Pewter box with porcelain tea caddies


British Museum

British Museum

The pewter box and flat cover are made in the shape of a prunus (plum) blossom. A five-lobed porcelain tea caddy and five fan-shaped ones are neatly fitted inside.

The tea caddies are painted in famille rose enamels, with landscape scenes and floral sprays. The covers are inscribed in gold with the names of different types of teas, four black and two green. In eighteenth-century Europe black (fermented) teas were far more popular than green varieties.

Although the tea trade was very important to European merchants in China, this is the only known box of its type. The pewter container kept the porcelain tea caddies safe during transport and also helped keep the tea leaves dry and aromatic. Wooden chests used for shipping tea were lined with a tin and lead alloy for the same purpose.

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  • Title: Pewter box with porcelain tea caddies
  • Date Created: 1760/1780
  • Physical Dimensions: Height: 11.80cm (box); Height: 11.00cm (caddies)
  • External Link: British Museum collection online
  • Technique: glazed; painted
  • Subject: landscape
  • Registration number: Franks.1688
  • Place: Found/Acquired China
  • Period/culture: Qing dynasty
  • Material: porcelain; pewter
  • Copyright: Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum
  • Acquisition: Donated by Franks, Augustus Wollaston