Tea Leaf Symbols in Art

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According to this circa 1905 Fred Lounsbury postcard, when tea leaves form an image of a Star, it is an omen of a long and happy life
A Bamforth comic postcard, circa 1930, showing the image of a black cat in the tea leaves

Tea leaf omens and symbols -- images of the images found in the tea cup -- are themselves the subject of art, especially commercial paintings and cartoons used to decorate postcards during the early 20th century.

Tea Leaf Symbols on Postcards

In some cases the art is intended to teach or exemplify the symbolic meaning, after the manner of an instruction booklet or a set of flash cards. The Fred C. Lounsbury tea leaf fortune telling postcards of 1907 - 1908 are of this type. Lounsbury also produced similarly gilded postcards explicating the meanings of playing cards, dice, and dominos.

In other cases, the meaning of the symbol is thought to be so culturally well-known or so inherently obvious, that any comment made about it will take on a slightly comic air. This is the case in the example of the tea cup with the black cat, labelled as "Good Luck."

During the great postcard craze of 1905 to 1915, most narrative art postcards were released in sets of six, a number was dictated by the size of the printing presses used to produce them. So, generally, if you see one card, you will either find a set of six. Rarely, as in the case of astrology art cards, the set will consist of twelve -- the number of the signs of the zodiac.

catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
The Mystic Tea Room

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