Collecting is her cup of tea

Barbara Irwin of Berlin Center shows off about half of her massive tea cup collection.

BERLIN CENTER — Barbara Irwin, 79, has been collecting tea cups for close to 70 years and has a nice collection to show for it.

She didn’t start out in life as a collector, though. That hobby came when her mom got a driver’s license.

Irwin was born in California, and when her father, Arthur Notman, faced union problems around World War II, he moved the family to Hubbard. Her father was a rubber worker who made the large refueling hoses for ships at sea. Later, the family moved to Youngstown’s West Side, where Irwin graduated from Chaney High School in the early 1960s.

It was in 1953 that Irwin was introduced to collectible tea cups. Her mother, Virginia Notman, bought a car and learned how to drive. On June 2, 1953, she took Irwin on a road trip to Toronto, Canada.

“As we were driving through Toronto, the streets were lined with people,” Irwin said. “I told my mother they came out to greet us.”

What actually happened, according to Irwin, was they were on a parade route just before the road was shut down. Not far behind them was the newly crowned monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II, who was making her first visit to Canada.

To remember the event, Virginia stopped and purchased a tea cup made for the event. It has a picture of the young Queen on it with the coronation date.

That cup is now one of Irwin’s treasured ones and what she considers her first cup that got her started on the road to collecting.

Irwin continued receiving and buying cups. She received cups as wedding shower gifts and during birthdays. She even developed a network of cup collectors within her family.

“Between myself, my daughter and my sister’s oldest daughter, we have the tea cup market cornered in northeast Ohio,” Irwin said.

There were many more trips to Canada, where quality tea cups are manufactured. Irwin knows the different companies and said the tea cups have to be treated special.

“There are around 15 to 20 manufacturers,” she said. “The true collectible tea cups are made by these manufacturers and are trimmed in gold leaf.”

She said those with gold leaf can never be placed in a dishwasher as the gold leaf would wash right off. She said that is why a lot of young people do not get involved in collecting the cups, because they have to be hand washed. She said cups made by Royal Albert or Windsor China (1940s) should never see an automatic dishwasher.

Irwin does use her collection from time to time. At her church, First Methodist Church of Salem, she would take some of her collection to use for church teas. She does have a smaller collection of matching pitchers that are used as well.

Occasionally, she lets a few cups go. One good example of that was truly a full circle event.

She said her Aunt Ruth Bartholomy had given her two special collectible tea cups for her wedding shower. She held them for decades and ended up passing them on as a wedding gift for Ruth’s great-granddaughter.

“Some day we will move from our present home,” Irwin said. “I am planning to take my collection to our church and setting them out for every lady to select one.”

Each tea cup carries with it a special memory for Barbara, but the joy of the collection is something she wants to share with her friends and church family.

To suggest a Saturday profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com or metro editor Marly Reichert at mreichert@tribtoday.com


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