A Tea Addict's Journal

Mystery (tea) ware

February 21, 2011 · 25 Comments

In the spirit of misappropriating wares, I present the latest example:


I’m not entirely sure what this thing is.  I’m pretty sure I’m not using it right.  My guess is that it’s better for cups — putting, say, four small cups on it and then pouring tea into them would be what I think this can be used for, although for that purpose, this thing is slightly too small, unless the cups are tiny.

I tried using it like this yesterday, and it seems too precarious for the pot to sit so high.  It does hold a decent amount of tea underneath though, so that when I pour the wash over the pot, it does collect and go right in.  That’s almost certainly what the holes are for — some sort of liquid.  I just can’t quite figure out what’s supposed to go on top…

The mystery continues

Categories: Objects

25 responses so far ↓

  • David B // February 21, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Reply

    Does it have room for a tea light underneath. The candle will keep your cups and yixing warm. Just a guess…

  • gingko // February 21, 2011 at 11:30 pm | Reply

    This is so cute! Could it be a hand warmer (手炉)? But the top does look like it’s for some tea/dining ware to sit on it.

    • MarshalN // February 21, 2011 at 11:31 pm | Reply

      I thought about the hand warmer possibility, but I somehow don’t think it’d make a particularly good one — the lid is easily openable, which means that you’re one accident away from a really bad burn.

  • Hobbes // February 22, 2011 at 3:27 am | Reply

    How fun – there is an old television programme in England where one has to guess the function of an old object, from three competing descriptions (two of which are fiction).

    Your object looks rather like the Victorian incense-stick holders that one finds from time to time. The unusual depth and narrowness suggests that it is used for holding thin incense sticks upright and collecting their ash, rather than collecting a liquid. We may never know. 🙂



    • MarshalN // February 22, 2011 at 7:53 am | Reply

      It did occur to me that this can be an incense burner of some sort — although who in their right mind would burn four (or eight) sticks of incense?

      Then again, the fact that I got it from ebay perhaps means that I answered my own questions: foreigners.

      • Hobbes // February 23, 2011 at 12:53 am | Reply

        I just noticed that my wife has unpacked our incense burner and installed it in one of the lavatories – it has 8 clusters of 5 holes, for a total of 40 holes!

        Some incense burners are designed to have a small curled spiral of incense, or a small cone of incense, inserted inside their body, and the multiple holes (while being used to hold vertical sticks if necessary) offer ventilation, allowing the scent out.

        I am strongly convinced that your interesting device is an incense burner, given its dimensions… : )

        • MarshalN // February 23, 2011 at 1:01 am | Reply

          Ah, that makes sense. Mystery solved then!

          I find incense to be too much hassle, and I think it sometimes interferes more than anything else. However, many of my older wares were obviously used with incense in the house — I can sometimes smell them when I first receive them.

  • Petr Novák // February 22, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Reply

    I think I was made for MarchalN to hold his teapot:)

  • Kim // February 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Reply

    What about a kensui (=waste water basin)…some used for senchado ceremony used to have lids instead of the ones used in chanoyu…

  • Di // February 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Reply

    Does the picture painted on it give us any hints? I can’t really figure out what that’s about either. Oh well, who cares what it WAS used for as long as you can find some use for it now. 😀

    • MarshalN // February 22, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply

      The picture is pretty generic — some kids acting out a scene, or something like that. Pretty common in pieces from this period

  • Toki // February 22, 2011 at 11:15 pm | Reply

    A wine cups warmer? How many sets of holes are there together? 4 sets of 3 holes? Hot water setting in the deep tray warming cups setting on top? Such thick walls for a late Qing or RP period…

  • Action Jackson // February 23, 2011 at 3:49 am | Reply

    Is it a cricket box?
    I like this game 🙂

  • Wilson // February 23, 2011 at 6:49 am | Reply

    This is a cricket container used to keep a live cricket. Owners will keep the cricket in thhis container and bring the cricket for battle with other crickets.

    • MarshalN // February 23, 2011 at 10:26 am | Reply

      Funny two of you should say cricket box at about the same time — that was my other suspicion, although if it is — it wouldn’t be a box meant for taking out very much. Too clunky for that, I think…

  • The_E // February 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Reply

    I believe Wilson is right. I think I remember seeing one of these on ebay being described as a cricket box although that isn’t the most reliable of sources haha…

  • DM // February 23, 2011 at 8:25 pm | Reply

    I bought a beautiful set of (1950s?) eggshell porcelain sake cups at an antiques arcade in the gold-rush town of Dahlonega, GA. Meant to use them for gongfu tea, though they haven’t made their way to the top of the heap yet. It seemed like a fitting exchange of teaware, as I gave a formal Chinese tea-set and a dozen assorted teas to the couple whose wedding I was there to attend.

    The shop had them labeled as “salts” and had put a little silver-plate spoon in each. Guess sake hasn’t made it that far into Deliverance territory yet, and that was closest match they could find among the accoutrements of fine Southern dining.

    I’ve had some other, even more humorous experiences with mis-labeling of culturally alien artifacts. Might be fun to start a thread on this someplace.


  • Jan Ellis // February 24, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply

    My guess is that it’s a soap dish

  • Tea Goober // February 24, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Reply

    I was thinking soap dish as well. My neighborhood Asian store has some housewares which are very similar to this. They are sold as a set consisting of a toothbrush holder, cup and soap dish. Why the soap dish needs to be so tall Ive no idea. Yeah…….I think it’s a soap dish.

  • Sherab Chen // February 25, 2011 at 4:36 pm | Reply

    You should really show us what the bottom looks like – to determine whether this is an:
    1. incense burner
    2. kensui for sencha
    3. soap dish
    I’m more inclined for 2 or 3.

  • Drumhum // February 25, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Reply

    One more for the vote of soap dish 😉

  • Will // January 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply

    I went to a local antique store today; I don’t know about the provenance of their wares, but the owners seemed at least somewhat on the ball. Anyway, they had two of these, one of which was a similar or identical design. I asked what it was for, and while I didn’t make out all of what the guy said in Mandarin, I believe he said it was for young women, to store some sort of hair or personal care thing in. When I asked what the holes were for, he and the woman at the shop said something involving wood; I am pretty sure they weren’t talking about the kind of sticks used in women’s hair. If I go back, I’ll try to get more information.

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