Large armorial porcelain sets commissioned from China became increasingly fashionable among wealthy families in Britain and Europe at the turn of the 18th century. Coats of arms, crests and inscriptions were drawn in detail and then taken to Canton via East India Company trading ships. Chinese merchants then had the porcelain manufactured, handpainted in imitation of Western ornament, and sent back to the patrons. Mistakes were often made as the Chinese decorators worked from written English instructions. Commissions such as these were notoriously difficult and could take up to several years to be completed, but remained a fashionable means to display wealth and status at the dinner or tea table throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries.
The combs on the tea bowls and saucers are depicted armorially when there is a connection to the carding of sheep’s wool, a technique used in the production of woollen threads. The owner who commissioned this set remains unidentified, although they have been attributed to the Ponsonby family or the Tuntsall family who both use the comb in their coat of arms.