Tea caddy

DATE: 1820 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Ivory veneer inlayed with mother of pearl and scrimshaw scroll work

Up until the late 18th century, the cost of tea was so high that it was regarded as a luxury commodity and enjoyed only by the privileged few. As a result, tea leaves were stored inside lockable boxes, known as caddies. The name derives from the Chinese word kati, a weight equivalent to about 600lbs, the standard amount in an 18th century packet of tea. This caddy is veneered with ivory, with bands of tortoiseshell and mother-of-pearl inlaid decoration. The area around the empty cartouche is decorated with scrollwork in a scrimshaw stipple of dots. It would have been displayed on the tea table while tea was being served, to demonstrate wealth, taste and knowledge of proper tea equipage.