Tea caddy

DATE: ca.1790 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Harewood with inlaid marquetry decorated with penwork

By the second half of the 18th century, tea drinking had firmly taken its place in the daily rituals of all British society. The taste for loose-leaf tea created a demand for beautiful tea chests in which to store the tea leaves and keep them fresh. An internal division or separate containers within the caddy would have allowed the owner to keep two varieties of tea.

This harewood tea caddy is decorated with floral sprays in marquetry, a labour-intensive technique which involves applying paper-thin veneers of wood cut to a design, that are then pieced together and applied to a surface. Marquetry became widespread in British cabinet-making from the 1760s, when a revival of Neoclassical designs in the ‘French taste’ became fashionable. Cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale became closely associated with the technique. Airwood (harewood) was a favoured material for marquetry, as its natural, off-white colour and metaliic sheen provided an appealing contrast when placed next to other woods. Over time, the action of chemicals and oxidisation caused the wood to turn brown, as seen on this caddy.