Tea caddy

DATE: ca.1880 (made)
PLACE: India (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver with embossed, chased and engraved decoration

During the period of British rule in India from 1858 to 1947, Indian silversmiths responded to British and European demand for silver, following Western requirements for tea services, shapes, and forms. By the 1860s however, the surface decoration reflected the maker’s own tastes, and different silversmithing regions of India developed their own distinctive styles.

This caddy is attributed to the Kutch master silversmith Oomersi Mawji, who belonged to the mochi or cobbler caste that used similar techniques as silver chasing to punch designs into leather. Although it doesn’t bear his mark, it is almost identical in design to a sketch for a biscuit box in the form of a Hindu temple which is signed by his workshop, the finished piece now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, U.S.A. The foliate floral embossed pattern is typical of Kutch silverware, a district of Gujarat, and was the most admired Indian silverware style by British consumers in the late 19th century. The catalogues of department stores Liberty & Co. and Proctor & Co., exclusively featured silver from this region and the designs were imitated by British and American makers, such as Elkington. Mawji’s repute was reinforced with the inclusion of his work at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1878, leading to the status as a world famous brand.