Sterling Silver Tea and Coffee Services
Imagine Tiffany and Company’s finest, a gleaming five-piece sterling tea and coffee service in all of its glory. In 1863 such breath taking service was presented to Brigadier General Egber Vicle who was then military governor of Norfolk, VA.
It was complete with a baluster-form coffee pot, teapot, kettle on a stand with a burner beneath it, covered sugar and lidded milk jug.
Each item was chased and embossed all over the dense ivy vines. The set honored the General at a ceremony July 4, 1863. In modern times, it sold at a Skinner Inc. auction for nearly $11,000.
As the story goes, the British first developed fondness for distant tea in the early 1600s. Records indicate at least one British customer had ordered the strange brew from the East India Tea Company by 1615.
At first, Asian teapots were used to brew hot tea, and it was so expensive that it was consumed only by the wealthiest households.
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Around the middle of the 17th century, tea gradually became more available and both pewter and silver teapots began being produced in England.
Even as expansion allowed for somewhat more affordable tea, it was an adjustment for the consumer.
Miller's: Antiques Encyclopedia edited by Judith Miller indicates tea as a “great novelty to people use to drinking only beer, wine, or posset (hot milk spiced with ale or wine.)”
By the latter part of the 17th century England was engaged with importing from all parts of the world. Consequently, the British upper class began to acquire a taste not only for tea, but for coffee, and to some extent chocolate.
The next step was to perfect the proper utensils for dispensing these warm beverages. And then, perhaps, a shimmering tray for which to properly serve them.
Reportedly, some of the earliest silver teapots were round. Later, the tea was served in rather bulbous formed teapots with high-domed lids.
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Teapots, as well as coffee pots and chocolate pots, were given different dimensions and shapes during the 18th century when the use of such beverages steadily increased. Eventually, teapots became pear-shaped, then later oval or urn-shaped.
Writing in the book Antique Silver, author Ian Pickford noted that the whole idea of matching tea and coffee service did not really become popular until the 1780s.
Prior to that time, according to Pickford, households tended to acquire the full serving service a piece at a time and hostesses “did not worry as to whether they matched or not.”
Tea was most requested of the drinks and typically the teapot gained the most wear over the years, and often had to be replaced while the original service stayed intact.
Another service set factor was a general decline in costs. As more tea-related containers were produced, the more affordable it became to assemble matching sets of tea and coffee services.
The 19th century welcomed a variety of lovely silver services. Generally the initial sets ran from five to seven pieces.
An exceptional example was a six-piece plated tray. Made by Frederick Marquand in 1830s New York City, it had both a large and a small teapot.
It came with an ovoid kettle on a stand with a domed lid. Also included was a covered sugar, creamer and waste bowl – each engraved with a cut monogram.
During the 1860s, the famed Tiffany Company of New York occasionally crafted a four-piece silver set which included an ovoid coffeepot, teapot,
Fancy sets included finely carved rims and looped handles. In the 1890s the Loring Andrews Company produced a Repousse (embossed) six-piece “Tea and Coffee Service” in Cincinnati, Ohio.
milk jug and covered sugar.
The service included a coffee pot, teapot, creamer, pear-shaped covered sugar, open sugar and kettle on a stand. All of the pieces were heavily chased and embossed with foliage and birds.
Service sets remained elegant moving into the 20th century, both in Europe and in the US. In 1907, a Gorham seven-piece sterling tea and coffee service presented a squat ovoid teapot and a monogrammed creamer among the glimmering pieces.
The world famous George Jensen created a four-piece tea and coffee service in the latter 1940s. It was comprised of a teapot, coffee pot, creamer and covered creamer. Each delicate piece had ebony finials and handles set at right angles to the spouts.
After centuries of function and fascination these tea and coffee services of the proud past remain in demand.
As noted expert Miller concluded, “These practical objects remain among the most popular silver items with collectors today.”
Source: Robert Reed, Farm and Dairy, November 26, 2009