Why Did They Ever Make This Tea Pot?

You cannot separate true utility and beauty, the two are connected. Some things have both...and some have neither teapot

Anyone from the UK will recognize this 1960s design of teapot. I remember first seeing them as a boy at a rest stop on the M6 motorway which runs from Birmingham to Glasgow through the northwest of England. We were struck by how modern they looked in gleaming stainless steel. Everything in the 1960s looked modern and at the time I thought it was great. As a 7 year old I was enthusiastic about it all, from concrete shopping malls through to 100% nylon shirts that always untucked themselves spontaneously because of the static they generated. We went out and bought one of these new teapots.

french-polishing-repair-heat-mark-frontThis design is still knocking about. I was reminded of them when I went for a cup of tea in a cafe in England and the milk was served in a jug of this design. The milk jug had exactly the same design flaw as I remember in every teapot like this - it was very difficult to pour without dribbling milk, or tea, onto the table. On this occasion, I  spilled milk onto the cafe table (I didn't cry over it in case you're wondering, although in my irritation I did mutter a few choice words to myself).

It was just like the pot we had at home all those years ago. There was rarely a clean line of liquid going from minimalistic-lip spout to cup. Usually there was a dribble as well that ran down the front of the pot to the base then and onto the table beneath. It didn't spill every time. Some could develop the knack of a clean pour. I can remember that some of my family (not me) developed this skill. However whenever I or my mum or one of my brothers poured, onto tablecloth and table it went. This was particularly troublesome in our family home years ago because we had a french polished dining table. This meant that wherever hot tea hit it, there was a clear white stain on the deep chestnut coloured table. French polishing is beautiful when pristine, but it is awkward to repair. So in the end my dad stripped the table and put a layer of more durable polyurethane varnish on it.

shirt_splatter_cprThe question that always comes to my mind when I think of these teapots is how did something that is so manifestly unsuited for its purpose, pouring tea, ever get to the stage of being mass produced? Didn't somebody along the way investigate whether or not it actually works before they put it on the market? Didn't somebody try to make a cup of tea with it first? There is a string of other artifacts that come into the same category for me. There is the design of cheap travel mug which no matter how hard you screw down the lid, even when brand new, always leaks and drips coffee onto your shirt when you tip it up. Then there is the automatic hand dryer that is set off by light sensor so your hands trip of the light sensor as long as they are in the stream of hot air so you get a swift, continous dry...or that's the theory; in fact the air jet goes on for a few seconds and then you have to trip the light sensor again to keep it going. The only problem is that your hand doesn't trip the light sensor while it is in the air jet, so you have to move it away to the right place in order to restart it. The drying process therefore become of annoying process of many five second bursts rather than being continuous and swift. And there is the toilet seat that stays up for precisely 11 seconds, just long enough so that you are confident it will stay up permanently and remove your stabalizing hand, and then when your not expecting it, falls back down again with a clatter (men will understand the annoyance of this one).

Going back to making to making tea in England, we used the the more traditional silver teapot that was supposed to be just for guests, because it poured perfecty. It had the traditional spout as we see in the following teapots, which are based on the 18th century English design.

Victorian antique teapot

Here we have utility and beauty. In the past it was assumed that you could not have one without the other. First of all, beauty was itself a utility in the sense that anything that participates in the divine beauty - and yes even a teapot can do that - raises the soul to God, which should always be consideration regardless of the primary use of what we design. Second, it was assumed that the most efficient design in terms of use was also the most beautiful. Gothic masons created beautiful cathedrals because this was an indication of the most structurally sound form (other things being equal - its not the only indication).

Well, that's my rant about teapots...I'm off for a cup of tea and a biscuit out on the patio, with elegant teapot. Next week I will discuss the aesthetics of biscuits...

In the mean time here's some elegant china:

teapot.limehouse.18thcentury teapot.wedgewood

Don't forget the Way of Beauty online courses www.Pontifex.University (go to the Catalog) for college credit, for continuing ed. units, or for audit. A formation through an encounter with a cultural heritage - for artists, architects, priests and seminarians, and all interested in contributing to the 'new epiphany of beauty'.