Silver tea and coffee services are some of the most important items found in silverware, with dramatic designs from the Victorian period made to showcase the ability of silversmiths at that time. While styles have changed over the last 300 years, tea and coffee have continued to be part of the British diet, and are in popular demand from overseas customer who visit us in the London Silver Vaults. Teapots, coffee pots, sugar bowls and cream jugs – all are available as complete sets or as beautiful individual pieces.
A sterling silver teapot is one of the most quintessentially antique items still readily available today, with longstanding associations regarding not only the tea trade, but British history itself.
Tea had reached Britain, or at least London, by Tuesday 25 September 1660, when Samuel Pepys mentions it in his diary: ‘And afterwards I did send for a cup of tee (a China drink) of which I had never drank before, and went away’. Tea had arrived in Britain with the opening up trade with China, and it became one of the three basic commodities of a triangular trade with the East, of which the other two were opium and silver bullion.
Leaving opium aside, the increasing trade in tea and silver, meant that for many British people, the two were entwined in the national identity, as well as bringing more silver from Latin America to Europe, allowing for a greater variety of items to be manufactured in solid silver. Tea was expensive in the beginning, and so it enjoyed a certain cache. It was also associated with femininity and social status, which further promoted the use of the silver teapot.
Early teapots, such as the famous ‘bullet’ style, were small, reflecting the preciousness of the liquid within, but as the cost of tea came down, capacities became bigger and styles more elaborate. The straight-sided ‘can’ style of the 1770s and 1780s, during one of the most controversial periods in the taxation of tea – and relations between Britain and America – is now one of the most desirable historical styles. By the Victorian period, tea had become part of everyday family and social life, and this is seen in the large and elaborate tea services of the high Victorian period between 1860 and 1890, where 5 or 7 or even 9-piece sets were not uncommon, usually with the accompanying tray.
Tea sets continued to be a popular choice for younger couples throughout the twentieth century, and as such, there is a silver teapot in almost any of the great periods of style, and for almost any budget. A silver teapot is a charming way to add a touch of luxury to your own daily tea ceremony.
Coffee houses were as numerous in Georgian period London as they are now. They were places for men to gather and obtain news. Then, as now, many business meetings were conducted here. Coffee, although initially condemned as ‘Mahometan gruel’, suited their purpose better than wine, as it did not dull the senses. Although alcohol was available at most coffee houses, the atmosphere was one of professional sobriety. The ‘Turkey merchants’ had long been familiar with coffee, having been given it on their trips abroad, where it was served by their hosts ‘in little China dishes, as hot as they can suffer it; black as Soot and tasting not unlike it’.
The purging nature of hot, strong coffee was soon seized upon by London’s quack health writers and in no time at all it was used to cure anything from the gout to period pain. London’s first coffee house was opened in 1652, in a shed on St Michael’s Alley, by Pasqua Rosee, a Greek born in Sicily who had come to London as a servant. In the same year, he published an advertising flyer, The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, advertising his coffee as ‘a simple innocent thing, composed into a drink, by being dryed in an oven and ground to powder and boiled up with spring water’. His shed became known as The Turk’s Head, owing to his dark appearance and the fact that he used his own likeness as the shop sign.
By 1663, there were 83 licensed coffee houses in London, almost all of them near the Royal Exchange. They tended to specialize in a clientele with particular commercial interests in the Baltic or Levantine trade; they would carry pertinent newspapers, and write up on chalkboards the news of ships about to dock or depart. Just how important these coffee houses were to City trade is seen in their rapid spread: almost 500 of them had appeared by the time George I was crowned in 1714.