It's rare to see American's sipping tea out of traditional teacups and saucers these days, but quite common, on the other hand, to see a large hutch or cabinet filled with them at your mother or grandmother's house.
Women collecting teacups and saucers for display has been an ongoing trend since the 19th century. Seeing these teacup-saucer sets with beautifully hand-painted designs, it's easy to understand why one would want to collect them rather than use them for their intended purpose. They're dainty and fragile; using them would mean the risk of fracture. Many end up as heirlooms, passing from generation to generation, each with its own history and a story to tell.
Amy McGovern, a wife, mother and case manager for Project Break Through at the Salvation Army, has been collecting teacups and saucers for her whole life and considers her collection to mainly be about sentimental values, as opposed to monetary reasons or a personal fascination.
Amy McGovern and her teacup collection.
Originally hailing from the Harrisburg area, McGovern settled in Williamsport after attending Lycoming College, finishing graduate school and meeting her husband.
Collecting teacups and saucers didn't exactly dawn upon her one day out of pure interest though, but rather came about when her parents urged her to begin a collection along with her siblings at an early age. Her brother collected banks and her sister collected antique mugs.
"I think that it was just something we could all relate to. We would often times go to antique places and we would all be looking for individual things that we collected," McGovern said.
"Then it [the collection] sort of evolved, college roommates got me tea cups and saucers, then my husband and in-laws," she said.
According to the Smithsonian Center for Education, having your child begin a collection can hold many benefits, such as teaching creativity, storytelling, responsibility and more.
For Amy, it is clear that it helped her realize the importance of sentimental values involving her family. Her favorite pieces in her collection, which spans to about 70 sets, are solely those given to her by relatives.
"People can talk so easily when they have common ground with collections collections are important. It says a lot about a person, and they're a good conversation starter," she said.
"I have a couple [teacup-saucer sets] from my aunt and uncle, they had flowers crafted on them when they gave them to me. Or the one [a favorite set] from my great-grandmother. Also my husband's great-grandmother gave me one from her collection," she said.
Amy has teacup-saucer sets of all types, some of her rarest and oldest sets come from Occupied Japan, a period of time between 1945 and 1952 toward the end of World War II when Japan was occupied by the allied powers. A set manufactured during this time is distinguished by the marking on the bottom, where it is labeled as coming from "Occupied Japan."
She also has a set from Queen Elizabeth's coronation, hand painted sets and dozens of others given to her over the years, from loved ones from many locations. She even has a unique set that, when held up to the light, a face at the bottom of the cup appears.
"I have a lot of pieces from antique stores and some that aren't antiques and maybe from gift shops. I think I've bought maybe two myself," McGovern said. "I'm really picky about cups and saucers because I like to have a story with them."
Though she does not seem particularly interested in any monetary value, she would like to have them looked at by her uncle, who happens to be into antiques and works at a historical society. Then, around retirement, she laughed, she hopes to decorate her dining room with her sets in a nice cabinet. For now though, she's still busy working and raising her children, who she also is instilling the good of collecting.
"When I was pregnant with my oldest, my mother asked me what I was going to have them collect and I hadn't thought of that, and she was like, are you kidding?' "
"When he was born we never really had an official collection but he told me one day that he wanted to be a collector of collections. I was like, no! To me that spells clutter. So I said, you know, you can focus on one thing so now he collects coins," she said.
Now, two of her three children are interested in collecting things.
"I'm just trying to steer them away from the sticker collections and steer them more toward antique shops," she said.
Collecting, in this case, has done wonders in bringing McGovern's family together from generation to generation. In today's fast-paced, technology-overwhelmed world, collectors are becoming more and more of a rarity.
Whether it's teacups and saucers, banks, coffee mugs or coins, collecting in the McGovern family doesn't seem like it will stop anytime soon.