In the late 18th Century the Tea Caddy was an essential accessory for the upper class family. It embodied the allure of quality with the contents of tea that epitomised what was important for social status in British Society: and it literally held it under lock and key. This valuable box was a thing of both beauty and functionality, crafted to reflect ones social status and designed to provide the tools for that all necessary social activity of drinking tea. Tea's origins in Britain and links to the aristocracy can be traced back to when princess Catherine of Braganza (Portugal), when she came to England to marry Charles 11. She brought tea with her and introduced the drink to the London court and it became the drink of the gentry and wealthy. It was initially drunk in coffee houses by businessmen, intellectuals and men of the world. With its growth in popularity it gained a key role within the home with women, sociality and tea parties!
Within this period to protect and indulge this most quintessential and patriotic of English drinks in the home, the tea caddy was born. This archetypical tea holder was practical, beautiful and crafted with skill. The box held centre stage at a tea party and was brought out for special occasions for entertaining friends ensuring polite sociality with a tranquil drink ensuring a calm relaxed environment. As well as offering that all important "wow" factor when presented at a party, the Tea Caddy had its function as it kept tea under lock and key and thus keeping that all valuable commodity safe and secure which was vital for the owner due to its price.
Why be called a Tea Caddy? To have the word "tea" in "Tea Caddy" is obvious however the word "Caddy" is said to come from the Malay/ Chinese word "kati" the Chinese pound equal to about a pound and a third avoirdupois and refers to a measured quantity of tea. The majority of Tea Caddy's constructed at the end of the 18th century hold that approximate quantity of tea.
A Tea Caddy consisted of an outer, lidded tea box, which was beautiful crafted, artistically decorated and was usually lockable. Inside it had either, one, two or sometimes three inner compartments, which usually had individual lids and/ or two removable canisters for holding tea. The compartments are likely to be for green and black tea and the centre compartment is said was used usually for sugar, however it was also used for blending the tea, these compartments were occasionally labelled.
In the late 18th and early 19th century, Tea Caddy's were mainly made from wood and predominantly from mahogany and rosewood which was most popular. Tea Caddy's were made into three distinct shapes oval, oblong and square. They have a smooth and flat exterior usually have no other support such as feet. They were often decorated with features such as knobs and drop handles made of precious metals, ivory or other types of wood and mounted with brass. They were also inlaid with various materials for decoration such as mother of pearl, tortoiseshell, other woods and metals.
There are many types and designs of Tea Caddy due to the craftsmanship and skill used in their manufacture, with the emphasis on quality. However the "Tea Caddy" went out of use in the early 1900s due mainly to the price of tea falling less importance and ceremony was put into making of tea as it became the drink of the masses.
Fortunately for the collector there are many still in circulation in excellent condition as they now take pride of place in many homes. Their craft, beauty and individually unique design make them one of the most sought after collectibles.