January 05, 2011

A dated English delft tea canister

It is always a thrill to identify an item which was previously a mystery. This tea canister, or tea caddy as they are often called, was a recent purchase, and is made from tin glaze earthenware, decorated in manganese. What is really exciting is the inscription on the base: "BB 1757".

I had a hunch it was English delft (always spelt lower case) as opposed to the more usual Delft (upper case) from Holland. Opening the book 'Dated English delftware' (Lipski & Archer 1984) proved my hunch- the same shape, painted in blue with a very similar pattern, is item 1528, and is dated 1774, while another very similar (1525) is dated 1763. Earlier pieces of the same shape are also recorded, beginning with 1707 and 1737. Our example is therefore dated to the middle of this type's long popularity.

Construction is very interesting, being lopsided, bowed, and with very sharp corners. Slabs of clay have been carefully assembled, a very tricky task. The shape is copying silver & pewter forms, and is most unsuited to clay: a wheel turned cylinder is the easiest and more popular form.

None illustrated have a lid, which being small and fragile most probably broke very early on. Ours has a well made tin replacement, constructed most probably by a traveling tinker who went door to door repairing such things.

You may notice the bright red mark to the underside: this has been applied to disguise and old price, which quite clearly says $1.00!!! I certainly did not pay that; as a dated piece, this is an absolute rarity, and despite a replacement lid and crack, will be one of the prime pieces in our 2011 exhibition.