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Sammy Basson of Johannesburg writes: I inherited this little cup and side plate (perhaps the saucer) with painted detail from my mother. The cup is just 6cm tall and the plate/saucer is 10.5cm in diameter. They both have an indistinct marking on the bottom. Are they valuable and do you know anything about their history?

Ainsley Taylor, consultant in decorative arts, glass and ceramics at Stephan Welz & Co, replies: The small size of this cup, standing only 6cm tall, indicates that this is a demitasse or half-cup, traditionally a coffee cup.

With the trade of coffee beans reaching Europe in the 17th century, the popularity of coffee spread rapidly and the Middle Eastern custom of drinking very hot, black coffee in small cups became widespread. It was the French who adapted the small cups to suit a more European taste, and these demitasse sets became popular throughout Europe.

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