The city hall of the small town of Trenton, Tennessee—located about midway between Nashville and Memphis—houses the fire department, the police department, and the world’s largest collection of porcelain “veilleuses-theieres,” also known as the Trenton Teapot Museum.
Unlike the teapots we’re familiar with today, the veilleuses-theieres, or night light teapots, consist of a teapot and a matching porcelain stand where a short candle or small vessel (called a godet) filled with oil can be burned to keep the contents of the teapot warm.
Early veilleuses-theieres used bowls to warm porridge, soup, and drinks for patients in sick rooms and hospitals. Eventually, the teapot replaced the bowl, and in addition to brewing herbal and floral tea, it was used for tisanes for babies. Napoleon used veilleuses-theieres as night lights in his tent, popularizing the custom. The Trenton collection includes four veilleuses-theieres that belonged to Napoleon.
Around 1830 in France, more ornate and decorative versions designed for the wealthy and aristocracy began to appear, taking the form of people, or featuring figurines or insignias. In the early 20th century, Dr. Frederick C. Freed, a doctor and professor of gynecology, began to collect these unique porcelain pieces during his travels, and by the end of his life, had amassed nearly 650 teapots from several parts of Asia and Europe.
He donated 525 of these rare artifacts, dating from 1750 to 1860, to the city of Trenton in 1955. He had originally planned to donate the collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but his brother convinced him to instead give this fascinating collection to their hometown.
Know Before You Go
Admission is free and the exhibit is open 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Please call ahead (731) 855-2013 for large groups.