Teapots have a long history within civilization; containers for tea have been found in tombs in China dating from the Han dynasty, 206 BC – 220 AD. It was not until the Song Dynasty (960-1279 A.D.) that compounded iron ore was incorporated into the original clay teapots for colourisation.
Although we now think of tea as the preserve of the English, Europe lagged significantly behind the East in adopting the practice of taking tea, and tea wasn’t introduced until the 16th century, when both Dutch and Portuguese traders introduced the concept of the infusion of spices and tea leaves with water as both a remedy for ills and for the purposes of refreshment.
It was the marriage of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza, Portugal in 1662 that brought tea to the Royal Court in England. Initially it was Catherine’s personal taste that instigated tea drinking amongst the aristocracy, but also, Bombay (Mumbai) was gifted to Charles as part of Catherine’s dowry. Charles directly facilitated trade via the port of Bombay and the East India Company, transporting tea from Assam, and other goods to Britain.
Tea was heavily taxed until 1784 when William Pit the Younger slashed the levy, making tea more affordable to the masses. Prior to this, tea was exclusive to the upper echelons of society, as it was a luxury that was inconceivable to most of the population.
The first ever recorded silver teapot was made in England around 1670 as a gift for the East India Company from George, Lord Berkley.The teapot was inscribed "This silver tea Pott was presented to the Comttee of the East India Company by the Right Hono George Ld Berkely of Berkeley Castle. A member of that Honourable and worthy Society and A true hearty Lover of them. 1670."
This particular teapot was very typical for the period and was similar in shape to a coffee or chocolate pot. There were two other silver teapots made around the same time (1670 and 1685), they were both more of melon shaped and are no more than 6 inches high. They were most likely modelled after the Chinese earthenware pot that were increasing in popularity across Europe at the time.
In the early 1700's silver teapots tended to be pear shaped, round or octagonal. It was also popular for the ends of the spout to be modelled in the form of a birds head. The lid would have been hinged, with the handle crafted out of polished wood or leather coated plain wood.
This is also around the time that drinking tea with milk became popular, this created the demand for silver tea services including milk jugs and matching sugar bowls. Between 1690 and 1750 George Booth, the Earl of Warrington collected many silver teapot and tea sets with various accessories; including strainer spoons, sugar tongs and "boats to hold the teaspoons."
Between 1725 and 1750, the most in demand teapot shapes were global or bullet-shaped bodied teapots. The French Rococo style also had a big influence on design. This meant elaborately decorative flowers, scrolls and spouts shaped like swirling dragons.
While engraving was still done by hand, within manufacturing the use of machinery was becoming more widespread, and many silverware items were created using a mixture of handmade techniques; for the more delicate, detailed ornamentation- and mass produce forms and shapes for the basic structure of the pieces. An example of this is that roller mills were being used to flatten large sheets of silver, whereas previously, this would’ve been painstakingly hammered flat by hand.
During the eighteenth century the middle class in England was becoming more affluent and therefore demand increased for affordable luxury items, this was in order for them to display their increasing wealth. Fortunately costs were coming down with the introduction of new production methods and use of specialized craftsmen, so silver items, such as teapots, could be made more economically for a rapidly expanding customer base.
Teapots made in the late eighteenth century ranged in style from simple oval shapes with minimal engraving to elaborate serpentine forms with extensive engravings. It is possible that the new developments in manufacturing allowed the silversmiths more time to focus on the intricate embellishments and detailing, rather than the time consuming hammering they had to endure previously.
During the George III period teapots typically had flat bottoms, which meant they could potentially scorch unprotected wood surfaces. This prompted the creation of teapot stands, or under trays, to protect the surface from heat, although these stands were phased out with the growing use of serving trays.
Across the ocean in North America silver teaware was mainly in demand from Boston, New York and Philadelphia - they were all very wealthy town were drinking tea was already well established. American Silversmiths took their influences in shape and style from the English styles that were popular at the time.
Throughout the 1800's tea remained popular and the demand for silver teaware remained high, ladies were very focused on making sure that their tea parties were beautifully presented and stylish in order to keep up with society expectations. And really what looks more spectacular than a complete sterling silver tea service.
Why Silver Teapots?
Sterling silver is the perfect material for serving tea from. First of all, the natural properties of silver cause heat to be retained. Thus tea brewed in a silver teapot will stay warm for much longer than tea brewed in pots made from other material. This has the obvious benefit of the tea contained in the teapot remaining warm for longer, which is a feature which would appeal to those interested in entertaining and serving for guests.
Secondly, another property of silver is that it's the metal with the highest thermal conductivity, therefore tea leaves are brewed at a higher temperature than with any other teapot. The higher the temperature, the more that tea leaves release their flavours within the brew.
Another reason is that silver is very durable- unlike porcelain and ceramic- is that when dropped or in a collision with another object it will not shatter or break. It may dent a little, but generally silver teapots are much more sturdy and long-lasting than other pots that are not made from metal.
Sterling silver teapots also make for wonderful collector’s items, this is because- in comparison to many pieces of antique and vintage silverware, teapots are of a smaller size and are constantly in demand. Their desirability does not waver depending on style and season, and – particularly in Britain and the East, are associated with longstanding, almost ritualistic traditions.