Antique_Tea_Caddies by cuiliqing



By Millicent F. Creech

Inch for inch and dollar for dollar, 18th and early 19th
century tea caddies probably represent one of the
most expensive areas of collecting.

There are quite good reasons for the expense. Tea caddies have to do with tea drinking – which in itself is associated with
only the wealthiest for the first 150 years after its introduction from China to the West. Therefore the containers for this
precious commodity must meet the highest standards of cabinetry and craftsmanship. Consequently, tea caddies are
widely collected – both for their uniqueness, as well as their exquisite quality. Most English museums have at least a few.
The finest collection belonged to Queen Mary, a number of hers having been left to the Victoria and Albert Museum in
London. They stand as the ultimate symbol of the most elegant era in English history.

                                                               Tea drinking dates to about 600 A. D. in China, to about
                                                               850 A. D. in Japan, reaching Holland (via the Dutch East
                                                               India Company) about 1610, and England (via the British
                                                               East India Company) in the late 1650’s. The tea plant is
                                                               actually a variety of the camellia, well known for its waxy
                                                               leaves and winter blooms. There are many varieties of tea,
                                                               each with its own special taste, and each going through
                                                               similar processes, the methods of which have remained the
                                                               same for hundreds of years. Black tea is the most common
                                                               form today, in which the leaves have been dried, rolled and
                                                               then fermented. Green tea undergoes the same process,
                                                               but remains unfermented. Tea was shipped (above the
                                                               water line as it was essential that it be kept dry in the long
                                                               voyages from China) in weights of about 1 1/3 pound,
                                                               known as a “kati”. The Chinese term for the weight has
                                                               become anglicized to represent the box we call “caddy”.

Kangxi Silver-Mounted Blue & White Porcelain Tea              Huge duties were imposed upon the tea, and kept in place
Caddies, c1690; Dutch silver mounts. The lids were            until 1833, being only slightly lowered in 1784. This kept
used for measurers. These have been mounted or                the price quite high - a pound of tea equaling more than a
year’s wages for the average person. Thus it was a luxury for the very wealthy only, available to men – or to the footman
replaced, as they often get broken in usage.
of the lady of the house – until about 1710. The price was so high that much tea was also smuggled into even the finest
homes. Parson Woodforde (Norfolk, 1777) records payment to “Richard Andrews, a Smuggler” for a pound of tea.
Caddies (or canisters) were rare before 1700. The
earliest tea caddies (c1660) were of fine Chinese
porcelain, and accompanied the tea and its equipage
(teabowls and saucers, teapots, etc.) on the long voyage
                                        from China. The
                                        small     caddies
                                        were of baluster
                                        shape with small
                                        lids and some-
                                        times an applied
                                        gilt cloud form
                                        scrolling around
                                        the footrim. The
                                        shaped     bodies
                                        were painted in
                                        under-glaze blue
                                        and white, or in
                                        famille rose after
                                        1720 (left). The     hole with a glass bowl for mixing the teas, or for the
                                        tiny lids were       sugar). The removable fittings (or canisters) for the 3
used to measure tea into the quite small teapots. Most of    compartments could be of the finest silver, glass, enamel
these lids are now lost or broken, and finding one with      on copper, or porcelain.
the original lid is quite difficult.

In the 1720’s, rectangular
shapes having sloping
shoulders were introduced.
The English and European
porcelain bottle forms
rapidly followed in similar
styles. These containers
are technically known as
canisters – and might be                                     Often they had hidden compartments, as a sliding
housed in wooden, silver                                     drawer above the feet, for the storage of spoons: tea
or shagreen tea caddies.                                     caddy spoons for measuring, pierced and pointed mote
                                     Meissen, Germany,
                                                             spoons for removing the stray tea leaves and unstopping
18th Century Caddies : The earliest wooden tea caddies       the spout, silver sugar nips (small scissors for sugar),
date to the reign of Queen Anne, c1705, and were made        and small 4.5” teaspoons. Al-ways, the boxes were kept
from walnut. However very few remain. Most that we           under lock and
see today date from the middle of the 18th century. They     key.
were at first trunk-shaped boxes, known as tea chests.
The chests usually had 3 compartments: one for black
                                                             George II Silver
fermented tea, one for green tea, and one for sugar.
(Later, the central compartment might provide a round
                                                               Caddy, 1733,
                                                                sliding base,
Styles of the tea caddies follow quite closely the cabinet-   surfaces have developed a lovely rich patina over the
making techniques of the day, and were made to the very       years.
highest standards and from the period’s very best woods.
Thomas Chippendale, in the 1762 edition of                    The fruit forms, usually turned from fruitwoods, were
“Gentleman’s Director”, illustrated tea caddies in the        made in both England and Germany. They were copies
rococo form (a French-Chinese hybrid popular from the         of the earlier Chinese pear and aubergine models. The
1740’s until the 1770’s). The small chests, often             European forms include apples, pears, cantaloupes,
serpentine (curving front, carved from a single wider         aubergines, strawberries and even pineapples. They
board), were made of imported mahogany – the wood of                                        were varnished (from
the day – and carved, or applied, with silver or gilt-                                      1800) and occasionally
bronze (ormolu) mounts, handles and feet. Some had                                          painted, the lids being
simple bracket or ogee (continuous double curve in the                                      lifted by a single wooden
shape of an “S”) feet, others having scrolled “French”                                      “stem” or small knop.
feet.                                                                                       The interiors were foiled
                                                                                            lined.       The various
                                                                                            keyhole escutcheons can
                                                                                            help to date them: late 18th
                                                                                            century – steel, ivory, or
                                                                                            silver for the finest;

                                                              George III Pear Form          Regency (c1810-1830) –
     Hepplewhite Tea Caddy Designs, England,                                                brass; later 19th century
                                                               Tea Caddy
                         1788                                 Germans examples – iron (these being less finely made
George Hepplewhite, in his “Cabinet-Maker and
                                                              and of a much lesser value). The German models are
Upholsterer’s Guide” (1788), illustrated a vast variety of
                                                              quite often passed off as being 18th century, so be quite
styles in the neoclassical taste. Many shapes were
                                                              careful when selecting these.
offered – from small square single caddies, to larger 3-
compartment caddies, with removable wooden
compartments, or thin square lids with knop lifts. Other
shapes included oval, hexagonal, with flat or domed lids,
and the collectible and quite expensive fruit forms. Most
were inlaid with colored and exotic woods. The inlays
were still quite thick, and hand cut, but quite precise.
West Indian satinwood, fruitwood, harewood (green-
dyed sycamore), yew wood with its many “eyes”, as
well as mahogany, were a few of the late 18th century
favorites. Delicate inlay and hand painting were
favored. Marquetry ranged from shells or patera, shaded
with hot sand or lead, to fine floral, pastoral, or
architectural decoration.                                       George III Paperscroll (Quillwork) Tea Caddy,
                                                                England, c1790-1800
                                                              Other 18th century caddies included brass; papier mache,
Painted caddies are also quite charming, being decorated
                                                              with simple painted decoration, or very small pearl
with flowers and garlands, and occasionally with figural
                                                              beading; paper scrolling (above), in which ladies
compositions. Lifts, or handles, were of brass, silver,
                                                              practiced twisting and rolling tiny strips of colored paper
ivory or wood. The wood surface was finished by hand-
                                                              and gluing them end on end, to form complex designs,
rubbing with layers of wax and turpentine. These
 often centering a painted medallion; ivory; lacquer with       elongated triangles. More exotic woods with quite
 japanned (chinoiserie decorated) surfaces, usually with 2      dramatic figuring, as rosewood and coromandel, became
 or 3 interior pewter canisters; and silver, as well as Old     more popular than the inlaid shells of the previous
 Sheffield Plate. Single very simple silver examples            century. In 1815, the French polish was introduced for
 became popular in the 1770’s, with restrained                  the tea caddy, resulting in a thin glossy even surface.
 decoration, as bright-cut garlands of flowers and              This was quite different that the 18th century waxed
 ribbons. Miniature examples are also quite charming,           finishes. (A good French polish is not heavy, but quite
 and quite collectible.                                         sheer. Beware of caddies that have been over-restored
                                                                with an inappropriate surface, perhaps on an 18th century
 Perhaps the most desirable caddy to many collectors is         form.)
 the tortoiseshell tea caddy. Introduced in the late 18th
 century, they are usually of small size, and multi-sided,
 with ivory or silver dividers. This is due to the smaller
                                        size of the tortoise-
                                        shell plate.     The
                                        natural warm brown
                                        colors of the thin
                                        tortoise were some-
                                        times      enhanced
                                        with yellow, green
                                        or red foil backing,
                                        or with staining.                Regency Sarcophagus Form Blonde
                                        Mother of pearl                           Tortoiseshell Tea
                                        inlays were not                         Caddy, England, c1815
                                                                By the 1830’s, tea, which had previously been steeped in
                                        added until the 19th    the living room with quite elegant ceremonies, was
                                        century, becoming       relegated to kitchen preparation. Although elegant and
                                        more elaborate later    expensive caddies continued to be produced until the late
George III Silver-Mounted
                                        in the century.         1880’s, the height of the era ended about 1840. In 1826
Tortoiseshell &
                                                                prepackaged tea was introduced, becoming increasingly
Ivory Tea Caddy, England,
                                                                popular, until by the 1880’s, it had completely replaced
 19 Century Caddies : By 1800, the cost of tea had              the exquisite handcrafted caddy.
 lowered slightly, enabling the use of larger boxes. The
 sarcophagus shape, with tapering of bowed sides, based
 on Egyptian forms, often with top gadrooning, and
 usually set on ball, bun or animal paw feet, became quite
 popular. It is the most plentiful caddy offered for sale
 today. Brass stringing (inlay) was introduced about
 1810, often combined with abalone later in the century.
 From 1825, papier-mache caddies took more fanciful
 French curving forms, and were decorated exuberantly
 in abalone and hand painting. Tunbridgeware was also
                                                                     From Thomas Chippendale’s “Gentleman &
 quite important, with their geometric multicolored wood
                                                                     Cabinet Maker’s Director”, England, 1762,
 inlays, the earliest being cube patterned parquetry and
                                                                       a tea caddy (or chest) designed in the
                                                                                French rococo manner
Collecting : Reproductions are made today in great
quantities, and passed to the American market as early
19th century. As well, many early chests and caddies
have been either altered or over-restored. Re-polishing
(cleaning with denatured alcohol without removing the
finish) is acceptable, but refinishing, particularly a recent
refinish, lowers the value. Collectors should be aware of
these possibilities when searching. As always, shopping
with knowledgeable dealers, and handling as many as
possible prior to selection, is advisable.                        Pair of George III Silver Tea Caddies, George
                                                                  Scofielld, London, 1787
There are few bargains in good caddies, and if the price
seems a little low, check it carefully. See if originally it               Millicent Ford Creech
had feet on the bottom, or if the inlay seems rough,
                                                                              M. Ford Creech Antiques
indicating later addition. Examine the inner lids of
                                                                                Memphis, Tennessee
wooden and tortoiseshell caddies to see if original – they
will not have faded as much as the outside, and should
                                                                    From a series of 6 articles for “At Home Magazine”:
fit properly. Replaced bowls or brasses do not really
                                                                              Chinese Export I: Blue & White
lower the value, but original ones may raise the value
                                                                              Chinese Export II: Famille Rose
and desirability. Be sure that the wear is consistent with
                                                                                   Early English Spoons
the purported age.
                                                                                    Silver Tea Services
                                                                                   Antique Tea Caddies
As always, choose the best your pocketbook can afford.
                                                                         What’s So Special About the 18th Century?
A fine purchase will never be regretted, and a “bargain”
may later be replaced – or discarded.

Recommended Reading:

Tea Caddies, Noel Riley, 1985

                                                                Napoleon III Silver Vermeil Tea Caddy Spoon,
                                                                Philippe Berthier, Paris

     George II Silver Sugar Nips, Wm. & James                   George II Silver Mote Spoon, for removing tea
                 Priest, London, c1755                                               leaves, c1755

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