Tea canister

ARTIST / MAKER: Ash, Thomas (maker)
DATE: 1709-1710 (made)
PLACE: London (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver, engraved
COLLECTION NUMBER: 1376

Tea canisters are small containers used to store tea leaves. The first tea canisters originated in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), when the fashion for loose leaf tea necessitated new, air-tight vessels in which to store the leaves and keep them fresh. By the mid 18th century, the fashion for tea drinking had spread across Europe, where it was seen as a mark of sophistication and social etiquette. Silversmiths responded to the demand for teawares by creating fine silver pieces which would appeal to the upper classes. The astronomical cost of tea leaves prevented consumers from buying vast quantities, so early tea canisters such as this were often small in size but the precious materials from which they were made reflected the valuable contents within. The shape of this canister is derived from Chinese porcelain examples, an example of which is in the Chitra Collection (see CCN. 286), and the domed silver lid would have been used to measure out the tea leaves.