Tea chest

ARTIST / MAKER: John Harris (maker) One of the silversmiths who made the canisters (silver escutcheon and handle have different unidentified hallmarks)
DATE: 1788 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Velvet-lined wood, engraved silver

By the second half of the 18th century, the most fashionable beverage in British society was tea, completely surpassing the taste for coffee. Although Chinese porcelain vessels were exported to Europe to store and serve tea, an increasing demand for fashionable but utilitarian wares encouraged British silversmiths to produce tea canisters, caddies and chests in which tea leaves could be kept fresh. Due to tea’s extremely high cost, tea chests such as this example were kept in the drawing room rather than the kitchen and often featured a lock to keep the costly contents secure. Earlier chests were made from a variety of exotic materials, including solid or veneered wood, mother-of-pearl and ivory. This chest would have been made by a cabinet maker to store the two silver canisters. Their air-tight lids were designed to keep out moisture to preserve the tea, usually Bohea (black) and green tea which were the most popular at this time.