November 13, 2017

Team Tea Caddy

For the past few months, I’ve been working on a project with two friends: the exhibition “As Precious As Gold: The History of Tea Caddies from the Bramble Collection.” Since that’s a bit of a mouthful, we call ourselves Team Tea Caddy because each of us has had a critical part in putting together the exhibition, which opened last week at Homewood House & Museum in Baltimore: Mark Bramble is the collector, Stiles Colwill is the curator and I am the tech support, photographer, scribe and general dogsbody.image

In the early 1700’s, tea was as precious as gold, and was parsed out in small batches, and kept in a place of honour in the home, often under lock and key. imageThe journey from China to England, Europe and America was long and arduous and so tea was quite expensive when it reached its final destination. And today, after water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world.

If you were affluent enough to have tea, you stored it in decorative containers that would be brought to table and the hostess would mix the tea with hot water in the presence of her guests. imageThe word “caddy” comes from the Malay Chinese “kati,” which means a measure of tea weighing about a pound and one-third. By the second half of the 18th century, tea mania had taken hold in Europe and especially in England where it was all the rage.image Of all the different items used in the tea service, the caddy is the object upon which craftsmen and artists lavished their greatest skills and materials.image

Mark Bramble, who is a Broadway author and director, has traveled the world with his shows, and that’s given him the opportunity to also scour antique shops and markets searching for tea caddies.imageHe took over the collection from his mother after her death and has made it into one of the best and most extensive in the world.

Because he wanted to share his knowledge with the world, in conjunction with the exhibit, Mark has also published an accompanying book, A Tea Caddy Collection. image

On Thursday, November 16, a reception, tour, book talk and signing will be held at Homewood House and Remsen Hall at Johns Hopkins. imageMark will discuss his multi-generational collection as well as stories of how and where he found some of the caddies and the history of tea and tea caddies.image

The event is free, but you must make a reservation here. I know that it will be an amazing evening and you won’t want to miss how beautiful these caddies look in a historic house of the same period. I hope to see you there!


  1. Hello Meg, How I wish I could see this exhibit. From the samples you provide, it looks like they have picked the right "dogsbody," although I am sure that they would label you with a more dignified and appropriate term.

    By the way, the pictures appear truncated on my screen, but if you click on them you can see the entire photograph.

    1. P.S. I just realized that you already told me about clicking on the pictures. That's what I get for typing comments at three in the morning!

  2. What a marvelous exhibition Meg, and all the best for Thursday. I only wish I could join you. This looks right up my alley. Please do consider writing a post about the event, with lots of pictures, naturally.

    1. Will do! It's a stunning collection and so varied.

  3. My goodness. The water must have been from a mountain brook and the tea from the mother plant of all teas? What did tea taste like back then? Is the tea we brew today better, as good, tasteless? Tea made the water taste better? I wonder is there a description of tea the valued food of Colonial times. Did it have healing properties was it valued as a medicine?? Meg what have you heard. The House is beautiful from that Single interior image.... surely you have others:) P.S Just finished a cup of tea with a slice of BlueBerry Boy Bait the treat from the 1954 Pillsbury baking contest (original recipe book!) what was the type of tea typically brewed / stored in a period tea caddy, any idea??


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