A rare Worcester ‘Smoky Primitive’ Coffee Cup, circa 1754-56

This early coffee cup, with its gently flaring sides, is printed in sepia with the Fortune Teller. This ‘Smoky Primitive’ design depicts an old lady, with a child or devil on her back, reading the palms of two fashionable ladies. Beyond them is a large house. To the far left is a boy beside a pond with ducks.

Dr Bernard Watney discussed this pattern in an English Ceramic Circle paper given in 1973. He believed it to have been inspired by an illustration depicting an elderly fortune teller in Le Arti di Bologna by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609). Not only does Carracci’s Una valente Ruffiana (plate 76) show an elderly fortune teller with a similar profile to that of the seer in the Worcester pattern, but both women have poultry hidden behind the folds of their skirts (see the comparative images).

The fortune teller theme was a popular one during the mid-18th century, and artists of the period, such as Andreas van Rymsdyck and John Bowles, satisfied this Rococo taste for romance and the picturesque by creating prints and drawings depicting an elderly female fortune teller in a pastoral setting.


Provenance: The Liane Richards Collection.

Condition: Excellent – no chips, cracks or restoration. The print is an attractive tone and wonderfully detailed.

Dimensions: Height 6 cm

Worcester Porcelain 1751-1790: The Zorensky Collection, Simon Spero & John Sandon (Antique Collectors’ Club, 1996).

Penny Plain, Twopence Coloured: Transfer Printing on English Ceramics 1750-1850, Pat Halfpenny, Ed. (1994).

The Origins of some Ceramic Designs, Bernard M Watney (ECC Transactions, vol. 9, no. 3 (1975)).

See also the notes on page 94 of The Watney Collection, Part I (Bonhams, September 1999).