As a fan of the fine English tradition of afternoon tea, you have likely invested in a beautiful tea set to host friends and family properly. However, a gorgeous tea set deserves an equally stunning display to showcase its beauty when not used to serve scones, finger sandwiches, and petit fours. An attractive presentation elevates a tea set from a utilitarian kitchen item to an objet d’art and allows you to highlight some of your most prized possessions as a collector. If you need inspiration for artfully exhibiting your afternoon tea set, here are some ideas to get you started. With the right combination of design elements, you can create an eye-catching vignette that spotlights each lovely detail of your set and enables you to share your passion for tea with all who visit.
What Exactly Is an Afternoon Tea Set?
An afternoon tea set refers to a collection of dishes used to serve afternoon tea, a light meal typically taken between 3 pm to 5 pm. A traditional set includes:
- Teapot: Holds the brewed tea. They are usually made of porcelain, ceramic, or silver.
- Teacups and saucers: The cups hold the tea while the saucers catch any drips. A standard set contains cups and saucers for each guest.
- Creamer and sugar bowl: Used to add cream and sugar to taste. It may be included in the set or provided separately.
- Tiered cake stands Display plates at different heights to hold savories like tea sandwiches, scones, pastries, and other bite-sized delicacies.
- Serving utensils: Small spoons, forks, knives, and tongs are used to place items on plates and serve guests.
An afternoon tea set allows you to serve the light fare associated with afternoon tea elegantly and adequately. Curating a collection of matching or complimentary pieces creates an attractive display that enhances the overall experience. You can find high-quality sets from renowned brands like Wedgwood, Royal Albert, and Royal Doulton, with prices ranging from under $100 to $10,000 or more for fine bone china sets.
To display your set, choose a spot with ample visibility and appreciation, such as a china cabinet, sideboard, or dining room table. Arrange the pieces attractively on a lace tablecloth or placemats. You can also group items on a multi-level cake stand for a dramatic presentation. With the proper care and handling, a fine afternoon tea set can become a cherished family heirloom, passed down for generations.
How Much Are Antique and Vintage Tea Sets Worth?
As a tea lover, displaying your antique or vintage tea set is a beautiful way to showcase your collection and add charm to your home. However, before displaying your set, it is essential to determine its potential value. Some factors that determine how much an antique or vintage tea set is worth include:
- Age and condition. Typically, the older the set and the better condition it is in, the higher the value. Sets from the 1700s through the early 1900s are considered highly collectible. Look for any damage like cracks, chips, or repairs that can impact value.
- Maker or manufacturer. Well-known manufacturers like Royal Doulton, Wedgwood, Limoges, and Meissen are highly prized. The maker’s mark should be visible to help determine the set’s origin and authenticity.
- Materials. Sets made of porcelain, bone china, or sterling silver are usually worth more than pottery or silver plates. Hand-painted or intricately decorated sets also tend to be more valuable.
- Several pieces. A complete set with all original pieces like plates, saucers, teapots, creamer, and sugar bowl will be worth more than an incomplete set or one with replacement pieces.
- Pattern and design. Unique, intricate patterns, especially those that reflect a historical period’s styles, tend to drive up value. Floral designs and gold accents are also typically seen in higher-end sets.
By evaluating these factors, you can determine an estimated value range for your tea set before displaying it prominently in your home. An antique or vintage set, if complete and in excellent condition, may be worth obtaining an official appraisal to understand its monetary value and ensure proper insurance coverage. With the right care and display, a tea set can become a cherished heirloom to pass down for generations.
Creative Ways to Display Your Tea Set
Curate a Display
To showcase your treasured tea set, curate an artful display. Group pieces together on a tabletop, mantle, or shelf for an attractive vignette. Include decorative accents like lace doilies, vintage books, candlesticks, or bud vases to complement your set. Displaying a full tea service – teapot, creamer, sugar bowl, cups, and saucers – creates an eye-catching centerpiece.
Use a China Cabinet
A china cabinet, hutch, or breakfront is ideal for protecting and presenting your tea set. Place pieces on different levels to create a tiered display. Include lighting, like LED strip lights, to illuminate your collection. Label each item with its pattern name and other details for an educational exhibit. Rotate which pieces are on view to prevent overexposure to light.
Create a Shadow Box
For a unique shadow box display, arrange pieces from your tea set within a deep frame and include informational plaques. Choose a frame that complements your set’s color and style. Place a liner or fabric inside the frame to enhance the display. This framed showcase can be hung on a wall for a decorative accent in your home.
Use wall space for an eye-catching vertical display—place pieces on wall-mounted shelves, available in various styles. Stagger items on the shelves at varying heights for the most visual interest. You can also group pieces in wall cubbies or niches. Include spotlights to highlight your collection. For smaller sets, framed shadow boxes, wire racks, or pegboards mounted to the wall provide simple display options.
A carefully curated display of your cherished tea set makes a stylish decorative accent and helps preserve these treasures for generations. With so many options available, you can find a solution to suit your home’s aesthetic and your collection’s needs. Showcasing your set also allows you to share your passion for the tradition of afternoon tea with guests elegantly.
How to Properly Use and Enjoy Your Afternoon Tea Set
Selecting and Arranging Your Tea Set
Choosing an afternoon tea set involves considering the material, pattern, and number of pieces. Popular options include:
- Bone china – Delicate, translucent and high-quality. Requires gentle handling.
- Porcelain – Durable and decorative. Withstands high temperatures well.
- Ceramic – Affordable and dishwasher-safe but may chip more easily.
For display, group pieces together on a tray, in a china cabinet, or on decorative cake stands at varying heights. Include accessories like a teapot, creamer, sugar bowl, cups and saucers. Arrange symmetrically and by color and pattern for visual appeal.
Brewing and Serving Tea
To properly serve tea, follow these steps:
- Bring cold water to a boil, then let cool slightly. The optimal temperature depends on the tea type. Black teas require boiling water, while green and herbal teas need water between 165 to 185 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Add loose-leaf tea or tea bags to the teapot. Use approximately one teaspoon of loose-leaf tea per cup of water. Allow the tea to steep in the pot for 3 to 5 minutes, based on how strong you prefer the flavor.
- Pour the tea through a strainer into cups. Do not overfill cups, leaving room for milk and sugar.
- Offer accompaniments in containers like sugar cubes, lemon wedges, cinnamon sticks, or flavored syrups. Provide tongs, spoons, and a minor pitcher of milk or cream.
- Once tea has been served, used tea leaves or bags should be discarded. Rinse the teapot with hot water to prevent bitterness for subsequent use. Allow all pieces to air dry thoroughly to prevent water spots.
- Following the proper techniques for selecting, preparing, and serving an afternoon tea set will allow you and your guests to enjoy this refined experience and timeless tradition. Savor the ambiance, flavors, and aromas of a perfect cup of tea.
Where to Buy an Afternoon Tea Set in the U.S.
Antique Stores and Estate Sales
Antique stores and estate sales are excellent places to find vintage afternoon tea sets. Many stores specialized in china, silver, and linens from the 18th to 20th centuries when afternoon tea was most popular. Sets from renowned brands like Royal Albert, Wedgwood, and Spode are prized finds. Expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a complete set in good condition. Some antique dealers also offer repair and restoration services to fix chips or cracks. Check listings on websites like Ruby Lane, Etsy, and Chairish to find stores near you.
Online Auctions and Marketplaces
Websites like eBay, Craigslist, and Facebook Marketplace frequently have afternoon tea sets for sale from private sellers and small businesses. Prices will vary depending on the brand, age, condition, and number of pieces in the set. Look for listings with photos of all items to assess quality and get the complete set. Ask the seller about any damage or repairs to avoid disappointment. Meet in person to view and pick up the set. Otherwise, buy from sellers with excellent reviews and clear return policies.
Major department stores like Macy’s, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus sell modern afternoon tea sets. Brands such as Kate Spade, Vera Wang, and Teasetbox offer sets ranging from $50 to $500. These sets make lovely gifts and are more affordable and readily available than antiques. However, the quality and craftsmanship may differ from that of vintage sets. For the budget-conscious, stores like T.J. Maxx, HomeGoods, and Marshalls also frequently stock discounted tea sets, often under $100. Check them regularly for the best deals.
In addition to the major department stores’ websites, specialty retailers like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, and Anthropologie are beautiful resources for buying an afternoon tea set online. They offer a variety of contemporary and classic styles at multiple price points. Free shipping and returns make it easy to order several options to view in person before deciding. Watch for sales and coupon codes around significant holidays for the best prices.
As an afternoon tea enthusiast, you have likely invested in a lovely tea set to use and enjoy. Why not also showcase your set when not in use for an attractive display that highlights your passion for the tradition? You can create an eye-catching vignette that sparks joy and conversation by following a few simple tips for showcasing your tea set. Place your set on a decorative tray, riser, or pedestal to elevate it—group pieces together in a visually balanced composition. Include complementary accents like fresh flowers, linens, candles, or books. Rotate which pieces you highlight to keep things interesting. Most of all, be proud of your afternoon tea set and allow its beauty to shine in your display. Your love of tea and the tradition of afternoon tea will be evident to all who view it.