Tea caddy and spoon

DATE: ca.1790 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Tortoiseshell, ivory and piqué work

The body of this tea caddy is made from tortoiseshell, most likely that of the tropical Hawksbill sea turtle, a species that is now endangered. The Hawksbill turtle shell was at one time prized for its attractive patterning and large size, measuring up to 1 metre long. The front of the caddy is also decorated with piqué work, a decorative technique which became fashionable across Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. This technique originated in France and was commonly used to embellish tortoiseshell or ivory. Precious materials such as gold, silver and mother-of-pearl are either melted to fill minute holes and linear engravings made into the tortoiseshell surface, or impressed into the softened shell as plaques, such as the large oval ornament beneath the escutcheon on this caddy.