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Antique Boxes in English Society
1760 -1900
Tea Caddies and Tea
Tea Caddies and Tea



Tea caddy in Chinese lacquer in very good original condition Circa 1830.
Tea caddy in Chinese lacquer in very good original condition.  The black lacquer is decorated with  gold in two colors. In addition the canted corners feature bell shaped ornaments in silver/grey suggesting the metal nature of bells. The  decoration  is of  fine quality  and  the complex shape exceptionally  good.  It stands on four carved wooden  feet in the shape of semi open flowers. The interior  contains a pewter tea canister  with  round  raised lid. 

  Chinese made for export to England circa 1830 .

Dimensions: 9.25" wide 6.4" deep 5.8" tall (on feet)


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The decoration is in vignettes enclosed within ornamental shapes derived from the Chinese Joo-I scepter suggesting the fulfillment of a wish.

The scenes depict figures around a table on the terrace of an important building. The seated figures appear to be partaking, perhaps sampling, tea. 

On the concave base there is a wealth of Chinese symbols. In the center there is a "golden coin", one of the eight treasures. Smaller motifs of this nature are scattered throughout and are also seen in simpler form on the line above the base. This is suggestive of successful trading and consistent with negotiating tea selling.

On the right hand side there is a very distinctive creature, the three legged Toad, the Moon creature. Legends  abound concerning this peculiar animal; during an eclipse, the Toad was supposed to swallow the moon.

 The most obvious allusion on this box is perhaps the Toad's symbolism as a money making talisman. This creature is also associated with marriage, the bridal bed referred to as the Toad Palace, so perhaps this box was made as a wedding gift. 

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 The side of the box. The tea taking theme continues.

Detail showing the Toad and coin. Also a kind of pot sometimes depicted in Chinese art under the Money Tree. ch0314.jpg (153021 bytes)
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 View showing the subtle structure.

 There are also bats and butterflies around the base frieze. Bats are very auspicious creatures, symbolic of good fortune and happiness. The word "fu" (bat) is a homophone of the word for good fortune.

The butterfly is a creature of romantic legend and as such, in Chinese art, it is a device similar to the European cupid.   

Scroll symbols abound in Chinese art. Their associations numerous and complex. Sacred texts, stores of truth, they are imbued with mysticism; this ensures the prosperity of the household. Scrolls were also the emblem of the 7th century Chinese poet  Han Shan, implying the unwritten book of nature.

There are also other symbols, such as lanterns, knowledge and light, and split pomegranates. Pictures of these fruits were often given as wedding presents. Their attributes include abundance and plenty, but also high attainment from generation to generation.   ch0317.jpg (206972 bytes)
ch0318.jpg (176140 bytes) The side of the box. The gold is worn where the box was handled when opened.



 A fan. Gods used them to drive away evil. A popular device in Chinese art.



 Tea drinking scenes are found on    export work but not often surrounded by such rich Chinese symbols.

The top is a little rubbed but the scene is still recognizable. ch0308.jpg (167134 bytes)
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The inside is finely decorated on the lid and the facings.

 Detail of the important looking figure in splendid apparel.

 There is a metal container for keeping the tea. This is decorated with engraved flora and motifs.

 An important figure. The Taoist fly brush which he holds in his right hand suggests that he is Lu Tung-pin, the Chief of the Eight Immortals, the slayer of evil.

 The sides are decorated with bells in silver/grey suggesting the metal nature of such objects. The decoration is in simple black lines, reminiscent of early woodcuts, and portray buildings used for the gathering of tea and scenes of its transportation by boat.

Bells were used by heralds to convene assemblies. The word for bell is "zhong" which is a homophone with "to bring something off". On this piece the bell would refer to the negotiations of the tea trading.  

For the historical context of this caddy read the relevant part of Antigone's Online Antique Box Book. If you click here you will go there.
We have written a highly illustrated book on Antique Boxes and Tea caddies which is being published by Schiffer Books USA.

© 2002 Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly