Tea caddy

DATE: 1901-1910 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Tortoiseshell veneer with ivory banding

This hexagonal, bombé-shaped tea caddy is made from tortoiseshell veneer with ivory banding, and still retains its original tortoiseshell caddy spoon that was used for measuring out the tea leaves. Tortoiseshell was commonly used as a decorative material to embellish decorative and domestic objects destined for wealthy homes. The presence of two types of proteins, keratin and chitin, makes tortoiseshell a malleable material which can be easily moulded into a desired shape when softened in boiling water and olive oil. The shell of the tropical Hawksbill sea turtle was usually preferred due to its large size and attractive pattern. Although today the Hawksbill turtle is protected as a critically endangered species, at the beginning of the 20th century, when this caddy was made, its shell was still commonly used as a form of decoration.