Antiques Column: Tea was a great novelty to people

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Tea was introduced to Europe from China with the expansion of trade in the 17th century and was a great novelty to people used to drinking only beer and posset. Although it was extremely expensive, a pound of tea cost the equivalent to a year’s wage for a maid, it was soon very popular.

It was originally drunk after dinner and was usually prepared personally by the lady of the house. Those who were buying tea also had the means to buy silver and by the end of the 18th century tea wares were a major part of the silversmith’s trade.

The earliest teapots date from the late 17th century but very few of these exist today. They were designed along the lines of the imported Chinese porcelain teapots. The pear shape came into being early in the 18th century. From the 1730s the compressed globular or ‘bullet’ shape became more fashionable than the the pear shape. Some teapots were very richly decorated with bands of engraved or chased scrolls, strapwork and flowers around the body and the edge of the lid.

One interesting variation on the bullet shape was the fully spherical teapot on a high foot that was a speciality of Scottish Silversmiths.

In the 1770s the availability of rolled sheet silver in thin gauge meant that silversmiths could produce teapots at a much reduced price. As rolled silver was easier to mould and shape, the oval and circular teapot shapes became popular. However such teapots were not as robust as those made from heavier gauge metal and splitting is sometimes evident around the spout which was made from seamed sheet metal instead of being cast.

The 19th century saw many further developments in teapot design, not least the electroplated model. The whole century is a separate subject.

What a collectable item the silver teapot is.