By the late 18th and early 19th century, the falling cost of tea leaves enabled tea-drinking habits to trickle down the social scales, allowing designers and craftsmen to produce larger and more inventive tea wares. Anthropomorphised animals, fruit and vegetables all provided inspiration for original teaware forms with which to amuse guests.
This tea set is known as a tête-à-tête, or tea service for two people, and exemplifies the Victorian fashion for novelty objects. The set was produced by Minton, one of the largest and most innovative Victorian ceramic manufacturers whose technical advancements expanded the possibilities of style, form and ornament. The tea set still bears its original retailer’s paper label for Alfred B. Daniell, a successful ceramics and glass merchant on Wigmore Street, London. The set was assembled from several Minton pieces of various designs, comprising a lychee-form teapot, a gourd-form sugar bowl, a thistle-form milk jug and a pair of ‘berry’ cups with leaf-form saucers. These elaborate teawares would have been made either by pouring slip (liquid clay) into hollow moulds, or by pressing slabs of clay against a plaster ‘block mould’ to create the desired shape and surface texture.