What Can a Vintage Imported Teapot Tell Us?

Give my husband some old milk bottle and he’ll spend hours looking up its history. It’s amazing what interesting—albeit esoteric—information you can dig up online. Except when I tried searching for info on this teapot that once belonged to my grandmother.

trimont teapot

I found a lot of these posted on eBay, all of them called “vintage” and one dated to 1974. The mid-1970s seems awfully recent but it doesn’t take much to be classified as vintage:

  • vintage—at least 15, or 20, or 40 years old (lots of wiggle room here)
  • true vintage—at least 50 years old
  • antique—at least 100 years old; alternately, objects that are at least 100 years old and “that are interesting or valuable enough to be worth collecting and are no longer made—at least in their traditional form” (Mountfield 1974).
  • antiquity or artifact—at least 300 years old

However, the definition of vintage, apart from the wine references, is “the time that something of quality was produced.” That’s really nice if you own something that’s vintage and you’d like it to hold some value. But “something of quality” is subjective. And while this teapot is pretty, its marketplace value is quite low.

There is a sticker on the bottom of the pot, so I know it was made or imported by Trimont Ware, Japan.

trimont label

“Trimont” didn’t bring up any other information, and with libraries closed for perusing and interlibrary loan currently unavailable, it’s difficult to do much research.

I did, however, find this:

From 1952 on most imports have a Made in Japan sticker rather than a backstamp on the item itself. (Audet)

Up until 1941, items were backstamped, not stickered; during World War II, there were no imports into the U.S. from Japan; and from 1945 until 1952, “occupied Japan” was part of the backstamp.

The sticker thus dates this teapot no earlier than the 1950s, a time when Japan began exporting large quantities of ceramics—many of them of apparently poor quality—to the concern of small American potteries who struggled to compete (Vincent 2018). But the U.S. and Japanese governments “focused on remedying Japan’s ever-expanding trade deficit and integrating Japan into the Western trading bloc” (Forsberg 2000). Entire books have been written about economic policy so I’m not wading into all that, but as with most things, everything intertwines and decisions have ever-rippling effects, some foreseen and desired, others perhaps unintended. 

And the American pottery industry had long suffered. The advent of mass production had changed so many things. Yes, more items could be made more quickly and cheaply, allowing more people access to things they couldn’t earlier afford. But if you were an artisan, it upended your industry. On top of that, at least for the pottery industry, competing glass and tin products soon proliferated; the first World War and Great Depression reduced demand yet more, with companies depending on sales of earthen flowerpots to survive. 

Still, the American economy boomed after World War Two, and the 1950s swept in what we now call the mid-century modern aesthetic—sleek, clean lines, uncluttered—beautifully exemplified by this European-made teapot.

mid-c modern teapot

In comparison, the Trimont teapot seems quite quaint and old-fashioned with its ruffled rim and foot, detailed handle and finial, and gilding. Also, its overall style is akin to a traditional western-style teapot, intended for the American (and European?) consumer, not for use at home in Japan.

But where and how did this fit in with the aims of the Japanese producer and exporter when a different aesthetic was taking over much of the western world? Were they simply appealing to those consumers who wanted a traditional look and little cared about current design trends? Was there even enough demand for that?

trimont teapot-back

On the other hand, if this teapot design does indeed date only to the 1970s, the flower motif, particularly on the lid, does resemble that era’s popular designs:

trimont teapot lid

1970s design elements, etsy

But its overall design evokes absolutely nothing of the funky and exuberant seventies! Again, the producer might be targeting western consumers who cared little for current trends, or who believed that “tea” and its ritual are traditional and best made in a traditional pot. One that imitates an earlier era.

Maybe that was grounding, solid, familiar, at a time when so many aspects of American culture and society were changing. Clinging to traditional design perhaps was a stand against minimalism and also the riot of color and bold design that characterized the 1950s–1970s. Against change in an uncertain world.

In the end, whatever its style represents within the matrix of the mid-twentieth century, I think that the teapot’s hand painted elements and overall graceful design are quite charming. The pot also remains an enigma to me at this point, although I’m sure that, somewhere, there’s information about Trimont Ware and its strategy for the U.S. market.

But finally, the teapot has value simply because it was once my grandmother’s.

trimont teapot detail

See related post: Mid-century Modern Teapot Still Appeals

Sources:
–Audet, M., “Antique Japanese teacups,” Love to Know, accessed 2/15/21.
–Forsberg, A., America and the Japanese Miracle, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2000.
–Mountfield, D., comp., The Antique Collectors’ Illustrated Dictionary, Hamlyn Publishing, New York, 1974.
Reference for Business, “Pottery products,” accessed 2/16/21.
–Vincent, S., “‘A bull in our china shop’: Japanese imports and the American pottery industry,” Enterprise & Society 19(2): abstract, 2018. 

4 thoughts on “What Can a Vintage Imported Teapot Tell Us?

    1. Thank you! I am really appreciative of how much can be found online! How do you tackle your research? Mainly online or do you use more written sources? I wish more research articles were available to the general public online.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I live away from a major city there is a lack of paper based material that I can easily access so most of my current research is carried out online. I realise that there is so much more out there though so I’m missing out on a lot!!!

        Liked by 1 person

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