A canister for holding loose tea leaves, a tea caddy originates from the east in places such as China and India, and takes its name from the Malay ‘kati’ which means 1 ⅕ pounds. As such, early western tea caddies take their form from Chinese porcelain examples. These were most commonly rectangular or octagonal and had a cap that also acted as a measuring cup.
The earliest surviving western tea caddy dates to 1682 and is silver with chased chinoiserie decoration. It is speculated that this could have been designed as part of a silver toilet service rather than as a tea caddy. This is because prior to 1700, tea caddies were extremely rare as the price of tea was so expensive and therefore inaccessible.
Early examples of tea caddies are often made of thin sheet metal whereas the later examples from the first few decades of the 18th century are made from heavier metal and usually fitted with sliding bases or tops. This sliding base or top is to allow for a lead liner to be inserted. At this time, tea caddies are usually found in pairs as one was to hold black tea and one green.
As the habit of taking sugar in tea developed it prompted the development of caddy sets that were presented in a fitted case. This would likely contain three caddies, one each for the two types of tea and one for sugar. The cases were usually bespoke, made of rare wood or covered in shagreen and silver mounted. Some had ivory or mother of pearl included and some contained extra pieces such as teaspoons, tea knives, sugar nippers, and a mote spoon – perhaps the earliest iteration of a tea service.
The shape of the tea caddy has also evolved. Early examples are usually square when then developed into oblong caddies. After this, vase shaped caddies became popular; there were also some triangular caddies but these were quite uncommon.
Tea caddies were often intricately decorated with chasing or engraving which is timely and expensive to do. To the makers, the high cost of tea justified the time and expense given to the caddy and almost every form has been pressed into service.
By the mid 18th century, the tea caddy that had a cap that could be used as a measure had been superseded by a form that didn’t. As such, later designs required a spoon that could be included within the caddy itself.
By the 1770s, the price of tea had decreased from 40s per pound to 6s. This perhaps explains why from this point the pervading tea caddy shape was oval and they were divided internally, essentially becoming a self-contained unit. They were no longer presented in cases as a set and it appears that tea caddies were no longer the high luxury item they once were.
Sell Silver: Expert Valuations
For a free, no-obligation valuation of your silver simply use the form below. In order to provide you with an accurate valuation please provide as much of the below information as you can.
Send us images of your silver on Whats App and we will get back with a valuation. Click the button above or send the images to 07599615538
If you want to email over your images please send them to [email protected] or click the button above.