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Brief description

Coffee pot made from copper with a wooden handle and finial and brass mounts, designed by Christopher Dresser, and made by Benham and Froud c.1888.

Object name

coffee pot

Object number


Production person

Christopher Dresser (designer)

Production organisation

Benham and Froud (manufacturer)

Production date

1888 (manufactured)

Production place

London (manufactured)


Victorian (1837-1901)





Physical description

Copper coffee pot with ebony handle and finial with brass mounts, inspired by Middle Eastern design.


Height: 22.4cm
Width: 19.8cm

Website keywords

serving drink
tea, coffee and chocolate drinking

Object history note

This coffee pot was designed by Christopher Dresser, (1834-1904) a pioneering designer and botanist whose work encompassed ceramics, glass, metalwork, furniture, wallpapers and textiles. Benham & Froud were a firm of art metalworkers, Dresser collaborated with them from 1871.

A coffee pot with the same registered design, dated 1888, is featured in the article by David A Taylor, 'Dr Christopher Dresser's Metalwork Designs', Antique Collecting, February (1999), page 10. Taylor suggests that this design reveals Dresser's affinity for creating colour contracts through the combination of different materials.


Elizabeth Kramer, Senior Lecturer in Design History at Northumbria University, examined this object on 16 March 2010 as part of the Stories of the World project.

She noted that this object is likely to be a Christopher Dresser design, although it is not marked on the base. Dresser did mark objects and use copyright, but some retailers including Liberty did not tend to mark objects with designers’ names.

Dresser was very overtly influenced by Japan, believing that Japanese design adhered to the principle of ‘form follows function’. He visited Japan in 1876-7 as the guest of the Emperor. He was invited to advise the Japanese on Western manufacture and the kinds of products desired by the Western markets. Dresser was particularly interested in the techniques involved in ceramic and kimono production, including glaze techniques. He was a very prolific design theorist, interested in whether Japanese processes could be reproduced through mechanical means. See the second half of Christopher Dresser, Japan: its architecture, art and art manufactures (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1882).

The literature on Dresser is largely dominated by collectors and dealers, to some extent sidelining the mass-market products he designed. The bread and butter of his workshop were wallpaper and textiles, rather than the more minimalist designs he is often associated with.

A full transcript of the notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset.

Charles Newton, former Curator of Design at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, examined this object on 25 March 2010 as part of the Stories of the World project.

He noted that the shape of this object derives from a form called Ibrik, a standard vessel found across the Middle East for pouring water on peoples’ hands for washing before and after eating. In the Middle East, copper was used to make these vessels. Christopher Dresser re-interpreted the vertical handle; traditional handles would have either been curved or almost straight.

A full transcript of the notes from this examination is available on the object's history file and as a digital asset

This object was chosen by Cailah, 24 for the Stories of the World photo shoot in January 2011. As part of the project she answered three questions about the object which are in italics below:

Is this an object you see in homes today?
'There are still serving vessels for coffee but, on the whole, they seem to be more functional in the way they're designed and are usually made of other materials like glass or ceramic.

What drew you to your chosen object? Why do you like it?
Apart from having studied it, I think the coffee pot design looks really ahead of its time and stands out from other objects in the room that are a bit more ornamented.'

What I enjoyed about today was....
'Getting to handle the object and pose with it in one of the period rooms.'

This object was chosen by Barbara, 18 for the Stories of the World Animate! project on 07/03/2010. As part of the project she explained her choice of object stating:

'I like that it had features that seemed quite human: The handle is the arm, the 'nose', the bottom for the mouth and the top part for his head/ brain.'

Transcript of text from mobile phone guided tour, Stories of the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):
My name is Lucy, I’m 23 and I’m going to talk to you about the copper coffee pot attributed to the designer Christopher Dresser, sitting on the sideboard on your left.
I was originally attracted to its unusual shape and design, and its strong presence within the 1890s room. I was also drawn to it by to the fact that it is from a period of art and design that I really like. The most interesting thing I found out about the coffee pot is that Christopher Dresser was very passionate about the quality of materials, and making things as functional as possible. He even worked out vessels' centres of gravity in order to place their handles at the most user-friendly angles. Although it was made in the UK, the design and material of the coffee pot has strong Japanese and Islamic influences. At the time there was a craze for Japanese crafts and customs, and Christopher Dresser promoted this, having visited Japan himself as a guest of the Emperor. I think this object would have been used both practically and decoratively when it was first bought. Today, my family have an ornamental coffee pot in our living room, however I think the practical modern equivalent would be a cafetière, which we only use occasionally. These days most people make instant coffee, so a coffee pot is not needed.
I enjoyed investigating this object because it gave me the opportunity to look at the Aesthetic Movement in detail. This included finding out about the department store Liberty’s on Regent Street, and the International Exhibitions which featured Dresser’s work.
I think museums should display objects like this because it introduces people to the idea of design in the home, and the influences other cultures have had on these designs throughout history.


Label text for the exhibition At Home with the World, Geffrye Museum (20 March 2012- 9 September 2012):

Coffee pot

Christopher Dresser, the Glasgow-born designer of this pot, was greatly influenced by Japanese and Islamic design. Its shape derives from a Middle Eastern water vessel, known as an ibrik, though the vertical handle and angular spout owe more to Dresser’s interpretation of Japanese design.

This object was featured in the World at Home project and display at the Geffrye Museum from 17 May to 24 July 2011. The project was a result of a collaboration between the Geffrye Museum and MA students from the Institute of Archeology, University College London. The students chose eleven objects from the museum’s period rooms to highlight the narrative of England’s ever-changing relationship with the rest of the world. Through the expansion of the British Empire and development of international trade, the English middle classes brought into their homes goods as varied as pottery from Germany, tea from China and modern furniture from Scandinavia. Other outputs of the project included design marketing materials, on-line activities, events, design activities for children and visitor and audience research.

The students researched these objects and prepared text panels for the display. The text is recorded below:

‘Truth, Beauty and Power’
The design of this coffee pot is attributed to Christopher Dresser, a designer and writer whose motto was ‘truth, beauty, power’. Dresser was a very important figure within the Aesthetic Movement. This artistic and literary movement was in part inspired by Japanese and Islamic culture, and adopted for domestic decoration as an alternative to conventional Victorian tastes. English interiors were given a new, harmonious elegance, with exotic references.

The ‘Cult of Japan’
Access to Japanese art and design was made possible when Japan’s borders were opened in 1853. Christopher Dresser actively promoted Japanese design and manufacture in England. He arranged a Japanese stand at the 1873 International Exhibition, and later visited Japan as a guest of the Emperor. The English craze for Japanese crafts and customs was also fuelled by other exhibitions such as the ‘Japanese Village’ in Knightsbridge, which opened in 1885.

Industrial Production and Consumer Culture
Dresser was in favour of industrial production and the opportunities it created for bringing affordable ‘good taste’ into the homes of the middle-classes, instead of an elite few. Department stores like Liberty’s exhibited and sold the latest fashions in interiors, making stylish furnishings available to wider audiences.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler's oil on canvas painting, dating from 1863 to 1865, entitiled La Princesse du pays de la porcelaine (The Princess from the Land of Porcelain), depicts a Victorian lady wearing a kimono and immersing herself in the atmosphere created by the Japanese objects and furniture that decorate the room.

Middle Eastern coffee pots, such as a Turkish coffee pot from the 1800s in the Victoria and Albert Museum, object number 369-1897, may have been an inspiration for the shape and materials of Dresser’s coffee pot, made of copper and brass, with which he combines his characteristic Japanese-inspired wooden handle. Coffee was in fact first brought to Europe by Turkish traders in the early 1600s.
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