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Tea canister

Tea canister

  • Place of origin:

    West Midlands (made)

  • Date:

    1755-1760 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Swirled Flowers Painter (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Opaque white glass, painted in enamel colours; the lid of enamelled copper, mounted in gilt metal

  • Credit Line:

    Transferred from the Museum of Practical Geology, Jermyn Street

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Object Type
This canister almost certainly came from a set, normally consisting of a canister for green, unfermented tea leaves, one for black, fermented tea, and a third for sugar. The canisters fitted into compartments within a lockable wooden tea-chest. With its narrow neck and tightly-fitting lid, the canister was designed to keep its contents fresh for as long as possible. The lid was useful for pouring a measure, as the aperture only admitted the smallest spoon.

When this canister was made, tea was still fairly expensive owing chiefly to the high level of import tax levied on this commodity until 1784. Smuggling was rife. Although all social classes now drank tea of sorts, the better-quality leaves were still considered precious enough to be kept under lock and key. Earlier in the century, green and black teas were equally enjoyed, but by the time this canister was made, the consumption of black tea was gaining the ascendancy.

Materials & Making
Opaque white glass served as a cheaper substitute for porcelain in mid-18th century Britain. Hard-paste Chinese porcelain was especially admired, as were the smart painted wares of factories such as Meissen in Germany, Sèvres in France, and even Chelsea. Tin oxide was generally used as an opacifier in the 17th and early 18th centuries, but by the 1750s, arsenic had virtually taken over. Both the glass canister and its lid (composed of a disc of painted enamel on copper set into a ring of gilt metal chased on an engine-turning lathe) were decorated in Birmingham or the surrounding Staffordshire workshops. Several examples of work by the hand of the so-called 'Swirled Flowers Painter' are known, including canisters for other teas, decorated usually with either a bullfinch (as here) or goldfinch. It is possible that this group of painted glass married to painted enamel may have been produced in the factory of the Birmingham 'toymaker' John Wood, who is known to have collaborated with the Aston glassmaker Holte Bridgeman.

Place of Origin

West Midlands (made)


1755-1760 (made)


Swirled Flowers Painter (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Opaque white glass, painted in enamel colours; the lid of enamelled copper, mounted in gilt metal

Marks and inscriptions



Height: 14 cm, Width: 6.7 cm, Depth: 5 cm

Object history note

Formerly part of the Owen Collection.

Descriptive line

Tea canister

Labels and date

British Galleries:
This canister was intended for green tea. Its white colour was meant to resemble Chinese porcelain. [27/03/2003]

Subjects depicted

Birds; Flowers


Glass; Tea, Coffee & Chocolate wares


Ceramics Collection

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