Tea Cannister, Two Tea Cannisters, Sugar Box and Chest

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  • Artist/Maker: Elizabeth Godfrey
  • London, England
  • 1741-1742
  • Silver (sterling)
  • 1937-153,1

Tea canisters were often made in pairs with a larger and matching sugar box and fitted in a lined chest, usually of finished wood or covered with shagreen. George Washington, writing to Lafayette in 1783, ordered, along with numerous plated articles, "1 Teachest, such as usually appertains to tea or breakfast tables, the inner part of which, to have three departments, two for tea's of different kinds, the other for Sugar." The term "tea caddy" is commonly used today for both the "tea canister" and the "tea chest," as they were generally referred to in the eighteenth century. George Hepplewhite, in his Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Guide (London, 1788), illustrates three "Tea Chests" and three "Tea Caddies." His is one of the earliest uses of the latter term, by which he distinguished small tea chests with only one or two compartments from larger examples. Thomas Sheraton, in his Cabinet Dictionary (London, 1803), states that "This word ['Cady'] is now applied to various kinds of tea chests, of square, octagon and circular shapes," again alluding to the smaller type, sometimes lined with sheet lead and not fitted with separate canisters.

This set is handsomely flat-chased with rococo scroll, shell, and floral ornament framing cartouches on some of their sides. The protective chest is undoubtedly largely responsible for their crisp condition. The pieces exemplify the fine work produced in the shop of Elizabeth Godfrey, who deserves to be considered the preeminent woman silversmith of the eighteenth century. Twice she registered marks at Goldsmiths' Hall, first in 1731 after the death of her first husband, the silversmith Abraham Buteux, and again in 1741, the year this set was made, when she continued after his death the business of her second husband, Benjamin Godfrey, whom she had married in 1734. She maintained the firm until the mid-1750s.

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