An idea for inherited china

Since the 1880s, when a woman in my family has raised her children and finds herself getting along in years she has picked up a small paint brush and signed her full name and birth date to the bottom of her china’s tea cups and saucers. Then, as she sees fit, she distributes the tea cups and matching saucers to her family and friends.

My mother has a collection of seven tea cups and saucers on a shelf in her dining room’s china cabinet. As a child, I would ask about the tea cups and my mother would pull them out and tell me the stories of the people to whom they had belonged. Not all of the tea cups and saucers were signed, those had come from my paternal line where signing the china hadn’t been the tradition. My mother had collected the unsigned pieces from my father’s family members so that when she one day passes on the collection to me that I will have a set including pieces from more than her family.

It seems a bit cluttered to collect seven different tea cups and saucers to store on a shelf of a china cabinet, but in comparison to keeping seven complete sets of china it is quite uncluttered. Also, with the sentimentality of past generations being passed on in tea cups, it means that other, more clutter-prone objects, are eliminated guilt-free from the inheritance process.


This post was originally published in August 2007.

9 Comments for “An idea for inherited china”

  1. posted by Andrea D on

    I LOVE this idea. I’ve always preferred mismatched china, anyway. Everyday dishes can be simple and white, but for the special stuff, variety is the spice of life!

  2. posted by Michael on

    The delicate balance between preserving history and storing clutter is not an easy one.

  3. posted by Trish on

    What a lovely idea!

  4. posted by Anonymous on

    China pieces can be made into lovely silver or gold charm jewelry which can be passed down for generations (and more likely kept!). I wouldn’t recommend breaking highly sentimental or valuable china, but it is a nice alternative to keeping stashed away in boxes unseen.

  5. posted by Barbara on

    This is a fantastic idea! My siblings and I split up several sets of family china. I’m going to do this for these — by writing the names on them myself!

  6. posted by amiee on

    i have a lovely silver sugar bowl and creamer set that belonged to my great great aunt, who used to run a hotel. i use them right alongside my own china and a few odd cups from various lady relatives, too. i travel frequently for work and can’t wait until my next trip to southern spain or morocco, so that i can get my own tea set to split up and pass on later.

  7. posted by Swistle on

    What a great idea! I inherited the ENTIRE SETS of china from both of my grandparents, and I am so oppressed by them–but don’t feel like I can get rid of them, either, so they sit in boxes in the basement. A teacup would be WAY happier.

  8. posted by Noel Bruening on

    I inherited some china too. But it tested positive for lead. I kept only one decorative piece because of that. Lots of sets are not practical to use – they are rubbish.

  9. posted by grace on

    My family has also had the writing on the bottom of china. Only we do it on the serving dishes, cups, bowls, etc., everything. I have one bowl that states “Great-great aunt Loris to Great-aunt Addie”. Because I use everything and it gets washed I renew the writing when I see it wearing off. My favorite coffee cup is one my paternal grandmother got as a lagniappe for buying groceries in the ’40s.

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