Box House Antiques

Tea and tea caddies:

Tea drinking is most likely to have originated in China about 3500 years ago, for its perceived medicinal benefits.

‘Taking tea’ reached its zenith in England in the mid 17th and throughout the 18th centuries, when it became highly fashionable and ritualised among society’s wealthy elite due to the extraordinarily high cost, not only of the tea, but also of the exotic paraphernalia, including tea caddies, that accompanied what became a sophisticated ritual.

Below are two fine Chippendale period tea tables on offer at

Scallop Table

A George lll red japanned tea table in the oriental taste :

Tea Caddy
Tea Caddy
Japanned Tea Table

The fascination for all things Eastern or ‘Indian’ with the founding of the East India Company EIC, ca 1600, brought tea in increasing quantities to England. Simultaneous imports of sugar from the West Indies added to the sweet tea drinking craze.

In order to look for alternatives to the supply of tea from China, the British established huge tea plantations in both India and Ceylon in the 19th and 20th centuries. This dramatically introduced tea drinking to a mass market. Similarly the Dutch planted tea in the Dutch East Indies, exporting it via the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC).

Lit: United East Indies Co. founded in 1602. The high costs and exclusiveness of tea drinking gave rise to exotic accessories such as costly porcelain cups and tea pots.

Early tea cups did not have handles, hence the need to raise your ‘pinkie’ or little finger to exhibit poised elegance and balance when raising cup to lip.

These teapots below sold for $2,180,000:


Keeping the expensive tea leaves secure gave rise to the antique tea ‘caddy’ which appeared in many forms, including our rare green tortoiseshell version made around 1800. Ours is complete with lock and key, adding exclusivity to the whole process of tea drinking. Even back in 1800 this tortoiseshell caddy would have been extremely rare and costly, the reserve of the aristocracy and of the very wealthy.

George lll period green tortoiseshell tea caddy
George lll period green tortoiseshell tea caddy

www.boxhouse-antiques.comThe origin of the word ‘caddy’ is a subject of speculation. Some suggest an association with the game of golf, first played in Scotland in the16th century, when references were made to a ‘caddie’ or ‘cadet’ for carrying clubs.

The inference being that one carried one’s valuable tea around in a portable container. Others claim a derivation from the Sanskrit “kati” referring to a measure of weight. This word was anglicised into “cattie” and universally adopted by the British in Colonial India. It was then a short step to the word caddy.Historically in Asia the values for goods were often expressed in catties(a cattie weighing 500 grams).

We at would be very interested to hear from any reader who might like to contribute further information on this very interesting subject.

Tea drinking has become highly ritualised in many parts of the world, and you may be interested in the following: 

  1. ^ History of the Japanese tea ceremony
  2. ^
  3. ^ Heiss, Mary Lou, and Heiss, Robert J. “The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide”, Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 2007 p.197-8 
  4. Cutty Sark And The Great Tea Clippers

    These sailing ships were fast and sleek. Years ago the great tea clippers ruled the waves. Battling the elements, they raced to deliver their valuable cargo to the fashionable tea drinking sets…