Hot water urns were produced in England from the 1760s to make serving tea more convenient for the hostess. Urns eliminated the need to lift a heavy kettle; simply turning the tap drew hot water. Their inner workings were more complex and the assistance of a servant was still essential. To heat the water, charcoal was kept in a perforated silver container placed at the base of the urn. From the 1770s a heated iron plug was used instead and inserted into a copper tube that was soldered into the centre of the urn. When used in a drawing room with company, large silver urns were an obvious expression of wealth and taste. They were usually positioned on a sideboard or on a specially designed urn stand that had a pull out drawer or slide on which the teapot was placed.
The invention of the hot water urn, with its vase-like shape, was timely, coinciding with the rise of the neoclassical style. This example was made by the London silversmith Nicholas Dumée, who worked in Clerkenwell Green in partnership with the silversmith William Holmes. It is decorated with classical swags, acanthus flowers, laurel leaves, snakes that entwine the handles and a dolphin-form spigot terminal. The marital coat of arms seems to have been used without authority by a couple with the names Bagnall and Harvey.