Object of the Week

Object of the Week: A Chinese tea caddy

Chinese tea caddy

Chinese tea caddy, ANMM Collection

This Chinese tea caddy was exported during the prolific tea trade of the 19th and 20th centuries. It has a pear shaped body decorated with finely grained chrysanthemum blossoms. The cylindrical cover was used to measure tea prior to the introduction of tea caddy spoons and is inscribed with the date, 30th April 1904-1929. The base features three hallmarks, including the manufacturer’s stamp of Hung Chong & Co, who worked out of Canton and Shanghai, China. It was owned and commissioned by an Australian merchant working in Shanghai, probably as a gift or memento.

Hung Chong & Co were influential and respected jewellers based out of Club Street, Honan Island Canton and Nanking Road, Shanghai in China between 1850 and 1930. During this period Shanghai became one of the major tea trading ports in China with the introduction of steam navigation on the Yangtze River in 1861.

Western merchants from America, Australian and Europe actively traded with China during the 19th and 20th centuries. On their ships they brought back items including metal domestic wares, paintings, furniture, carvings and tea. The exportation of silverware objects has been less acknowledged than other materials, as Chinese artists commonly used pseudo-marks on their manufactured wares, making it difficult to distinguish them from products made in Europe or America.

Hallmarks on the tea caddy base

Hallmarks on the tea caddy base

Founded in the 10th century, the city of Shanghai is located east of Suzhou at the mouth of the Yangtze River. Its importance in the region grew due to its extensive irrigation system and it soon became a major cotton production and manufacturing centre with a population of over 250,000 people.

In the 19th century the importance of Shanghai developed further as the city’s strategic position at the mouth of the Yangtze River was perceived by westerners as an ideal location for trade with the Chinese hinterland. Following the First and Second Opium Wars, Shanghai was recognised as one of the Treaty Ports established by the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, the 1843 Treaty of Bruges and the 1844 Sino-American Treaty of Wangsia and foreigners were allowed to establish trading factories and European settlements inside the city.

Date inscription

Date inscription

These treaties opened the floodgate of western culture and influence into Shanghai. Over time two cities emerged: a chaotic Chinese city and a western city, inhabited mainly by Chinese. The western part of Shanghai was one of the most modern “European” cities in the world – often called the Paris of the East. New inventions like electricity and trams were quickly introduced, and westerners turned Shanghai into a huge metropolis with the western part of Shanghai nearly four times larger than the Chinese part in the early 20th century. British, American, French, German and Australian businesses made a great deal of money in the tea trade, real estate and finance and by the early 1920s half of all China’s imports and exports passed through the city of Shanghai.

This tea caddy is a lovely example of Chinese silverware and highlights the importance of tea as a western commodity in the 20th century. I talso represents the Chinese exportation of silverware by American, Australia and European merchants. The Australian National Maritime Museum collection contains a number of other Chinese export and trade items, including other silver tea caddies, pewter tea pots, snuff boxes, tea boxes, ivory fans, dinner sets and cutlery, which you can now browse on-line.

China Maritime Museum opens

The Australian National Maritime Museum’s Director, Mary-Louise Williams was invited to attend the opening of the China Maritime Museum in Shanghai. Here, Mary-Louise shares her photos and some notes on what was an incredible event:

Mary-Louise WilliamsThe President of the International Congress of Maritime Museums and representatives from several museums around the world (including the Australian National Maritime Museum) joined hundreds of Chinese officials and guests to celebrate the opening of the new and impressive China Maritime Museum in Pudong, Shanghai, on a hot and wet Monday this week.

On the hour-long drive from the centre of Shanghai it poured with rain and I wondered  just how an outdoor ceremony was going to work! But as luck would have it, 5 minutes before the ceremony began, the clouds cleared for a spectacular event.

Entering China Maritime Museum

Entering China Maritime Museum

The museum is close to the heart of Shanghai’s maritime and commercial centre with its impressively designed building occupying  nearly 50,000 square metres.  

Exhibitions and public programs spaces take up at least  21,000 metres and accommodate large scale replicas of modern and other vessels. The most impressive of which, the Ming Dynasty trading ship, is right in the middle of the entrance foyer reaching up into a vast atrium.

Ming Dynasty trading ship right in the middle of the entrance foyer

The Ming Dynasty trading ship, in the middle of the entrance foyer

China Maritime Museum greeters

Greetings at the China Maritime Museum

China Maritime Museum

China Maritime Museum celebrates opening

Museum staff were very keen to become actively involved in a wider international maritime museum community and we talked at some length after the formal ceremony about the sorts of programs we could develop and share.