Pilfered teapot is returned to grateful Waldorf-Astoria

NY Times News Service, NEW YORK

Fri, Nov 23, 2012 - Page 7

Nathanael Mullener wanted the tiny teapot to look as good when he gave it back as it must have looked when somebody walked off with it so long ago. Back home in New Orleans, he took it down from the spot in the hutch that it had occupied for years, and started polishing.

“Seventy-five years of tarnish” had to come off its silver trim, he said. “It was pitch black.”

Only when it was shiny did he bring it to New York.

His destination was what he called its “rightful owner,” the Waldorf-Astoria.

On Tuesday, he presented it to Matt Zolbe, the hotel’s director of sales and marketing.

It was the latest arrival under an “amnesty program” announced in June. The Waldorf said it was looking for items that had begun life at the hotel and had ended up in drawers, attics and other household hiding places: silverware, china and, yes, teapots that had been “secretly checked out,” as the hotel put it on its Facebook page.

“We have a very nice number of submissions,” the hotel’s social media manager Meg Towner said. “We see the value in each and every submission.”

Mullener, 75, said he remembered the teapot from when his family lived in Queens. He also said that for a while, his father lived near the Waldorf.

“He would say: ‘America is the greatest country, New York is the greatest city and the Waldorf is the greatest hotel,’ so I knew I had something from the epitome of crockery,” Mullener said.

However, he said the teapot long troubled him because it had obviously been filched.

“I never felt comfortable about having the thing,” Mullener said. “It was a matter of principle.”

And no, he said, he did not know who the thief was.

Zolbe said he had never seen a teapot like it — until just before Mullener arrived.

“I opened a box from Texas with an enclosed pink-and-silver teapot essentially identical to Nat’s,” Zolbe said by e-mail.

Mullener said his had a date under the lid, 1937. The other one said 1931.

Towner said the man who had mailed in the other teapot suspected that his parents had walked off with it.

“It was found in his mother’s cabinet after she passed away,” she said.

Mullener said he had come to realize that his teapot had a certain personality.

“It was charming in the way a bulldog is charming,” he said. “It had that squat solidity.”