Tea chest

DATE: late 18th century (made)
PLACE: India (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Carved ivory painted with ink, cut glass bottles with silver mounts

This lockable tea chest was made in Vizagapatam, a busy trading port on the East coast of India. By the early 18th century, Vizagapatam craftsmen were producing Ango-Indian export pieces densely decorated with ivory inlay. Although large-scale furniture was sometimes made at Vizagapatam, the greater part of the trade was in easily transportable wood objects, such as caddies, writing boxes and chests. Due to their exotic materials and decorative appeal, Vizagapatam objects were often commissioned as gifts or tokens of esteem.

This tea chest is decorated with ivory veneers and engraved with lac to create contrasting black details. The floral decoration is likely inspired by the style of textiles made in the same region. The velvet-lined interior contains two cut glass canisters which would have been used to store two varieties of tea. Although the chest was made in Vizagapatam, the canisters and their silver lids bear the marks of the British silversmiths Thomas & Jabez Daniell (London, 1773) and were likely a special commission. A silver spoon with another maker’s mark rests in the central recess.