Tucked a block away from the main thoroughfare in Leura, Bygone Beauties is the home of the world’s largest private teapot collection. The collection spans over 5 centuries with teapots from all over the world and they have been predominately collected within Australia. The teapot collection commenced in 1974 when a geisha girl teapot was spotted by Ronald Hooper, a previous joint owner of the museum.
The museum reflects and preserves the diversity of tea drinking in Australia. The scope of the collection gives an indication of how wide-reaching the tea drinking culture extends around the world, with samples of teapots from Australia, America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The materials used in the making of teapots includes china, fine porcelain, silver and cast iron, to name a just a few.
A wide selection of teas is on offer in the tea room, along with morning and afternoon teas, traditional high tea and champagne high tea. There are light meals and refreshments, and the specialised teas can be purchased along with all sorts of tea-related paraphernalia.
The tradition of drinking tea has been honoured for centuries. For millions of people, it has been an integral part of the fabric of daily life, providing structure to the day at set intervals, offering familiarity and comfort in times of need. The phrase ‘tea and sympathy’ comes to mind.
Thinking about the ritual of tea drinking reminds me of a tea tray set with a well-used teapot, covered with a hand-knitted cosy, surrounded by a milk jug, sugar bowl, tea cups, saucers, spoons and a tea strainer. The loose leaf tea had been measured into the warmed teapot. Then there was the pouring of tea and the requests for the weaker first cups rather than the more robust later cups of tea. There were everyday, serviceable cups and saucers, made of a heavier china to withstand regular washing as well as the fine bone china sets which were used for special occasions, exquisitely decorated with flowers and intricate patterns. I am still compelled to check the bottom of cups and saucers when I come across them to see where they were made.
It was a delight to look around the teapot museum and see the extensive range and variety of teapots, cups, canisters and even tea cosies on display. There were some tea sets in smaller cabinets, and the collection is grouped into various sections including geography, age, novelty and Australiana. Silver teapots are displayed along with Art Deco style teapots; teapots were also used for advertising and were popular as souvenirs. Children were given miniature tea sets and there are several on display. There were the sturdy Brown Betty teapots as well as fine china that was almost transparent in its delicacy. It was thirsty work and I needed a cuppa after taking it all in.
Do you have a tea-drinking ritual or memory?
[Photo: detail of one of the many exquisite tea sets in the museum]