For as long as tea has existed in the Western world, it has been sweetened with sugar. So much so, in fact, that by the end of the 17th century, British imports of sugar were estimates at around 70,000 tonnes.
Covered sugar bowls and boxes were standard tea set equipment by the early 1700s, often sold along with teapots and caddies. The rules of etiquette dictated that tongs were also required to transfer lumps of sugar from the sugar bowl to the teacup.
Sugar tongs were initially based on fire tongs, having slender arms and curved ends. Early sugar nips/tongs of the late 17th century were even formed after miniature fire andirons. In order to make them spring suitably for their purpose, their ends were heated and hammered many times to give them sufficient tension. These early forms of sugar tongs had small, flat oval bowls; these were soon replaced with dished bowls, more practical for the job of gripping and moving the sugar lumps Between 1720 and 1730, the tongs were formed to resemble little pairs of scissors. By 1770, however, the scissor design had faded out, and bow-shaped tongs formed from one piece of metal featuring springs were the fashion.