Tea chest with internal caddies

DATE: ca.1790 (made)
PLACE: England (made)
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Satinwood veneer with kingswood marquetry and metal fittings

By the second half of the 18th century, tea drinking had firmly taken its place in the daily rituals of the upper and middle classes. The taste for loose leaf tea created a demand for beautiful tea chests in which to store the tea leaves and keep them fresh. Most tea chests were fitted with a lock, the key to which was kept by the lady of the house to deter pilfering servants from stealing the contents. Two internal caddies, as seen with this example, would have allowed the owner to keep two varieties of tea.

The restrained decoration on the chest’s surface was achieved using the technique of marquetry, whereby small, shaped veneers of wood are applied to the body to create contrasting patterns. Although the earliest examples of marquetry date back to ancient Egyptian civilisation, this decorative technique flourished in late 17th century France and later in England with the arrival of William of Orange’s court, as a vehicle for the ‘French taste’. The symmetrical decoration is Neoclassical in style, featuring shells, furled acanthus leaves and hanging bell-husks.