I’m a little teapot, short and stout. Here is my handle, here is my spout. Well, some teapots aren’t as little, or as stout, and some are quite expensive. Tea is the most consumed beverage in the world, besides water, so there’s no wonder teapots gained so much popularity. Some simply prefer to dip their teabags in their cup and save some time, while others see teapots as a fancy and elegant way of serving tea. Making tea is the essential process that releases the taste and fragrance of tea leaves. Gong-Fu Cha, meaning “Tea with Great Skill,” is the Chinese traditional method of making tea in which the teapot is the key element. However, the teapot itself must be the right size, and be made from the appropriate material as to match the type of tea and the number of persons being served.
The Chinese are known for discovering and cultivating the tea leaves we all love so much. But they are also famous for all the traditions they have grown around tea and the way it is served. To this purpose, their love for teapots has given birth to spectacular works of art, rare ceramics covered in exquisite paintings or calligraphic engravings. It is believed that the first teapots appeared sometime during the Sung Dynasty or the Ming Dynasty, between the 10th and 14th centuries. What is sure, is that the first teapots were made from clay extracted from the Yixing region in China, the rarest and best clay on the planet.
For most people, any type of teapot will do. But true collectors and tea lovers know that antique items rivaling in beauty and elegance are the true expression of Chinese passion for tea and art. If you are looking for the best teapots in the world, look no further.
5. Chipped Wedgwood “No Stamp Act” Teapot: $130,000
During the Hansons auction held in April 2009, a rare chipped teapot with a colonial protest message fetched a stunning $130,000. Estimated to be dated from 1765, the lovely egg-shaped teapot in shades of orange features a message that was as topical then as it is today. The teapot was handcrafted by Josiah Wedgwood, a supporter of free trade in America, during the reign of King George III. Featuring the controversial message against the act that led to the Boston Tea Party, “No Stamp Act” and “Success to Trade in America,” it is a historical piece against the Stamp Act, the act that ultimately led to the American Revolution and proclamation of U.S. Independence. The five inch tall orange teapot was found by a Nottingham auctioneer and was put on display at the Hanson auction in 2009. Thanks to its great political and historical significance, the extremely rare teapot fetched 40 times more than the estimated price, and was purchased by an American collector.
4. Pair of Famille Rose Coral-Ground Teapots: $1.26 Million
Dating from the Imperial Qianlong Dynasty period, which reigned in China between 1736 and 1795, this extremely rare pair of Famille Rose Coral-Ground Teapots features landscapes painted in shades of blue and green by the most talented Qing painters. The porcelain vessels are fine works of art and valuable historical items which stand as proof to Emperor Qianlong’s admiration for European culture. With an unusual shape and decorations, a flattened oval body, each side with enameled floral scrolls and gilt foliate meanders, a scrolling handle, and a square-sectioned spout, the pair appears to be the only two alike in the world. The enchanting teapots feature the Imperial Qianlong seal mark under a transparent glaze, and were purchased by a private collector from Hong Kong during a Christie’s auction for $1.26 million.
3. Yixing Stoneware Teapot by Gu Jingzhou: $1.32 Million
Two stoneware teapots made by a Chinese master potter and artisan Gu Jingzhou fetched $1.32 million each in November 2013 during the Bonhams Hong Kong auction. Native to Yixing, Gu Jingzhou lived between 1915 and 1996, was named the “Great Master of Teapot Art, “ and earned the title of “Master of Chinese Industrial Arts.” The two simple, and yet very elegant teapots were handcrafted around 70 years ago from zisha clay, which is extracted from the Yixing region in the Jiangsu Province in Central China. Zisha clay is a type of non-refractory fire clay, the most coveted material among tea-makers, as it has the perfect porosity, enhancing the taste of the tea. There’s an overall better taste and aroma as compared to tea prepared in glass, porcelain, or glazed teapots. The two cylindrical stoneware teapots are reddish-brown in color, and are unglazed.
2. 1948 Yixing Zisha Teapot: $2 Million
This lovely 1948 purple clay teapot made by master ceramicist Gu Jingzhou, the most notable potter of 20th century China, fetched an astounding $2 million at the China Guardian auction in Beijing in May 2010. The teapot is made from a special clay that can only be found in Yixing, a region in China. Here, zisha clay comes in five natural colors, out of which purple is the rarest. What makes this type of clay unique is that it contains no lead, instead it contains numerous minerals that are considered healthy for tea drinkers, and which enhance the taste and fragrance of the tea inside. Yixing teapots are closely tied to ancient Chinese literature, a detail that attracts buyers and collectors, as Chinese poems are often engraved on these teapots. Each Yixing teapot should only be used for preparing one type of tea, because its pores store the essential tea oils inside the walls. The 1948 Yixing zisha teapot has a typical squat shape, with one handle and one spout, and features calligraphic engravings made by Wu Hufan, as well as bamboo carvings made by painter Jiang Handing.
1. Pair of Famille Rose Melon Teapots: $2.18 Million
This pair of 18th century “Melon” teapots sold for $2.18 million during the Bonhams auction at Glasgow in May 2011 to an anonymous Chinese collector. They set a new record for a piece of pottery. Looking as if ready to be transformed by Cinderella’s fairy godmother into a majestic carriage at any time, the two extremely rare teapots date from the early Qianlong period. Each with five lobes, quite a naturalistic form, a curving spout and handle, both enameled to simulate woodgrain, painted in pink and white plum blossoms, they are marked with the iron-red seal of the Qianlong Dynasty. Sold by a Scottish family, they fetched more than six times their estimated price, becoming the most expensive pair of teapots ever sold.
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