Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Christmas 2010: History

Teapots: the short and stout physicians’ friends

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 14 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6738
  1. Katharine Cranfield, CT1 doctor in acute care common stem anaesthetics
  1. 1Wansbeck Hospital, Ashington, UK
  1. kcranfield{at}

Resourceful doctors have put the teapot to many different uses over the years, finds Katharine Cranfield

The teapot and the BMJ: two quintessentially British objects (well perhaps not the teapot, given its Chinese origins, but definitely adopted by the British). Both have helped the nation’s doctors in providing the best possible care for their patients over the past 260 years. The BMJ has provided up to date research, case reports, and articles to its readers, but what about the teapot’s contribution?

Some people may think that the teapot serves only one (fairly obvious) purpose, while others view it as completely superfluous. I would like to offer my findings from the BMJ archive, with a view to making teapot sceptics consider whether it really is just “a little teapot.”

The teapot first features in the BMJ as a medicinal aid in 1844, when it was used in the management of hydrophobia (late stage rabies).1 At a meeting of the Sheffield Medical Society, the case was presented of an 18 year old apprentice tiler who was able to drink fluids only through the spout of a teapot with the lid on. An unlidded teapot (or any other vessel) increased the patient’s panic, inducing endless paroxysms of coughing and spluttering and leaving him unable to swallow.


One particularly perceptive physician used a teapot and its contents to understand the cause of death of two of his patients.2 In 1852 Mr Skevington was called to see a lady and her maidservant, who had both become acutely unwell after drinking a cup of tea made to Mrs Beeton’s instructions.3 These stated that “few grains of carbonate of soda, added before the boiling water is poured on the tea, assist to draw out the goodness: if the water is very hard.” Unfortunately, …

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