It's difficult to think of an England without tea. But it was only about 400 years ago that tea began to be imported to Europe on a regular basis. In the 1500's, Portugal first made contact with China. Missionaries and traders were introduced to the "bitter red beverage" which was popular with wealthy Chinese. Small quantities were brought back to Europe, perhaps for a monarch or aristocrat, after which the popularity of tea sparked a huge tea-trading scramble—initially in Portugal, the Netherlands and (a little later) England. History tells us that Catherine of Braganza (Portugal) brought tea with her when she arrived to marry King Charles II of England. And, boy, did it take off from there! During the 18th Century, it is estimated that 10% of English Government revenue was from tea duties alone. (It was not only Boston tea drinkers who were paying high taxes on the elite beverage.)
The pursuit of tea accounted for more and more of Europe's trade activity with far-flung Asian lands. And all this exotic tea was not cheap! For the first 300 years, tea was considered an expensive luxury. The Mistress of the House would keep her tea locked-up in a secure tea caddy. Servants might winkle the occasional cup, but it was not until the 19th Century that tea became affordable for working people to enjoy.
Although tea was introduced throughout Europe, it became most popular in England—where it remains so to this day. Tea caddies have been a useful item for centuries. Initially, they were locking caddies, decorated with precious materials indicative of the valuable treasure secured within. In later years, perhaps starting with the Mid-Nineteenth Century, the lock was no longer required, however, something handsome and a little ceremonial might still be appropriate.
This English brass tea caddy, made around 1920, has a hammered body and a crisp shoulder decorated with foliate elements. Click on the photo above to learn more about it.
Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well! Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (www.LEOdesignNYC.com).
We also can be found in Pittsburgh's historic "Strip District" at Mahla & Co. Antiques (www.mahlaantiques.com) or in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (www.antiquecenterofstrabane.com).
Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only). 917-446-4248