As an avid collector of anything Oriental when I had the opportunity to pick up a unique Tea set for a meager $10 I grabbed it. We have a huge Street sale that goes on in our city near the end of May each year and last May I came across a lady who had a clay tea set on display. I had just passed up two gorgeous Ming Lions a few houses before and decided that I would not pass up on this set. It was completely intact, actually had never been used and was still carefully wrapped in the papers and case in which it had been purchased.
While investigating them in order to review them I came across a number of facts that point directly to the indication that the teapot set I now own is a Yixing set - these teapot sets are known for being highly collectible - and have been part of upper class and Royalty collections for many years and there are a number of avid collectors .
The set that I now own is completely hand made - one sign that you have acquired an original Yixing teapot or set is the unique markings that some of the tools make in the clay. The set I own is considered a "Purple" set made from dark brown clay from the Yixing area outside of Shanghai and crafted by artisans who take great pride in their craftsmanship.
The making of a Yixing tea set takes awhile - usually the clay is taken from the earth and left to sit for at least a year and then is hammered into a fine powder. Once the artisan receives the clay he then processes it for 2 days before it is considered ready to be crafted into pots and cups. In this particular set you can see fine ridges where tools have hand shaped the clay and inside the teapot itself the "filter" has been hand designed as well.
I have no idea whether or not this particular set has any value to it but I have been searching out the various Yixing pottery and so far have discovered that the $10 deal I got was an exceptional one. Tea pots alone are sold for anywhere from $10 to upwards of $3, 000 and one Yixing teapot was recently sold at auction for $70, 000 - handcrafted in 1955.
Yixing clay is known for its exceptional ability to absorb the flavor of the tea and thus Yixing collectors are avid in purchasing one teapot per one type of tea. Although I've not used mine to brew tea yet, the process is as diligent as the making of the pots are - first time use requires you to brew two very strong pots of tea which will be thrown away (not drunk) as it is believed the first two pots are not drinkable. By the third pot the teapot has begun to "season" and as the pot is used it takes on a patina (aging) that makes these pots more collectible as they age.
Yixing teapots have been around since the Sung Dynasty (960-1279) but they didn't become known widely until the Ming Dynasty and not until the late 1600's. Yixing clay comes from the Jiangsu province, the only area in which this particular clay can be found. The most sought after pots are made from the dark brown (Purple) clay although they are also available in a lighter brown and a red (the red takes on that color after firing). The pots are fired in "Dragon Ovens" which get their name because at night you can see these ovens in use appearing like fire breathing dragons hugging the mountains. The Yixing clay gives the teapot and cups a heavier feel to them than those that you might purchase from a "production" house and the exquisite detail and craftsmanship is evident throughout.
The set I have consists of a teapot, sugar bowl (I believe), both with lids, and 7 little cups each with their own saucer. Each piece is marked with a Chop which signifies the name of the artisan I believe - but I've not translated the markings yet. Each of the tops also has a small Chop inside the lid.
I love collecting Oriental items and in particular I love when I learn the history of the piece I've come to possess. When I first purchased these I had no idea that they had any history at all - but now I am pretty certain that I have become unknowingly a collector of these unique and finely crafted teapots and sets that many consider some of the finest tea sets available. I'm very proud to have them in my vast group of collectibles regardless of what they may be worth because for me, they are simply a beautiful indication of the quality and dedication a fine artisan had for his/her work and I find that a far more valuable reason to cherish these than for the dollar value alone.