Kettle on warmer

Tea drinking grew exponentially in the eighteenth century and spread to all layers of society. By the time this water kettle and matching warmer were made in 1772, tea was in general use. Refined ladies in particular enjoyed gathering together and the tea party grew into a social custom which received a lot of attention was devoted.

Tea was prepared differently back then: tea bags didn’t exist and the tea egg was yet to be invented (in 1772). A small drawing pot was used to prepare the tea. This was usually made of silver or porcelain. A tea concentrate was made in these small pots by pouring boiling water onto dried tea leaves. Some of this strong tea was then poured into a cup and diluted to taste with boiling water. The kettle on the warmer was the old-fashioned version of our present-day kettle. A firepan, an earthenware bowl containing smouldering charcoal, kept the water at the right temperature.

Kettle on warmer, Gleibakkerij Tichelaar in Makkum, ca. 1772, porcelain, kettle: h. 16 cm and 14 cm, warmer: h. 14 cm and 24 cm, on loan from the Ottema-Kingma Foundation.

Kettle on warmer, Gleibakkerij Tichelaar in Makkum, ca. 1772, porcelain, kettle: h. 16 cm and 14 cm, warmer: h. 14 cm and 24 cm, on loan from the Ottema-Kingma Foundation.
Click on the image for an enlargement.

This kettle with matching warmer is considered a highpoint in Frisian earthenware. It was made at the Tichelaar earthenware and tile factory in Makkum by the head of the workshop, Gatse Sytses (Makkum, ca. 1724-1798). Sytses was a prolific painter, and much of his work is documented. He dated both pieces with the year 1772. Among other things, the set is adorned with cartouches, elegant frames containing domestic scenes of a couple drinking tea or coffee. The figures are dressed according to the fashion of the time. The ladies wear a ‘Dutch’ cap and the men a tricorne. One of the cartouches on the kettle depicts a seascape with ships. The cover has a decoration of a fisherman and a man with a dog: commonplace scenes in eighteenth-century Makkum. Curiously enough, a kettle on a warmer is depicted on the floor in one of the interior scenes. The Droste effect avant la lettre!
Many characteristics of Frisian tin glaze earthenware can be distinguished on the kettle. The somewhat heavy, contrasting way of working with the blue and the frequent use of flowers and stylised acanthus leaves are typical. The somewhat plump shape of the strainer and the shape of the handles also indicate a Frisian origin. These refer back to specimens that were made in lead glaze, which is transparent, as opposed to the white, opaque tin glaze. The round shape of the kettle is of particular note. It bears a striking resemblance to silver examples, such as a kettle by Johannes Laases Spannenburg (Harlingen, 1759). The kettle made by the Leeuwarden silversmith Regnerus Elgersma in 1767 has the same shape. The spout ends in the head of a fabulous animal. Such spouts, including their floral decoration, were in vogue on silver cauldrons during the first half of the eighteenth century. Here it is imitated in earthenware.

It is quite possible that the kettle initially had an earthenware handle, which was later replaced by this silver version with lion masks. Ceramic handles were very fragile. The silver does not bear any marks or dates. It may have been added in the nineteenth century, but could also date from 1772.


(The) clay in Northwest Friesland is very suitable for making earthenware and tiles. As early as the beginning of the seventeenth century, majolica – earthenware with tin glaze on the front and lead glaze on the reverse – was made in Harlingen. Makkum followed in 1700, and there was also a glazing factory (the Frisian variant of the Delftware factory) in Bolsward. These companies produced millions of tiles and tens of thousands of dishes. The highpoint of this industry was in the eighteenth century. In addition to simple consumer earthenware, manufacturers, and hence painters, also concentrated on the production of ornamental earthenware. Talented painters developed their own style, giving Frisian earthenware its unique character. Gatse Sytses, who made this kettle and warmer in 1772, was one of the best.

Hugo P. ter Avest, director of the Hannemahuis, Centre for Harlinger Culture and History

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