The Chitra Collection: Stunning Silver Wares

The Chitra Collection: Stunning Silver Wares
Decorated with Taoist dragons and clouds, this elaborate silver tea and coffee service was made by Wo Shing in Shanghai in the late 19th century. The set comprises water urn, coffee pot, teapot, cream jug, two-handled sugar bowl with lid, waste bowl, and tea caddy. During the late 19th century, silver tea wares like this were being produced in China specifically for export to the West.

In Britain, hot water urns gained popularity in the middle of the 18th century at a time when tea was becoming a little cheaper, teapots had become larger, and kettles were more capacious, heavier, and more difficult to pick up. While the urn became fashionable in Britain and other parts of Western Europe, the samovar appeared on tea tables in Russia. After the signing of a trade treaty between China and Russia in 1679, tea consumption steadily increased, and every Russian home, from royal palaces to humble rural cottages, required a ready source of hot water throughout the day to serve tea to the family and to visitors as a symbol of hospitality.

Francis Singleton made this hot water urn in England in 1702 from Britannia Standard silver, an alloy of silver introduced in 1697 to replace harder sterling silver as the obligatory standard. The shape is based on tall coffee and chocolate pots of the period and is very simply decorated with three tall scroll feet and applied cut-card work.

The earliest samovars, made of brass or copper and heated by placing hot charcoal or smoldering pinecones into the central chimney, became the most prized possession of every household. Demand from the upper classes for silver samovars grew through the 19th century. Silversmiths in Moscow and Saint Petersburg employed solid silver for the very wealthy and silver plate for the middle classes. They also offered other necessary accoutrements such as creamers, sugar bowls, tea-glass holders, serving trays, sugar tongs, and spoons. Matching silver teapots were available, but Russians preferred porcelain pots since they thought silver tended to give the taste of the tea a slightly metallic tinge.

In the early 19th century, the neoclassical style that was popular throughout Europe and America evolved into the Regency style, which dominated in Britain when George IV was Prince Regent from 1811 to 1820. In Germany, the style manifested itself as Biedermeier style, in France as French Empire style, and in the United States as Federal style.

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