Collecting Tea-Related Items

By: Kathleen and Roger Haller • Mar 03, 2012 • 0 Comments

Tea was brought to Europe around the middle of the 17th century. Since it was very costly all of the items used for service were made of the finest materials, such as porcelain, exotic woods, tortoiseshell, ivory, crystal and silver.

The first documented teapot in English silver dates from 1670. The body of the earlier examples is globular, pear shaped or square, or sometimes has vertical sides and is oval, hexagonal or octagonal. Later ones were bullet shaped and vase shaped. The spout is always opposite the handle. As the history of the teapot spans three and a half centuries there remains a large selection to choose from. The earliest examples are costly. Georgian and Victorian pots are more readily available and affordable. Always check carefully for condition and quality.

This brings us to the teapot stand, either with a wooden base or short legs to protect the surface of the table. The shape conforms to the base of a teapot. These are quite scarce.

Creamers and sugar bowls come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes. Originally not all teapots had matching components, these came later along with hot water urns, waste bowls, sugar nips or tongs. Sugar nips were a scissor form and preceded the tongs.

Tea chests held two or more silver tea caddies, together with various related silver accessories such as a sugar bowl, sugar box, cream jug, sugar tongs, and mote spoon as well as a set of tea spoons and generally provided with a lock to prevent pilferage of the tea. These chests were usually covered with shagreen and had silver mounts on the rim.

Tea caddy spoons were made from 1780 onwards and come in numerous designs. Rare forms such as jockey caps, filigree, part filigree and leaf form are the most expensive. The shell shape is considered the earliest. Sometimes the handles were ivory, mother of pearl, turned wood or hollow silver. These are more fragile and have a lower survival rate.

Mote spoons were in use until the mid 18th century, their pierced bowl being used to skim off floating particles of tea leaves and motes (tea dust) from the cup of tea. The thin and tapered handle with a barbed end was perhaps used to remove tealeaves clogging the spout.

Spouters are devices inserted into the teapot spout to catch tealeaves while pouring the tea. English spouters from the beginning of the 19th century are hard to find and expensive. French spouters are more readily available dating from the 1830s. Tea strainers commonly seen are late 19th and 20th century.

As you can see there are many areas which lend themselves to individual collecting depending on one's budget. Good hunting.

View a wonderful Gorham silver tea service from David Skinner Antiques