Thursday, 4 October 2007

'Chocolate antiques' are sweet collectors' items

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YOU'RE about as much use as a chocolate teapot! It’s a put-down that’s as old as the hills, but while teapots made from chocolate are as rare as rocking horse do-do, antiques related to the confection are still relatively plentiful.

Click here for a sweet slideshow

“Chocolate antiques” including 17th and 18th century Chinese pots for pouring the stuff and cups for drinking it, together with 19th and early 20th century English silver chocolate pots are sweet collectors' items.

Chinese chocolate cups and pots are described as rare by Oriental specialist exhibitor

Catherine Hunt. She says: “The popularity of chocolate exploded across the West when the secret of the drink escaped from the Spanish. They originally brought it back from the New

World, and it was taken up by the French Court in the early 17th century. Chocolate houses opened in Paris and then London and the craze for this seductive drink swept Europe.

“Like tea, medicinal properties were attached to the drinking of chocolate, notably as a cure for all stomach ailments but also as an aphrodisiac, which made it particularly popular.

“The Chinese, who were making tea and coffee services, quickly added chocolate wares to their exports, and silver manufacturers also adapted their tea and coffee services to the new fashion”.

Chocolate, or Xocolatl, as the Aztecs called it, means food for the gods, or god’s food. The Aztecs and Mayans greatly prized the bitter drink as an aphrodisiac and the source of great energy.

The Spanish conquerors of South America did not like the bitter drink but found that by adding cane sugar, it was much more to their liking. When they returned to the Spanish court, the drink underwent more changes with the addition of vanilla and newly-discovered spices.

The chocolate drink soon became highly sought after by the Spanish aristocracy, and when it was transformed into a hot drink, its popularity spread even faster.

Spanish monks were given the task of processing the cocoa bean, which was imported from the new plantations that were established in the Spanish territory of the New World.

The monks were able to keep the secret of chocolate until the early part of the 17th century, when it was stolen and taken to France. At the French Court it became even more popular and was exported to Britain and the first of the chocolate houses soon opened in London.

So, what’s the difference between a chocolate pot and a coffee pot? Answer: it’s not a straightforward matter.

Silver pots present less of a problem. The silver chocolate pot has a hinged lid, or else a detachable flap or finial through which a rod, called a molinet, can be inserted to stir the chocolate sediment.

The molinet is generally made of wood with a terminal or knop in silver or ivory.

In ceramics, if truth be told, the two are indistinguishable.

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