Antique Tea Figurines: History and Value

Updated May 3, 2022
Wade whimsies

Since the boom in commercial advertising following World War II, tea companies--like many other product manufacturers--were constantly competing with one another to catch the customer's eye, and one of the ways that they did this was by releasing tea figurines. These small ceramic knick-knacks were a perfect way to entice younger and younger audiences to choose their brands over the others lining the shelves. Given their small statures, these vintage table-top toys will bring a pop of levity to your otherwise dull work space.

Tea Time Gets Whimsical With Tea Figurines

Vintage tea figurines were a byproduct of the massive advertising boom in the 1950s and 1960s. Commercial advertising was on the rise, and with consumerism being shoved down people's throats, it was only a matter of time before manufacturers had to devise new ways to attract customers to their specific goods. Red Rose Tea was the first tea company to really launch a massive campaign, including bonus items with every purchase. Inside of various boxes of tea there was a small figurine, beginning as animals and transitioning into other genres over the years.

While the popular tea company Tetley did follow Red Rose's initiative in the 1990s, they weren't as successful. In fact, Red Rose still makes these figurines today, which can be either purchased online or with a digital purchase of a specific product.

Red Rose Figurines List to Help You Collect Them All

Red Rose Tea partnered with George Wade & Sons Ltd. (a British pottery business) to include ceramic figurines in their tea boxes beginning in 1967. While Wade had already been making figurines, these smaller ones marked a shift for the company's direction. They'd already begun having ideas of entering the marketing space with their ceramic 'whimsies' and Red Rose Tea was the perfect choice.

Red Rose Tea figurines have been in continuous circulation since 1967, with several series introducing new subjects and themed goodies, the latest of which was launched in 2020.

American Series I

Red Rose Tea first debuted their figurines in Canada in 1967, and slowly they expanded their operation until they launched their first American series in 1983. Thus, marked the real maturation of this advertising campaign. The 15 animal figurines included in this series are:

Vintage Set of 13 Wade Red Rose Tea Figurines Wild Animals
  • Chimp
  • Lion
  • Bison
  • Busy baby
  • Owl
  • Bear cub
  • Rabbit
  • Squirrel
  • Bird
  • Otter
  • Hippo
  • Turtle
  • Seal
  • Wild boar
  • Elephant

American Series II

The second American series consisted of additional animals, amounting to twenty in total by 1996.

Red Rose Tea Miniature Porcelain Figurines
  • Giraffe
  • Koala bear
  • Pine marten
  • Langur
  • Gorilla
  • Kangaroo
  • Tiger
  • Camel
  • Zebra
  • Polar bear
  • Orangutan
  • Leopard
  • Rhino
  • Raccoon
  • Puppy
  • Rabbit
  • Kitten
  • Pony
  • Cockateel

Series III: Circus Animals

Alongside the company's animal series was the Circus Animals series which ran between 1994-1999 and included creatures and roles typically found at the circus, such as these:

Vintage Wade Circus Figurines
  • Ringmaster
  • Human cannonball
  • Strongman
  • Clown with drum
  • Clown with pie
  • Bear
  • Sitting elephant
  • Standing elephant
  • Male monkey
  • Female monkey
  • Lion
  • Poodle
  • Seal
  • Horse
  • Tiger

Series IV: Endangered North American Animals

Red Rose Tea entered the millennium with a strong environmental message as they released their fourth figurine series about endangered animals native to North America. This series ran from 1999 to 2002 and included these animals:

Wade Whimsies Red Rose Tea Endangered North American Animals
  • Spotted owl
  • Bald eagle
  • Polar bear
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Humpback whale
  • Florida panther
  • Manatee
  • Green sea turtle
  • Timber wolf
  • Sturgeon

Series V: Noah's Ark

In the early 2000s, Red Rose Tea took an interestingly biblical direction with their fifth figurine series based on the story of Noah's Ark. The animals (and people) that were included in this series are:

Wade Whimsies Red Rose Tea Noah’s Ark Animal Series
  • Elephant
  • Rhino
  • Zebra
  • Goose
  • Gander
  • Hen
  • Rooster
  • Ram
  • Ewe
  • Lion
  • Lioness
  • Noah
  • Noah's wife

Series VI: Pet Shop Friends

In a more cuddly departure from the world ending doom of Noah's Ark, Red Rose's sixth series highlighted animals that could be found in pet stores across the country. These animals were manufactured from 2006 to 2008 and included:

Wade Whimsies Red Rose Tea Pet Shop Series
  • Duck
  • Pony
  • Rabbit
  • Turtle
  • Kittens
  • Puppies
  • Labrador
  • Budgie
  • Tropical fish
  • Cat

Series VII: Red Rose Calendar

The company's seventh figurine series took inspiration from American holidays like Christmas, Halloween, and the 4th of July. Running from 2008 to 2012, this series featured an array of characters and figures, which include:

Wade Whimsies Red Rose Tea Calendar Series
  • Snowman
  • Cupid
  • Leprechaun
  • Easter bunny
  • Mother's Day flowers
  • Graduation
  • Uncle Sam
  • Sandcastle
  • Scarecrow
  • Pumpkin kitty
  • Turkey
  • Christmas tree

Series VIII: Nautical Wonderland

Red Rose's penultimate series to date was launched in 2012 and ended in 2020, and focused on iconography from the nautical realm such as diving helmets and sailboats. All of the figurines included in this series are:

Wade Whimsies Red Rose Tea Nautical Wonderland
  • Compass
  • Conch shell
  • Mermaid
  • Ships wheel
  • Treasure chest
  • Divers helmet
  • Lighthouse
  • Sailboat
  • Seagull
  • Seahorse
  • Crab
  • Starfish

Series IX: World Monument Figurine Series

Red Rose Tea's most recent figurine series was announced in 2020 and is centered around monuments from around the world. Unlike many of the earliest figurines, these can't be found in the wild but rather have to be either purchased outright or bought with an online tea purchase.

  • Golden Gate Bridge
  • Leaning Tower of Pisa
  • Sphinx
  • Easter Island Head
  • Big Ben
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Taj Mahal
  • Sydney Opera House
  • Great Wall of China
  • Statue of Liberty

Tetley's Take on the Tea Figurine Campaign

Red Rose Tea's competitor, Tetley, briefly entered into this the advertising ring in the 1990s with their Tetley Tea Folk figurines. These animated figurines could be purchased outside of the tea itself, and included the seven Tetley Tea Folk characters that had been used in advertising commercials from the early 1970s to promote the Tetley brand. These figurines didn't catch on in the same way that Red Rose's did and so Tetley hasn't embarked on a similar campaign since.

The seven characters you could collect are:

  • Gaffer
  • Sydney
  • Maurice
  • Clarence the "Waker Upper"
  • Gordon
  • Tina
  • Archie

How Valuable Are Vintage Tea Figurines?

Altogether, vintage tea figurines aren't individually worth more than few dollars. In fact, Red Rose actively sells older figurines on their website today for $5 apiece. Even large collections of these figurines (whether it's by series or multiple series) don't bring in more than $50 at market. While this doesn't make them a good collectible for selling, it does make them a perfect little collectible to buy for yourself or someone else who might be interested, since there's little cost and a big reward.

It's Tea Time All the Time

Vintage tea figurines can be incredibly nostalgic for the way that they remind people of their childhood experiences rifling through dry goods boxes and trying to find the prizes inside. While they might not be worth a fortune, they can still bring kids the same amount of joy that they did 50+ years ago.

Antique Tea Figurines: History and Value