Cunard Ware

The Cube Teapot

The success of Myott’s highly functional Cunard white-ware can be traced back to one Robert Crawford Johnson, the inventor of the Patent Cube Teapot. Johnson, who was an entrepreneur wanted to create a teapot that would fit certain criteria that were lacking in the conventional teapots of the period, which suffered from fragile spouts and difficulty in storage and cleaning. The Cube Teapot was registered in 1917 but production only commenced 3 years later in 1920, being manufactured by one of Myott’s contemporaries Arthur Wood of Stoke-on-Trent who also worked in earthenware. The new design must have created quite a stir at the time with a complete reworking of something that had remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years.

The highly practical shape made cleaning simple, this being rewarded in 1926 with a gold medal at the ‘Nation’s Health Exhibition as well as a ‘Certificate of the Institute of Hygeine. As a response to other potteries mirroring the idea out of licence, Johnson formed Cube Teapots Co. Limited in 1925 and set out on a strategic marketing and distribution plan highlighted by a dynamic display of a women pouring the perfect ‘cuppa’ from the Cube Teapot in the Leicester showrooms.

The success of the advertising campaign prompted other companies to produce under licence including Myott Son & Co., the prestigious Wedgwood factory and T.G. Green & Co. Ltd. A silver plate version was also produced by T. Wilkinson & Sons. Other utilitarian wares were designed in the range including a deeper coffee pot, a sugar pot and milk jug and creamer which were made to compliment the Cube Teapot. Grimwades produced the Cube palette and cup, but so far I am only aware of Myott’s interest being restricted to the 2 sizes of Cube pot, the sugar pot, milk jug and shallower creamer.

There were no restrictions as to how the tea sets could be decorated but Myott kept to a plain white version with a thin gilt banding for decoration which works very well against the pure white of the first quality earthenware produced for the Cunard shipping line. Other potteries involved were Clews stoneware who produced a version for the Queen Mary in oatmeal around 1936 which is marked ‘Cunard White Star’; Brain’s Foley China who produced for the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth and Grimwades who produced a plain design. It is rumoured Myott also produced a completely plain version for 2nd class Cunard passengers though this is currently unsubstantiated. Highly ornate versions were made for sale as souvernirs often depicting oriental inspired scenes and chintz patterns. These pieces are often marked ‘Souvenir’ to the base and include an example by Tuscan China, furnished by Stoniers with pattern name ‘Bird of Paradise’.

The Cube ranges were used in the popular tearooms, cafes and restaurants of the time, though it seems Myott soley produced for Cunard, as all the pieces I have seen display the gold Myott Cunard mark to the base which consists of the word ‘Cunard’ above a stylised crown with Staffordshire England beneath in 2 lines. Of course a bonus to the cube design is stability in high seas which must have been a consideration when the order was commissioned as well as the ability to stack with no wasted storage space which is at premium on ocean liners. One would often find a Cube neatly slotted in to a picnic hamper which was a very popular pastime in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Cube arrived at the right time, where modernist taste and style was only too fitting especially on the transatlantic liners. The Art Deco period took the Cube on board with cheap mass-produced goods allowing the public access to forward thinking design, and in the setting of the great cruise liners such as the Queen Mary (which used Myott’s Cube range) nothing could be more chic. The teasets were also used on a number of other lesser shipping lines but it is Myott’s exclusiveness to the market leader Cunard that is of primary interest here.

Cunard Steamships Limited (originally North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company) was formed in 1838 by Canadian shipping magnate Samuel Cunard in partnership with James Donaldson (businessman), Robert Napier (engineer), David MacIver and George Burns. Rights were won to run a transatlantic shipping line between America and England with the company’s original steamship, the Britannia, making trips between Liverpool and Boston. Other companies were subsequently taken over by Cunard, such as Canadian Northern Steamships Limited and the White Star line, which was their main competitor and owners of the ill-fated RMS Titanic. Especially throughout the Deco years an eye to safety and reliability was Cunard’s primary concern over size and speed. Combined with comfort and luxury it is no surprise that Cunard became the foremost passenger ship company in the world with vessels such as RMS Queen Mary, RMS Majestic and RMS Queen Elizabeth II (QE11) becoming household names. RMS is an acronym for Royal Mail Steamship. From a Myott viewpoint it is necessary to concentrate on RMS Queen Mary on which the Cube teasets played such a prominent role from both an artistic and social angle. The superior earthenware quality of the Myott white-ware was a fitting asset to the superior qualities of the ship.

Work started on the Queen Mary in 1930 on the River Clyde in Scotland. Finished in 1934, the maiden voyage in 1936 stamped Cunard’s authority on to a world of travel that had seen nothing quite like this before. The liner was named after Queen Mary of Teck (1867-1953), the Queen consort to King George V. Affectionately known as ‘Queen May’ and officially as ‘Victoria Mary’ until her husband was crowned in 1910, Mary was daughter of Francis, Duke of Teck, great-granddaughter of King George III and first cousin once removed of Queen Victoria.

With a displacement of 81,000 tons and a length of 311 metres (1,020 feet), the steamship Queen Mary was the 2nd largest ship ever built, the largest being the RMS Queen Elizabeth, which together with the Queen Mary dominated the transatlantic passenger route until the Queen Mary was retired from service in 1967 and the Queen Elizabeth a year later. The Queen Mary is now a hotel and museum docked at Long Baech, California which is a haven in its own right for Art Deco architecture. It would be nice to know if Myott’s contribution to Cube ware was exhibited in the museum.

The Cube was popular right through to the early 1950s when other modern designs started to take over and it is quite likely that Myott produced from the mid 1930s right up until this date. But it can be said that the Cube Teapot was the most successful patent design teapot of all time and it’s nice to see Myott’s interest represented by the iconic design.

There is a new paperbook book published about the Cube Teapot by Anne Anderson and Paul Atterbury. Published by Antiques Collectors Club (ISBN:0903685760)

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