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 specially designed urn stand that had a pull out drawer or slide on which the teapot was placed.
The shape of this urn is inspired by a volute krater, an ancient vessel used to mix water and wine. Interest in classical antiquity markedly increased in the second half of the 18th century following the archaeological excavations at Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii in 1748. Shapes such as this vase were reproduced in fashionable publications, notably Sir William Hamilton’s ‘Collection of Etruscan, Greek and Roman Antiquities’ which was published by Baron d’ Hancarville in 1766.