Fruit-shaped Wooden Tea Caddy

Tea caddies comprise the largest and most complete group within the Sallea collection of boxes. When tea was first used in England, it was taken only in small quantities for medicinal purposes. Yet this single imported commodity was destined to inspire almost two centuries of social ritual and decorative arts.

Of all the different items covered by the term “tea equipage,” the tea caddy is the object upon which craftsmen and artists lavished their greatest skills and finest materials.

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Today the term tea caddy denotes the entire genre of tea containers in all styles and materials. The word caddy derives from the Malay Chinese “kati” which means a measure of tea weighing about a pound and one third. English usage of the term was not widespread until the end of the 18th century, and when introduced probably referred to the box or chest which housed porcelain or metal bottles.

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Probably the most unusual type of wooden caddies are the fruit shaped caddies. Eighteenth century oriental examples, like the Japanese eggplant, are most prized. These pieces typically have a threaded top which covers a tight-fitting inner lid. European examples, usually apples and pears, have looser hinged lids, simple keyhole escutcheons of steel, silver, or iron, and are lined in lead foil.

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The finest fruits were made in England in the late 18th century and others came from Germany in the early 19th century. They were made of various fruitwoods which often corresponded to the fruit they depict. These simpler turned shapes usually have polished finishes, but the more elaborate carved fruits, such as melons and even pineapples, often have painted finishes. Their beautiful shapes, original finishes, and rarity hold special appeal for collectors.

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