Whitehall Blog

Archive for June, 2011

Additions to Tea Caddies

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011

I am adding regularly to the tea caddy post which began June 9—scroll down to see all the new additions!

Fascinating Tea Caddies

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Of the many wonderful boxes to collect, perhaps the tea caddy is one of the most fascinating due to social history and beauty of construction and materials.  Currently we have several dozen in the shop dating from the early 18th century to the mid-19th century displaying the entire history of the decorative arts for about 150 years.

I want to share a few examples with you.

Burr Elm and Paktong

A fine, rare George II, c.1750, burl elm and Paktong mounted tea caddy with double compartments and sugar bowl (later ivory knobs inside). Later fabric inside the lid and sugar well. $2,400

This is the earliest form of caddy–a simple rectangle in which three wooden compartments, two of wood, or two of wood with glass may be found.  The compartments are usually individually lidded, may often lift out, and should be lined with lead paper to protect the valuable tea.  One compartment held green tea, one black tea and if a third is present, the sugar.  Glass bowls are frequently found for the sugar.  This locked up the extremely expensive sugar and tea in one convenient place.  Occasionally very fine caddies have porcelain or sterling silver containers and cheap models may have tin containers.

Please do not call the sugar bowls mixing bowls.  This was to keep the valuable sugar safe!  Mixing of teas might occur to taste by using the caddy spoon to get a bit of each for a cup or a scoop of each for a pot–it mixed in the boiling water–so pre-stirring of dry tea required!

Caddy opened



The velvet is clearly a Victorian change.  The ivory replaces earlier metal knobs–ivory was not really used for this purpose until after the middle of the 18th century. The bowl appears to be original as it has a deep base–hand blown of course–which sits into the turned wood bottom of the caddy–too much work for a replacement.  One can never be 199% sure but it is simply cut in the style of the 1730′s which conforms totally to the box style and mounts.

Now those gloriously elaborate furniture quality mounts appear to be solid silver.  However there are no hall marks!  Immediately one begins to carefully study the color, the casting, and realize these are rare Paktong mounts–Chinese white copper.  This remarkable metal with the color of silver and the strength and durability of bronze was highly sought out by the western traders to China, attempts made to duplicate it by such luminaries as Matthew Boulton, and finally about 1800 it was successfully copied by the Germans–what devolved into “nickel or German” silver by the 1830′s.  Everything from furniture mounts to andirons to candlesticks were made in China for export to the West and in Europe once the copies were successful.  The most valued and collected dates from the early 18th to the early 19th century.

Why call it burr or burl elm as opposed to other burls of equal beauty and interest such as ash, yew, thuya, etc?  Look carefully at the grain patterns across the box–I have given you nice big photos!  You will see a wiggly “w” shaped line in many of the dark streaks of grain.  This “w” is unique to elm–always look for it when differentiating ring porous woods (oak, ash, elm, chestnut) as it is the only one with this quirk!

I added the following tea caddy and lost the post–trying again–so sorry!

Of similar form but nearly 100 years later is this c. 1825 Regency bird’s eye maple and rosewood banded tea caddy.

This fascinating caddy combines the poor man’s satinwood–curly, bird’s eve maple–with what may be a band of orange lined rosewood (remember the wood is named for it’s smell when freshly cut, not it’s color).  It may also be a related family of woods ranging through various strange ebonies as well as the supposed rosewood–an eye examination is not a guarantee and it would be damaging to do a microscopic test.  Rosewood will do as a legitimate description.

The rectangular form is the standard since the early 1700′s but the woods have become far more exciting in contrasts and range of acquisition–by this time England is trading around the world and the sun never sets on the British flag.  It is not only the exterior that retains it’s form–the interior also conforms to the traditional standard of two boxes for tea and a bowl for sugar.

This thumbnail shot of the interior displays an unusually small sugar bowl between two generous tea bins–a time of trade difficulties for sugar perhaps.  In any event all of the interior except the lid lining is original–the sugar bowl perfectly fitted and hand blown.  Later and much simpler than our first example, this caddy is priced at $1,475.00 and is form a fine collection from a gentleman in South Georgia.  The first caddy is also from his collection which spanned the entire history of tea caddy production.

The next study piece represents an intermediate period between these examples.

c. 1785 caddy

These photos of a c. 1785 caddy, again of English origin, show a fine example of highly figured satinwood (notice the ribbon effect in the grain) inlaid with extravagant shell motifs of exotic and dyed woods (hair wood for the green).  This example is banded like it’s later cousin, retains the rectangular form of the earlier example, and opens to a simply stunning and very rare interior displaying the inlay on the inner lid, with banding on the interior lid and the tea well covers!  This is a true tour de force of the artisan’s woodworking skills.  Short of perhaps a small shell on each well cover, one simply cannot imagine further embellishment–and that would be overkill.  In this instance the sugar receptacle is not included–probably the owner preferred to keep his sugar locked in a silver sugar box, but we will never know.  Certainly the sugar well is not lacking due to either a lack of funds on the part of the buyer or a lack of expertise on the part of the maker.  Not surprisingly this caddy is priced at $3,600.00 as it has every imaginable neo-classical bell and whistle.  Even the interior knobs are finely turned ivory, not metal.

(By the way you can blow up these thumbnail photos by visiting our website and clicking on these photos–sorry you cannot do that directly on this blog.)

What we are discovering in these caddies is that they are perfect studies for the evolution of taste and style–what makes each of these fine would make a chest of each period fine, a pembroke of each period fine, a chair of each period fine, etc.  Each caddy represents the era in which it was made in the same way as every aspect of the decorative arts created an evolving panorama of design and style.


Of course not all caddies were of the original rectilinear form–as styles progressed several new and intriguing forms appeared.  With the Regency and Classical periods of 1815 to 1835 one very prominent form was the sarcophagus–based of course on Greco-Roman burial sarcophagi.  This exciting form is strongly linked to the Napoleonic era including Napoleon I’s own tomb.  It appears in many variants but the essence is a slightly stacked top and a swelling body, form gentle to highly pronounced.  The next caddy is a perfect example:

Early 19th century form


This early 19th century example, about 1815-20, is of highly figured mahogany with a stepped top set off with ebony for distinct effect and with delicate boxwood tracery and ivory inlaid dots at the points of the line inlay pattern–clearly seen in the next enlarged photo.

Enlarged Study

Additionally important are gilt brass winged feet and acanthus leaf and ring handles–a brilliant contrast against the highly figured dark and rich mahogany.  The boxwood and ivory also stand in distinct contrast against this finely figured ground.   The interior is set off by bird’s eve maple for continued striking contrast. From a value standpoint this has only two strikes against it–no glass sugar well and replaced book paper lid lining.  It is priced accordingly at $2.100.00.


Of course to a great extent its all about wood and form–take a look at this little zinger–it has only two interior lidded wells for tea so it is much smaller:

Burl Yewwood!

One of the most desired of all woods is found in this c. 1825 Regency Sarcophagus Form Caddy—yewwood.  The fabled wood of long bows from the age of Robin Hood, yewwood is an incredibly hard, dense soft wood!  That means it is an evergreen non-deciduous tree which we all think of as soft and easily dented or scratched woods such as pines and firs.  Yewwood is an amazing exception.  Look carefully at the grain patterns on this caddy–the grain appears to be smeared rather than distinct.  This smeared effect is the dead on identifier for yew.  Of course if you find it in the solid (the caddy is veneered) you will realize that the piece of furniture is unexpectedly heavy.  For example, the most desired windsor chairs are of yew–and are they ever heavy!

Additionally this caddy is exceptional in form–bowing, then chamfered and finally a little flat top–the exceptional burl yewwood trimmed in a light edging of box or holly with an ivory escutcheon.   The interior matches and it is priced at $1,800.


Another exciting caddy of this period is this rich rosewood example with light/dark contrasting Greek Key banding (now romantically called in England Walls of Troy Banding–love it!).  This rosewood is classic in it’s rich dark red color with black streaking and open pores.

Rosewood Caddy

Look how wonderful this banding is–a running dark/light line edges the Greek Key.  What a great transition from the deep rosewood color to the excitement of the band.

Opening this caddy presents another visual delight as the banding is repeated on each caddy lid:

c. 1825 Caddy Opened

The glass sugar bowl is a great panel cut design with looped border and original, as are the bun feet and the lion mask handles on the sides.  This is another variation on the sarcophagus form and dates to about 1825 and may be called Regency or George IV (who was also the Prince Regent during the last years of George III’s reign).  It is priced at $2,200.

Moving back a bit in time there are two more forms I want to share with you–a dome top and a very rare navette form–both late 18th century.

This dome top is of burl yewwood (as one studied above).  In this instance the call between Thuya and Yew is much trickier–both in burl have very close similarities of appearance.  Take a look at this photo and then I will discuss the differences.

Both Thuya (always encountered as a burl and actually the root system found below ground cutting the stump) and Yew (a true burl–a rampant disease on the side of the tree creating and showing many tiny aborted knots of limbs) have quite similar appearances.  Look carefully at the area surrounding the diamond escutcheon on the front panel and you will find the smeared effect of the slow growth on Yew discussed above.  Thuya burl wood is always very crisp and even more intensely burled than this wood–it is definitely Yew.

The interior of this two section caddy is entirely original and the light line trim of the exterior–box or holly–is effectively repeated here, not by edging the lids but by surrounding them with the light wood!  

Inside the dome we see lead lining paper as also found on the insides of the sells to keep moisture out–it is flaking from age.  What is also fun is that these tops are simply Yew without the burl and the smeared effect is incredibly easy to see.  The lovely treen knobs are original–turned from little blocks of Yew.  The box is priced at $1,250.

The final example of this tea caddy study is a rare navette form–an elongated diamond if you will.

c. 1800 George III Navette Form Caddy

This is executed in veneers of mahogany crossbanded in satinwood with additional contrasting lines and a shell inlay on the top and with bone escutcheon and as you will soon see interior knobs.  The form is the only one we have ever encountered in a caddy although we have had the form in snuff boxes.  The dark/light contrasts are really stunning inside and out:

The ribbon effect of satinwood is particularly clear in this caddy photo and one can easily imagine the craftsman cutting across that ribbon to create this vibrant banding.  While the lead paper is of some age it is in far too fine a condition to be original–expect flaking and remnants, not this exceptional look.  Not surprising this caddy is not inexpensive:  $2,400 and one could well have imagined in the 1990′s it would have sold for 3,500 even at auction!

As with all antiques over the past ten years, there has been a steady drop in prices–gentle for English and French antiques, precipitous for American antiques.  This is a wonderful time to buy tea caddies and all antiques.


Grosse Pointe Show

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I have just returned from Grosse Pointe, Michigan’s Christ Church Antiques Show. The show is struggling a bit but alive and handsome and the last fine antiques show in the entire Detroit area!  Great shows benefitting the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, the Birmingham show, the Goodwill Show, the University Liggett School Show–all have collapsed over the last ten years.

This is a show that deserves support–mostly high quality dealers, a great charity supporting projects for the needy and a wonderful choral school based in the magnificent Christ Church in Grosse Pointe.  I attended two services and a concert during the week–simply gorgeous music performed at the highest level of musicianship.

I hope you will mark your calendars for next year–it is worth a rather substantial trip to visit this fine show, enjoy excellent food, beautiful music, breezes off the lake and perhaps just sit in the sanctuary and cleanse your mind on the hassles of the world.