TEA-CADDY, a box, jar, canister or other receptacle for tea. The word is believed to be derived from catty, the Chinese pound, equal to about a pound and a third avoirdupois.
The earliest examples that came to Europe were of Chinese porcelain, and approximated in shape to the ginger-jar. They had lids or stoppers likewise of china, and were most frequently blue and white.
The English kilns at first imitated them, but speedily devised forms and ornament of their own, and there was hardly a ceramic factory in the country which did not compete for the supply of the new fashion.
But tea-caddies were not for long confined to procelain or faience. They were presently made in a great variety of materials, and in an equal variety of shapes. Wood, pewter, tortoise-shell, brass, copper and even silver were employed, but in the end the material most frequently used was wood, and there still survive vast numbers of Georgian box-shaped caddies in mahogany, rosewood, satinwood and other choice timbers, often mounted in brass and delicately inlaid, with knobs of ivory, ebony or silver.
Although many examples were made in Holland, principally of the earthenwar of Delft, the finer varieties enamelled, enriched with ciphers, and emblazoned with heraldry, the tea-caddy was a typically English product. As the use of the jar waned and that of the box increased, the provision of different receptacles for green and black tea was abandoned, and the wooden caddy, with a lid and a lock, was made with two and often three divisions, the centre portion being reserved for sugar. Chippendale's caddies in Louis Quinze fashion were delightful, with their claw and ball feet and exquisite finish.
On the whole the mahogany or rosewood caddy of the latter part of the 18th and the early years of the 10th century was, from the artistic point of view, the most elegant and satisfying. The wood was rich and well-marked, the inlay simple and delicate, the form graceful and unobtrusive. Even when it took the shape of a miniature sarcophagus, imitated from the massive winecoolers of the Empire period, with little claw feet and brass rings, it was a decidedly pleasing object. The larger varieties were known as tea-chests.
As tea grew cheaper it became less important that it should be kept constantly under the mistress's eye, and the tea-caddy gradually fell into desuetude. It has, however, never gone entirely out of use, though handsome examples are now most commonly regarded as ornaments or preserved in collections.
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