Before it became Britain’s number one drink, China tea was introduced in the coffeehouses of London shortly before the Stuart Restoration in 1660. Between 1720 and 1750 the imports of tea to Britain, through the British East India Company, more than quadrupled. Tea became a hugely popular drink in Britain, but, to the ordinary consumer, it was also hugely expensive. The monopoly on imports held by the merchants of the East India Company meant that tea prices were kept artificially high to protect profits, and on top of this government imposed a high level of duty.
Tea was not only fashionable, it was also valuable, and fine items such as tea caddies were made for storage and display. The ultimate tea caddy was its own piece of furniture: a teapoy. They were developed in the mid 18th century, first in India, and then by British cabinet makers. The name, strangely, derives not from the word “tea”, but from the Hindi phrase meaning “three footed”.
They usually took the form of a small pedestal table equipped with a box attached to a tripod base. The box was a fitted inside as a tea caddy, used for storing loose tea; if it was flat-topped, the teapoy could also serve as a small tea table.
This particularly elegant example dates from about 1835. It is veneered in beautifully figured mahogany, with the original fitted interior consisting of four canisters and two glass bowls for storing and mixing tea. Raised on a turned column with acanthus leaf baluster and gadrooned collar, it has a quad form base with Tudor rose mouldings and bun feet on castors.