Tea caddies were made in many shapes and sizes and from a variety of materials ranging from wood and silver to tortoiseshell and mother of pearl, but why?
Well tea was incredibly expensive when it was first introduced to the UK and it was felt necessary to keep it under lock and key away from the hands of the staff. The tea leaves were sometimes re-used and then as a perk of the job staff were ocassionally given the used tea leaves to re-use, the tea must have been very weak.
Drinking tea was quite a status symbol in the 18th and early 19th century and hence the lady of the house would keep the tea in a beautifully made tea caddy ,which would have a lock and key, for all to see,hence why there are so many exquisite antique tea caddies around.
Tea would either be placed directly into the chest and would have internal lids or the tea would be placed in canisters which are in turn placed into the caddy. Some caddies have a bowl and there is much debate as to whether this bowl was a mixing bowl for the tea or in fact for sugar that debate is still going on.
Sometimes antique tea caddies contain a secret drawer possibly for silver spoons, maybe sovereigns.......I once was lucky enough to find an antique tea caddy with a secret drawer which hadn't been opened for a number of years and inside was, no not sovereigns but an old shopping list from the early 1800's !!!
Look out for tea caddies with their original internal lids or canisters, secret drawers, unusual shapes, tented tops etc and sizes, very occasionally tea caddies were scaled down in size, these are a rare find, have fun hunting and collecting.
The image below is of a sarcophagus tea caddy its rarity is that it only measures 12cm wide by 7cm depth and 7cm high.