Tea chest and three canisters

ARTIST / MAKER: John Swift (maker)
DATE: 1772 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver canisters, sharkskin and velvet case with silver mounts

The fashion for tea-drinking in Britain led to a great demand for storage containers for tea leaves, known as canisters or caddies. These containers were often made in a set and stored inside tea chests. Due to the high price of tea, tea chests were usually fitted with a lock, the key for which was kept by the lady of the house to protect the valuable tea leaves from pilfering servants. Tea canisters eventually became known as caddies, a term which derives from the Malay word, kati: a unit of measurement used for weighing tea. The kati was equivalent to about 1-1/3 pounds (600 grams), the amount in a standard 18th century packet of tea. This sharkskin box contains two silver tea caddies, each for a different variety of tea. The larger, central container may have been used for mixing the two types of tea to create a blend, or for the storage of sugar. All three caddies are decorated with fine intricate chasing in the rococo style that was highly fashionable in the mid-18th century, and bear a crest depicting a bee or fly with wings outstretched which was granted in Scotland to someone called Betson or Beatson of Kilrie county Fife. The latin motto translates as ‘diligent with prudence’.