure white body colour?

If yours is not quite so pure white, it is German porcelain.

The other thing about German porcelain was at that time was that it was cheaper than UK production yet likely very well made. So even though we were quite nationalistic and wanted to buy English and not German (we weren't getting along too well) we were tempted, especially if there was no label identifying our treachery!

So have a look, report back and we'll go from there.

Best regards

Peter (admin)

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