Thursday, March 20, 2008

Whistling Tea Cups

Some years ago, I inherited from my grandmother a tea set that my father had brought back from Korea. I am posting pictures of it because I have been trying for a while to get someone to identify it. I have no idea who made it, what the ideograms on the bottom mean, or what the name of the pattern is.

I know that my dad purchased it in Japan on his way back from Korea (that would make it some time in the mid-fifties). The china is white. The sauces are white with a coupe shape. (There is a small indentation at the bottom of the saucer which would make it sort-of a rim, but the overall shape is more bowl-like, so it looks more like what I am told is called a coupe shape.)

All of the pieces have gold around their rims; the cups have a bit of a baroque curlicue to the handle. Other than the gold around the rim and the base of the cups, the rim of the plates and service pieces, the only color comes from the pattern. Each plate has a plumb branch in bloom painted on it. The cups and service pieces have a branch painted on each side. The branch is painted in black, red, and pink. There are yellow and gold highlights on the blossoms. The branches are outlined in gold and there are small green veins in some of the branches.

The bottoms of the saucers and service pieces contain a rectangle in gold containing three Japanese ideograms.
(Though perhaps it is two… one above the other.) Below this on the saucers and the service pieces is the word (written in English) "Japan".) The number 569 appears on all the pieces. It is on the bottom of each of the tea cups, and below the word Japan on all the other pieces.

The strange part about the set is that the cups whistle. There is a tube of china built up along one side of the cup that runs along the outside to the bottom of the cup and terminates in a hole in the base of the outside of the cup. The idea is that the drinker, as they sip their tea, gets some tea from inside the cup and air that comes through the tube from the bottom of the cup. The air moving through the hole whistles. The tea moving across the top of the tube causes the whistle to break into irregular lengths. The result is it sounds vaguely like a chirping bird.

I would ask my dad for information on them, but my whole family knows how [shall we say “Creative”] dad can be while answering questions. Let’s just say (as I say in my disclaimer) that “Creative License” sounds better than “Lying.”

If you have any expertise in identifying china, I’d love to hear from you, please post a comment on this or email me.

Wherever you are today, I hope that your day is going well!

Don Bergquist – March 20, 2008 – Lakewood, Colorado, USA


Anonymous said...

hello don. do you still have the set? know where I can get one or get in touch with someone?

Don Bergquist said...

It is a cool set, isn’t it!? I didn’t actually “come across” this tea set in my travels. My Dad bought it for his mom (my grandma) when he was stationed abroad during the Korean War. It was because of my fascination with it when I was growing up that I inherited it.

I wish I knew where I could get more pieces for it! I’ve tried my sister’s favorite supplier for china (she was able to double our grandmother’s china set so that she now has service for 16 or some such nonsense) – I don’t want to do that, but I wouldn’t mind having a few matching service pieces.

As far as I know, anonymous reader, this set is pretty rare. I had thought of bringing it to the convention center a couple years ago when Antiques Road Show was taping here in Denver, but you know how it is… one thing happened after another and I never did make it down there.

If you should happen to find a source, AR, I would be grateful to hear about it. But I am sorry to report I cannot help you on this one.

Thanks again for reading and commenting!


Anonymous said...

My mother too recalls having such a tea set. But, she had to leave it behind when she fled from war. Not knowing how it looks like and only hearing stories she would tell, I thought I stumbled upon some whistling cups and bought it as a surprise. It turned out to my surprise that it wasn't the cups she remembered and what I got were whistling sake cups. Still, they're pretty unique and neat!! I' hope to come across a tea set like yours one day. One can always hope. Please post if you have any connections. :o)

Don Bergquist said...

Dear Anonymous Reader,

Oh, dear! That is sad.

Good luck on your search. If I come across a source, I will certainly let you know. I would appreciate it if you would share with me what you find as well.

Thanks and good hunting!


Elise said...

Thanks for the Photo, Beautiful Japanese Art,
There is this Art Gallery Yakimono in Paris, showing nice pieces.