A cup of old world charm - the business of hiring authentic antique Royal Albert tea sets for High Tea events
When a passion becomes a hobby and that combination turns into a business... it is a truly beautiful thing for the business owner and for those who get to share in this dream, simply by being a customer. Today we meet a business owner who turned her love of 'all things old' into a thriving vintage hire business specialising in authentic antique Royal Albert tea sets that owner Alana will hire out for high teas and various events and functions. There are many similar collectors around however not too many hire their collection out.
Who knew that simply searching for a set of new coffee cups for home (yes coffee) could lead to the birth of 'My Little Teacup" an antique English Bone China, all Royal Albert high tea sets and glassware hire business.
This tea cup love began with one tea cup purchase from a vintage store and cascaded into a (carefully bubble wrapped) avalanche of delicate little tea cups, sugar bowls and milk jugs in this adored collection. Alana from My Little Teacup was out looking to buy new coffee cups when she discovered her first antique trio set that would become part of her special collection and business. Alana started collecting antiques as a hobby at age 21, however she only began collecting vintage tea cups about 18 months ago.
"These are not your regular run of the mill standard white coffee cup that you get at every event centre! They really add a lot of glamour to a table. I find most clients use the cups as the focal point of the event, they are mostly high teas or are looking for something extra special to set their event apart. They are definitely a talking point."
There was no intention of starting a business with her hobby, but when Alana took some of her collection to a friend's home and decorated the table for a special get together, the table looked simply amazing.
With her hospitality expertise and table styling skills she then organised a Mother's Day lunch and 'did her thing' again. Gave it that Vintage touch and it looked picture perfect.
Alana's event marketing background certainly plays a big part in the picture perfect settings and the pieces are the little antique 'heroes' of the table. When she realised it was more than just a hobby she started the business and that was only about 6 months ago.
Tea anyone? Not just any tea experience
Alana tells me that finding a vintage tea cup in good condition is challenging, so to source (excuse the pun!) the saucer and side plate (known as a trio) is a very rare find and something tells me she loves the joy of the hunt. She explains "It’s rare to find full sets of these cups in pristine condition from one seller. So I went hunting for another set and then another and another, and before I knew it I was looking for and buying gorgeous teapots, sugar bowls, milk jugs, crystal-ware, sandwich plates, tiered stands."
A hand-made chocolate for every guest at the event (pictured above) along with a note about the history of the cups. Alana adds a personal touch to each event.
Be transported to the nineteenth century era, and have Alana's precious collection at your next high tea event. If you're allowed that is!
Alana says "It’s funny, but I don’t really drink tea. I just love that they’re old, they are rare and lovely and that’s what makes them special to collect and share."
One of the events Alana told me about was at the SMC Conference Centre, Sydney (some of the photos featured here are from that event) Scott from SMC happened to pick Alana's favourite tea trio, The Lady Carlysle to show the President and it turned out that the President recognised it as one of his ex-wife's favourite pieces. I later met Scott at a separate event who told me about this unique business called 'My Little TeaCup' which led me to featuring Alana's story in my Blog series.
"I love the way they look and that they each have history and a story." Another reason that makes this small business story special is that while it is a business, Alana tells me it will always remain her personal collection. The extraordinary effort and time involved in searching for matching sets no wonder Alana is protective over her matching pieces, a lot of the value is in the mint condition matching sets. She hand-packs, hand-delivers and hand-washes every item for an event. Forget the bubble wrap, I wouldn't be surprised if they are actually wrapped in cotton wool! Or maybe both.
Did you know that fine bone china is actually 50% crushed cow's bones?
The work involved in getting this collection together is certainly a labour of love and involved plenty of research, learning about each maker, the era and story behind the piece. Alana said she even "learned about the types of ceramic, when they were made, how to estimate the age of a piece by the shape of the cup or the handle.
"There is a difference between ceramic, China and fine bone China (English). Fine bone China was first “discovered” back in the 1800’s. It was made by adding up to 50% of crushed cow’s bones into the ceramic mix, making the ceramic much lighter, porous and almost see-through. It was considered the best china you could make and buy. Many makers in England were commissioned by the Royal Family to make fine bone China and were provided with the “Royal Stamp”. Royal Albert is one of these makers, selected by the Royals to make the finest china in England.
I became more selective as I learned and collected more pieces, choosing to buy Royal Albert trios over any other maker. I love the shape of the cups, the handles, the beautiful patterns, the intricate detail and delicate gold edging on each piece. I am selling most of the other makers to other collectors piece by piece so I can focus on Royal Albert. I’m also collecting more of the same style for small, special occasions for clients who prefer a matching set."
Alana has been in business with other ventures for years so I asked her if she had a mantra to get through the challenging days when running a small business. She said "Just get on with it! If you have a great product and you’re passionate about the business and about what you do, it’s not a business, it’s a hobby that happens to earn money. The business will sell itself."
Catering for up to 100 guests and servicing the Sydney area, If you would like to feel like a tea party hostesses of the nineteenth century and have Alana's precious collection at your high tea of event, contact her either via the website or Facebook www.facebook.com/mylittleteacup. Or if you find or have a set you think Alana might be interested in get in touch with her via the above or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Even if you would like to purchase something antique for a special occasion Alana can source and ship it to you!
Post by Deb Aitchison, Owner/Operator, Bee Free Virtual Business Solutions
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