From the late 18th to the early 20th century, Chinese silver was almost exclusively produced from melted Spanish silver dollars, the only currency accepted for the trading of tea, silk and spices with other nations. The plentiful supply of silver bullion meant that Chinese workshops produced finely decorated objects at a fraction of the prices demanded in the West. Direct commissions prompted Chinese silversmiths to produce objects in pseudo-European styles (see CCN.424), but by the mid-19th century, they began to incorporate East-Asian motifs in their work, catering both to the export and affluent domestic markets.
This silver teapot was made by the Tu family of silversmiths, who operated between 1880 and 1930 from Jiujiāng, the silver-making centre of Southern China. The Tu workshop produced pieces of very high quality which merged Victorian forms with traditional Chinese motifs. The surface of this square silver teapot was achieved by spot-hammering, while the sculptural handle and blossoming prunus branch were cast separately before being applied to the body.