Practical Anthropology

It’s been asked a million times about a million things when studying the past.  Why did they do it that way?  What were they thinking?

When it comes to 17th –18th century Western European tea, coffee and chocolate pots (as it so often does) why did only the teapots have long spouts?  Only the coffee pots have elongated bodies?  Only the chocolate pots have a pinched spout like a pitcher?  Perhaps the safest answer would be ‘you just had to have been there.’

But there are other interpretations.  Chocolate was a thick liquid compared to coffee and tea.  It simply didn’t pour well from a long skinny spout.  Coffee used a substantial amount of grounds to brew.  The pot’s body had to compensate for that.  And of course tea only required a strainer to decant the thin liquid.  Here there was much more liberty of form.

Great.  So why did Western European chocolate mugs sport handles long before coffee or tea cups?  We know this in large part through research on the excavated remains of the VOC Geldermarlsen which sank in the straights of Malacca on January 3, 1752 on it’s return voyage to The Netherlands from Canton, China.  Cross referenced invoices back in Rotterdam clearly specified handled chocolate mugs decades before handles appeared on tea or coffee cups.

The answer?  Maybe chocolate (unlike tea, anyway) was understood to be drunk hot.  Maybe tea and coffee were destined more for public houses where bowls were (at least initially) commonly passed around.  Maybe everything could have had handles – or not – and further inference shouldn’t be extrapolated from one smashed up old ship.

Or maybe it’s just best to stick with ‘you had to have been there.’  The debate rages on.

Readings:

The Geldermalsen, History and Porcelain.  CJA Jörg.  Kemper Publishers/Groningen, The Netherlands.  1986.

 

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One Response to “Practical Anthropology”

  1. Sue Says:

    I have often pondered on the differences of the pots form for ea. use.
    Form dictates function is the number one rule isn’t it?
    Enjoyed the post.

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