Tea bowl and saucer

DATE: 1685 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver-gilt with flat chasing

This silver-gilt tea bowl and saucer is one of the earliest English silver pieces in the collection as well as one of the rarest, owing to the short window in which such items were produced. When tea was first introduced to Britain, it was most commonly green tea, heated to around 80˚C and served lukewarm. When the fashion changed to drinking black tea, heated to boiling point, metal was not the preferred material for teawares and so ceased to be produced, with porcelain cups then becoming popular.

The chinoiserie style in which it is decorated enjoyed popularity in the 1680s and 90s, with a similarly decorated teabowl and saucer in the Fitzwilliam museum from 1683, marked for GS, as well as a Porringer marked for 1685 by John Richardson. The design is based on depictions of the mythical Chinese creature, the ho-o bird, similar to a phoenix in appearance and made up of elements from different creatures such as the rooster, peacock and pheasant. A popular image with western consumers, the design began to be copied by European makers on both silver and ceramic wares.

This tea bowl and saucer were once part of the Lipton Collection, connected to the tea company started by Sir Thomas Lipton in the 1870s in Glasgow, which spread throughout the UK and the United States of America. When the company was bought by Unilever in the 1930s, a selection of historic silver teawares were bought to act as a travelling museum, promoting the luxury of tea drinking at parties held by the company.