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Cups & Saucers

The nuanced nestle of a cup into its saucer is one of the simplest joys of an elegant porcelain place setting or ceramic coffee service. Though now a standard, the cup and saucer is a relatively recent creation, borne from innovation in coffee and tea drinking.

Early coffee and tea drinkers enjoyed their drink by somewhat different means. Tea drinkers typically opted for a bowl, which was very shallow in nature and was similar to today’s saucers, yet slightly deeper. Coffee was consumed from a small cylindrical cup made from metal, featuring a small handle on its side. Both methods proved problematic: the shallow tea bowl, small in part to compensate for the high cost of tea, proved easy to spill, and the coffee "cup" was often too hot to handle due to its metal exterior.

Fortunately, the rise of porcelain production in the late 18th and early 19th century led to the development of more ergonomically enjoyable drinking of both beverages with the creation of the cup and paired saucer. Added to this amplified ease of use was an ever-increasing level of elegance, with striking motifs and patterns incorporated to tie cups and saucers into larger coffee, tea, or dinner services.

Quick Facts

  • Early ceramic saucers were referred to as "coffee stands" in reference to the central depression in the saucer designed to hold the cup in place
  • The saucer increased in popularity at a slightly faster rate among tea drinkers, as it was essential not only for allowing one’s tea to cool but also in providing a place to rest a teaspoon
  • One of the most elegant tea services in recent years was a Meissen "Half-Figure" Service that appeared at a Bonham’s auction in 2012. Featuring, among other pieces, four double-handled beakers with matching saucers, the set sold for $819,360

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