A rare and extraordinary antique French 19th century wooden tea box, possibly burl walnut, decorated with floral inlay and diamond shaped escutcheon lock. The fitted interior houses three beautifully hand painted Paris porcelain tea canisters. Featuring two tea canisters with stoppers and a central lidded container ideal for creating a melange with tea leaves out of the two other containers, or perhaps for housing sugar. All three porcelain canisters are decorated with a “chinoiserie” motif that evoke vignettes of daily life in 18th-century China, each with a hand painted portrait to the stopper depicting circus performers in colorful costumes! Quite rare and unique. Further decorated with gold gilt foliage and colorful floral clusters on a charming duck egg blue ground.
In overall good antique condition with no damage to the porcelain, some light gilt wear. The tea caddy show general wear commensurate with age, some water marks/scratches to the wood, a bit of a corner piece missing at the back (visible in the photos) and lacking a key.
The two tea bottle canisters measure 3" x 2 1/4" at the base x 4 3/8" tall. The central container measures 3" x 2 1/8" x 4 3/8" tall. Tea caddy measures 9" in length x 5 3/8" tall x 4 3/8" wide.
"Tea caddies 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. When tea was first introduced 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. The largest and most diverse group of caddies are the wooden boxes or chests. The high cost of tea assured its status as a luxury item and necessitated a secure container for its storage and display. "The lady of the house kept the key and ceremoniously spooned the tea leaves to the mixing bowl or infusion pot using a caddy spoon." "The construction and decoration of these containers was a reflection of the social rank of the owner. The finest furniture makers were enlisted to produce these boxes, each of which reflected the cabinetmaker’s best work."