Treasure: Tea caddy from late 1800s finds a new owner

Khristi Zimmeth
Special to The Detroit News

Tea and its wide availability is largely taken for granted today, but the beverage was once rare and revered. Through the centuries, accessories were invented to support the tea industry, from cups and strainers to beautiful boxes designed to store the precious commodity. Many of those items are sought-after antiques today for their function and form.

Erin Wilde of Grosse Pointe inherited the attractive tea caddy she recently brought to DuMouchelles for appraisal from her grandmother on her mother’s side. “My mom’s mom was from Terre Haute, Indiana, and originally came to Indiana from Maryland,” she explained to appraiser Jim Flannery. “Her husband was a doctor who traveled extensively, including regular trips to China and Europe, where this may have been picked up.”

The caddy has a monogram on the top, but Wilde says it doesn’t belong to anyone in her family. “It must have been a previous owner’s.”

With black lacquer and gold decoration, the piece is nicely etched and an example of a style known as a double tea caddy with tin inserts, says Flannery. Because of its style, he dated it to the late 1800s, a high point in tea consumption. More information can be found on a fascinating website,, run by dealers Antigone Clark and Joseph O’Kelly (authors of a Schiffer Publishing book “Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies and Society, 1700-1880” on the same topic). The site provides an interesting look into tea and the boxes that contained it, with fun facts, including that tea was introduced to England from China in the mid-17th century and that many boxes had secret compartments.

More than a century of use was not necessarily kind to Wilde’s caddy, Flannery said, as he pointed out places the years have taken their toll. “There are some losses on parts of this from time and maybe from its travels,” he said. Despite some small amounts of damage, he praised the piece as “very attractive,” and definitely something that would appeal to a variety of collectors, from tea enthusiasts to anyone who collects decorative boxes.

While tea caddies and their cargo has been revered for centuries, Wilde has kept the piece in her basement for the past 15 years, a fact that spurred her to put the piece up for auction recently. It brought $200 at a recent sale at DuMouchelles.

“It hasn’t been on display for a while and I can’t remember when I last had it out,” Wilde said. “Better someone new should enjoy it and display it.”

Do you have an object you would like to know more about? Send a photo and description that includes how you acquired the object to: The Detroit News, Trash or Treasure?, 160 W. Fort, Detroit, MI 48226. Include your name and daytime telephone number. You may also send your photo and description to If chosen, you’ll need to bring the items to an appraisal session. Photos cannot be returned.

About this item

Item : Tea caddy

Owner : Erin Wilde, Grosse Pointe

Appraised by : Jim Flannery, DuMouchelles Auction House and Gallery, Detroit

Estimated value : $200-$400 at auction