From the late 18th century to the early 20th century, silver wares such as this tea set were produced in China specifically for export to the West. The silversmithing trade had long been established in China resulting in excellent skill and workmanship that, with the rapid development of maritime trade, captivated a worldwide audience. As silver was cheap and plentiful in China in comparison to Europe and America, it caught the attention of foreign merchants, and Chinese silverware became fashionable daily commodities in the West.
This set is marked by Tu Mao Xing, one of the first silversmiths working from Jiujiang in the Jiangxi province of China from 1880 to 1930. Little is known about him and his work and his mark was often misidentified as Kan Mao Xing, a fictitious maker, until the 1980s. Pieces correctly identified as his demonstrate a fine and consistent quality and he has come to be considered as one of the finest Chinese silversmiths operating in the 19th century. His work combines traditional Chinese motifs with Western forms with his style referred to as ‘Chinese Victorian’, as coined by the Chinese export silver specialist, Adrien von Ferscht. This set showcases finely hammered silver with bamboo moulded handles and finials; design elements that would have greatly appealed to the Western market.