Fancy vintage espresso cups (+ a word about lead).

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Hmmm, I guess it’s vintage ceramics week at Door Sixteen! On Sunday I shared the vintage Mexican nesting bowls I bought (thank you SO MUCH for all of the informative comments about their likely origins), and it made me want to take pictures of some of my other recent finds. I always seem to gravitate toward ceramics when I’m on the hunt, even if I’m just at the Goodwill.

Anyway, how about these espresso cups and saucers?! I bought them from the Etsy seller House of Séance, who have all kinds of great vintage stuff for sale. I love that the triangles appear to be hand-painted rather than silkscreened, making each cup unique. I think geometric designs look best when they’re a bit irregular.

(By the way, I wish I could remember who tipped me off to the Etsy listing for the cups. They sat on my Etsy wishlist for months before I went ahead and bought them, and in the interim I lost track. Thank you, whoever you are!)

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The cups and saucers don’t appear to have ever been used, and they’re in great condition—pretty much perfect, in fact. The bottoms all have intact ‘Design by Jonas Roberts; Made in Japan’ stickers on them. Searching for Jonas Roberts brings up loads of results for mid-century ceramics, and this particular design is either from the 1950s or ’60s, depending on whose information you trust. There’s also a teapot, sugar bowl, ashtrays, and even a lighter with this design—and it came in orange, too. Sale prices are all over the place, but I paid $55 for my set of six cups and saucers—$9/set seems like a huge bargain to me!

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Full disclosure: I made this cup of espresso purely for the sake of taking a nice photo. It’s decaf (ugh…), so I didn’t mind tossing it out after. I would really like to put the cups into regular use, but I want to test the glaze for lead first. This subject came up in the comments when I posted about the bowls the other day, so I thought I’d mention in this post as well. Vintage ceramics very often contain lead (as do some contemporary pieces from parts of the world where lead use is unregulated), and even if the glaze is in perfect condition, lead can leach into your food/drink if it’s liquid/hot/acidic, etc. Coffee is liquid, hot, and acidic, so it’s no joke! Even the porcelain glaze on old sinks and bathtubs can contain lead, which is part of the reason why we had ours sandblasted down to bare iron and powder-coated. As exciting as it sounds, I don’t want to take hot lead baths.

That said, not ALL vintage ceramics are lead-ridden, so it can’t hurt to test and find out. Sometimes the white glaze on the inside of a cup is fine, and the lead is contained in the outside designs only. It’s a judgement call, of course, but in that situation I’d be fine using the cup. I also have no concerns about using my vintage tablewares to serve dry foods (crackers, cookies, etc.). Obviously I make sure that there isn’t any glaze flaking off! If a piece is really rough, it’s relegated to display purposes only.

3M LeadCheck swabs are readily available, not terribly expensive, and seem to get the best reviews of the various lead testing kits out there. It’s not a perfect test, and you may get false negatives if the lead content in a glaze isn’t in contact with the swab, but it’s at least a starting point. When you live in an old house, you kind of just have to accept that lead will be a part of your life—but I think it’s worth being safe when you can. If these espresso cups do turn out to have lead in them, I’m just fine putting them up on a shelf and admiring them with my eyes instead of my tongue.

12 comments
  1. PaulMar 20, 20143:34 pm

    Every time you set eyes on your island, you must melt. It is so lovely.

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  2. MaggieMar 20, 20144:13 pm

    These are a great find! I too love to collect vintage ceramics (especially coffee mugs!) but I’ve never tested for lead, which seems important. I’m going to order some strips now!

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  3. Lizzie ModernMar 20, 20148:02 pm

    If you’re not able to use them, they really would be great for decoration. I have an old cup that has a crack in it, so I just use it on my desk to keep pencils in. (But maybe you’re a bit more couth then that…)

    This is great info you’re giving here though, I’m sure a lot of people don’t even think about stuff like this.

    [Reply]

    Anna @ D16 /

    Haha, is it uncouth to keep your pencils in a cup? I don’t need another pencil cup, but these guys are actually really tiny—they’re just little espresso cups. Lots of q-tip storage. ;)

  4. ShonMar 21, 20149:15 am

    Great find! These are so lovely. I am a tad bit nervous now about the sugar bowl I use. It’s a vintage piece I picked up a few years ago from a resale shop. YIKES!! could it be laden with lead?

    Thanks for the tips!

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  5. Heather P.Mar 21, 20149:42 am

    These are amazing! I love browsing Etsy for amazing stuff like this – and they look like perfect match for your home! Hopefully they’re lead-free!

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  6. KatyMar 21, 201412:15 pm

    Thanks for this very important public service announcement!

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  7. JaneMar 21, 201412:21 pm

    Those are great cups and bowls, hopefully you can use them, but they are still nice to look at if they are lead glazed. I bought a red melamine butter dish from the 50′s and I read that melamine is not a safe surface for food, so it is on a shelf in the kitchen, sitting there, looking cute! Love your house & apt.

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  8. SarahMar 21, 201411:33 pm

    I have these same ones in orange (plus larger matching plates). Never occurred to me they could have lead. I’ve been using them for a couple years pretty frequently, so hopefully not! Thanks for the heads up.

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  9. IteMar 22, 201410:15 am

    Yes, always lovely to find unusual ceramics. I love the visual treat on a table !

    If you love Etsy, i think these will match: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

    Btw: love how the kitchen turned out ! congrats, looking very cheery and comfortable now*

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  10. Kelly SylerMar 22, 20146:03 pm

    I love these cups. This post reminds me of the beautiful Mexican dishes I have displayed in my dining room. They were my great grandmother’s and after my mother passed away I inherited them all. I can envision serving a great meal with them but don’t dare because of the lead that is probably used in their glaze. So sad!!

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  11. JenMar 22, 201411:30 pm

    I have the cups, sugar bowl and creamer in orange! So cute.

    [Reply]

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