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.
This elaborate example was made by Benjamin Smith II, the son of an ‘ingenious chaser’ from Birmingham and one of the foremost silversmiths of his day. Driven by the fashion for neoclassical design, British silversmiths of the Regency period (1811-1829) produced tea and tablewares inspired by Greco-Roman architecture and vessels. The decorative motifs on this silver urn include palmettes, acanthus leaves and vines. Although the urn was made by Benjamin Smith II, it was probably sold by Rundell, Bridge & Rundell, a royal goldsmithing firm which relied heavily on the output of important silversmiths including Smith II, Digby Scott and Paul Storr.