Napoleon Bonaparte’s excursion to Egypt in 1798 triggered a revival of interest in the art, architecture and culture of ancient Egypt in Europe, a craze known as ‘Egyptomania’. This was popularised by the publication of books such as Vivant Denon’s Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute Egypte that became available in England and France in 1802. Denon’s Voyage contained accurate representations of Egyptian buildings and their decoration and became an important source for European designers and craftsmen who incorporated these motifs into their work. This tea and coffee set by Benjamin Smith II and James Smith is decorated in the Egyptian style. Each piece is ornamented with geometric borders, classical heads and, on the tripod stand of the coffee pot, three winged Egyptian-style figures. The design of the coffee pot and tripod derives from a drawing attributed to Jean-Jacques Boileau, now in the Victoria & Albert Museum. Boileau was a French mural painter and designer who came to England in the late 1780s to work on the decoration of Carlton House, the Prince Regent’s London residence.
Each piece in this set bears the arms of Earl Howe, most likely Richard William Penn Curzon-Howe, 1st Earl Howe (1796-1870). Howe took his seat in the House of Lords in 1820, having succeeded his paternal grandfather as Viscount Curzon. Between 1829 and 1830 he held the privileged position of Lord of the Bedchamber to George IV.