Introducing the Sterling Silver Tea Set / Service
Tea. Something I perhaps won't take so much for granted after writing this blog post. What could be more luxurious than sipping afternoon tea from a sterling silver tea set? Sitting down at the table to pour yourself a piping hot cup of morning brew. As I've said before in an earlier blog post, Mr Campbell always insists that if you drink ANY beverage from a silver drinking vessel you'll taste the difference (borrowing a phrase from a well-known supermarket there, perhaps!). Tea services normally consist of a teapot, cream jug and a sugar bowl, however there have been larger sets created.
Tea as a Luxury
It is difficult for me to comprehend the fact that a simple cup of tea was once an expensive luxury! I can't believe that tea leaves were once the subject of many illegal smuggling operations and even murders were committed to protect the organisations illegally importing the now so common beverage. The British East India Company, one of the most powerful commercial organisations ever, introduced the drink to Britain. They imposed high taxes on tea, which meant that it was not readily available to the less wealthy citizens, and of course this lead to smuggling or illegal importing, until William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister in 1783 and greatly reduced the tax on tea so dramatically that smuggling of the item became virtually pointless. All this for what we think of now as a simple cuppa!
Tea Services in History
It is believed that the first sterling silver tea service was used in around 1790, 7 years after tea became more widely available in Britain. Early tea sets were miniature in comparison to the ones we use today, as the beverage was certainly a commodity and was drunk in small amounts. Teapots and tea sets grew in size during the era of King George II as the public's taste for tea blossomed.
Tea Sets and Art
As the public's demand for tea services grew, merchants designed extravagant pieces that one would be proud to display in their homes (not like the 'World's Number 1 Dad!' mugs we have now, then?) which of course incurred substantial costs. The trays on which sets were served on, were often made from a less precious metal, decorated with only a sterling silver border. It is widely known that Queen Victoria absolutely adored her afternoon teas, and merchants vied for the Queen's approval of their products. Many of the pieces created around her era are the most collectable ones out there today.
There's some food for thought next time you sit down for a nice cup of tea, the simple beverage that has a not-so-simple history!
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