This month from our museum we’re featuring a gorgeous sterling silver tea caddy in the Repousse (Full Chased-Landscape design) pattern by Kirk Silver. This tea caddy features a stunningly detailed landscape design, and is a beautiful example of the chased repousse style that became widely popular in 19th-century America. Repousse is an ancient form of metalworking, where artisans hammer a design into the inside surface of a piece of metal, so that the ornamentation appears in relief on the outside. Most often the design is then worked from the outside with a pointed or patterned punch. This technique, called "chasing," sharpens and defines the repousse ornamentation and enhances the three-dimensional effect of the design. Some of the best-known pieces of this type of metalwork date from antiquity.
The purpose of the featured tea caddy is, of course, to store tea. Aside from water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world, and has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Although it’s unknown how we first started drinking tea, one popular legend states that Chinese emperor and herbalist Shen Nung was the first person to drink the beverage, around 2737 BC. As the story goes, Shen Nung was boiling a pot of drinking water underneath a tea tree when some leaves from the tree blew off and fell into the pot. Shen Nung decided to drink the infused concoction, and the practice of tea drinking was officially begun. Although there’s no way verify this legend, it is believed tea was at least being consumed by around 1500 BC in the Yunnan province of China (where the tea tree, Camellia sinensis, originated).
Tea at this time was prepared by mashing and pressing the tea leaves into a brick, which was then dried and ground as needed. Much later, during the Ming Dynasty (1368 AD to 1644 AD), loose tea leaves were cured or roasted and then crumbled, boiled, and strained – the basic method still practiced today.
Tea was not known by Europeans until the 16th century, when Portuguese missionaries in Asia witnessed the practice of tea drinking. In 1606, the Dutch were the first to import tea to Europe, where its popularity spread – although it was considered a luxury item, and mostly bought by the wealthy. Tea started appearing in English coffeehouses in the 1650s, where it was enjoyed by not only the upper class but also the middle and working classes. As English and European settlers brought tea with them to their colonies, drinking tea became a common practice around the world, eventually achieving the popularity it has today.
Although the sterling silver Repousse (Full Chased-Landscape design) tea caddy in our museum is not for sale, we do have many stunning Kirk Stieff silver pieces available for purchase from our inventory; be sure to browse our web site. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles. Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm ET, 7 days (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm ET, 7 days. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!