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The origin of the humble teapot is clouded in mystery. The most common theory is that either the teapot design was borrowed from the Islamic coffee pots or the globular Chinese wine vessels of the mid 1600s.
Historically, the European teapots were made of a heavy cast with short, straight, replaceable spouts unlike their Chinese counterparts, which were similar to the wine pourer. There were also octagonal & melon shaped teapots as well as plant or animal shaped teapots. However, Europe at this time did not have the porcelain technology to produce a quality teapot.
The East India Company started directly commissioning Chinese artists and craftsmen, using patterns sent from England. These designs fell into four main areas: mock-ups of Oriental designs, designs adapted from European prints, armorials and innovative designs
The production of teapots began in full swing in Europe in the early 18th century when imperial craftsmen found that the clay near Meissen, Germany, produced porcelain that could be compared to the most outstanding Chinese porcelain. They therefore started using it to make teapots. The Baroque and Rococo designs were also adapted into porcelain along with some pear shaped designs. Interestingly, at this time spouts of the teapots were shaped as dragons and handles were elaborately engraved with scrolls and similar designs.
The 1730s saw the introduction of silver teapots. The globular teapots were phased out and the straight-sided silver teapots became the rage. The 1770s saw another innovation. This was the arrival of the oval teapot. This was followed by footed teapots, which were manufactured to protect tabletops from being scarred by heat.
The 19th century teapot designs reflected every major trend in Victorian art and craft styles including Renaissance, Gothic, Chinese, Moorish and Japanese. The 20 th century designs returned to simpler forms and functionality became important. However, in between there were periods when imagination took wings.
For instance, there was a period in 1920s when square-shaped “cube teapots” were introduced. Then came teapots that were shaped like racing cars, railroad engines, airplanes, and even tanks. This happened during the 1930s. Fortunately there was not much innovation after that though the 1970s witnessed the return of teapots shaped like animals.
Even today teapots continue to come in different shapes and sizes. But their basic function remains the same: to pour tea in cups placed in a tray or on a table.