barber institute of fine arts
university of birmingham

Unknown English Artist

Teapot and stand

London, 1785

Gold with wooden handle and bone knob

12.6 x 24.5 cm


This fine teapot and stand was one of a group of objects made for William Beckford.

The use of gold, rather than silver gilt, reflects the patron’s opulent taste and is extremely rare. Only the owner would have known of the object’s true value. In fact, the teapot is impractical due to the softness of the material.

The pot is engraved with the arms of Beckford and his wife Lady Margaret Gordon. A distinctive mark dates the piece to the summer of 1785, just prior to the couple leaving for Switzerland. It therefore accompanied them during their stay on the continent.

Purchased 1948 (No.48.18)



During Black History Month 2018, this teapot and stand was the focus of an alternative interpretation by UoB students in English, Drama and American & Canadian studies. They produced labels which interrogated artworks in our collection which depict, refer to, or have been collected from people of colour. This was a collaboration with the Barber’s Learning & Engagement Team; artist and poet Dzifa Benson; and Dr Asha Rogers, Lecturer in Contemporary Postcolonial Literature.

Here is an alternative label below:


Golden opulence that bares the rare ‘Britannia
Incuse Mark’. Unstained by those loose
leaves, to which it seems to correspond;
Shrouded in silence by the glass display case
who smothers its screams to be touched, held, used.

A dense silence.

Its edges too painful, its gold too yellow in hue
with smells of earth metal and polishing agent.
Leaning towards the gleaming honey pool,
my distorted nose reflection is broken
by the crest, clad in a fish scale glimmer.

A sour taste.

As I walk away, I imagine making a golden pot of tea
and wonder if it is even a teapot at all.
Or just an emblematic problematic
twenty-nine ounces of vanity

Bethan Fairhurst, BA English Literature.



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