Melissa Johnson’s Insult Tea Cups Are Steeped in Humor and Charm

We need any attempt to have a giggle in these crazy times, which is why Melissa Johnson’s company, “Miss Havisham’s Curiosities.” appeals to so many.

Using dainty floral-designed teacups and plates that our grandmothers would have loved, she injects humorous insults onto them to create fun conversation pieces.

My friend Lauren London turned me on to them and I cracked up upon reading such bon mots as “Stop Talking,” “I Could Poison You,” and “Kindly Fuck Off.”

“Because my brand celebrates the tension between high brow and low, prissy and profane, the more dainty the backdrop, the harder the written messages hit you,” she says. “I started it in 2016 as a side project, but then our insult cups went viral in 2017.”

That aha moment happened because of an arched eyebrow and the deadpan delivery of comic genius Stephen Colbert, who featured her products on his CBS late-night show.

“So I quit my job as a TV animation executive and now it’s my full-time gig,” she says. “Life is weird.”

But also strangely serendipitous.

Considering her background – she is descended from antique dealers and grew up going to flea markets – this seems like a logical evolution for her career. Her grandmother specialized in china and glassware and used to paint words inside broken teacups with “nail polish and embroider funny things in quilts.”

 

Flowers play a large part in the appeal of her products, which can be purchased online, starting at $60.

“When I look for vintage china to work with, I always try to find traditional and delicate compositions and those historically have contained flowers,” she says. “There’s no shortage of vintage teacups in the world with roses on them. Lily of the valley is another common theme. Poppies are a favorite of mine so anytime I find poppy cups or plates, I grab them.”

Johnson, who is married to director and puppeteer Tim Lagasse, is currently working on a whole new line with vibrant flowers in pinks, oranges and purple tones on moody backgrounds inspired by the Dutch masters right now.

As her company has grown, she now allows people to customize the china with their “own insults, if ours aren’t snarky enough for you.”

But most customers find something perfect in her line for their own use since she works very hard to find that insouciant balance of charm and shock.

“I’m not the first person to put a funny phrase on china, that honor probably goes to whoever first put “Over the hill” on a coffee mug,” she says. “I do think that my particular flavor of humor resonates because I try to keep it classy in the phrases I write. What would the Dowager Countess or Miss Havisham say? Another big distinction is that my cups and plates are food safe. They’re functional pieces of art. I want you to use them.”

With the cold sterility of tech, her items also feel, well, authentic. Freshly fun and sweet, it is a sentiment we could use more of in modern-day life. This is perhaps why Etsy and the proliferation of hipster craft fairs, organic jams and flowers, have become so popular.

But her line of products is also a form of protest.

“Words matter, especially now and as women, we’re taught to be polite above all else,” says Johnson. “My cups and plates try to turn that on its head.”

They are also comic relief for any gathering – especially around the holidays with family and friends where one often restrains their feelings for the greater good. Of course, even if you are feeling these things when you ever so aggressively shove the crumpets towards them, you can smile and pretend it’s just a joke and not your genuine feelings. -Jill Brooke

Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.

 

Photo Credit: Melissa Johnson