The Tea Caddy Spoon: Behind the Tasteful Collectibles

Silver teaspoons on a table

Loose leaf lovers are well-acquainted with the tea caddy spoon for the vital part it plays in keeping an organized tea cupboard, but even these modern tea aficionados might not be as familiar with the antique tea caddy spoons that swept the world during the 18th and 19th centuries. Take a look at how these short, squat spoons came to become such an integral part of the historic home and why they went out of fashion so many years ago.

What Is an Antique Tea Caddy Spoon?

Traditional antique tea caddy spoons were crafted like regular spoons except they were squatter and their actual scoops were flatter to allow for greater surface area to grab onto the loose leaf tea that was stored in the designated tea caddy. These developed around the 1760s to accommodate for the changing way that Europeans stored and drank their tea. Thus, there was a newfound need for a tool to extract the loose-leaf from within these tea caddies, and the tea caddy spoon was born. Unfortunately, as prepackaged tea bags became possible due to the industrial advancements and changing cultural sensibilities, tea caddy spoons fell out of fashion in the mid-20th century, and they have remained unpopular enough that it's uncommon to find these spoons in any modern home.

Tea caddy, Chinese, with caddy spoon by Elizabeth Morley

What Is an Antique Tea Caddy?

In its most basic form, a tea caddy is a receptacle for loose-leaf tea. These containers came in a variety of shapes and sizes and were highly decorated. Early examples of tea caddies were made of Chinese porcelain, but eventually they began to be crafted out of a wider array of materials, including:

  • Wood
  • Tortoiseshell
  • Brass
  • Copper
  • Silver
  • Pewter

Sterling Silver, or Bust

It was considered customary for tea caddy spoons to be made out of silver, in part because of the way the metal could positively affect the flavors of some of the teas of the time, but also because of how it was already common practice to use silver in the making of silverware. These spoons came in both highly decorated and simple varieties, boasting many spoon shapes, some of which include:

  • Shell
  • Chowder
  • Shovel
  • Heart shape
William Ball, American, active 1780–1820, Caddy Spoon

Antique Caddy Spoon Manufacturers

As is usual for many antiques, there's an incomprehensible number of silversmiths who created tea caddy spoons during the 18th and 19th centuries. Of these makers, the Bateman family is often considered one of the most luxurious makers, and examples of their spoons can be quite expensive when they're put to auction. That being said, collectors tend to favor English silversmiths, and their work during this period can be worth more than that created by American and other European manufacturers. Here's just a small sampling of the different historic silversmiths to craft tea caddy spoons:

  • Josiah Snatt
  • Samuel Pemberton
  • David Carlson
  • Daniel Low & Co.
  • John Shea
  • George Jensen
  • Peter Bateman
  • John Bettridge

Antique Tea Caddy Values

Aside from the English designed tea caddy spoons created during the 18th and 19th centuries, finding other, more contemporary examples of quality tea caddy spoons is quite rare. Now, if you do happen to find an example of an early 20th century tea caddy spoon, it'll more than likely be worth an impressive amount. For instance, one of the most valuable spoons ever sold was an Arts and Crafts gemstone encrusted spoon from Omar Ramsden for a little over $3,000. Not every antique tea caddy spoon will fetch that much at auction, with most spoons having values closer to $150-$300. For example, an 1804 sterling silver tea caddy spoon is listed for $170 at one auction. It's important to remember when shopping for an antique tea caddy spoon that individual spoons will have high values based on their materials alone, so any added layers of rarity or desirability will steadily increase their prices. Take this rare 1885 Tiffany & Co. tea caddy spoon that's currently listed for about $1,500, for example.

Caddy spoon with bone handle by English manufacturer Wardell & Kempson, 1811

How to Care for Antique Tea Caddy Spoons

Thankfully, antique tea caddy spoons are functionally the same as other silver silverware. Since sterling silver tarnishes over time, you want to make sure to keep a daily cleaning routine to prevent any future damage. Simply dusting your silver with a microfiber cloth can work wonders for its health. If your silver is particularly tarnished, you can use store-bought silver cleaners, though it's important that you never apply a rough bristle brush or similar tool to your silver as you can quickly scratch and damage the material. Now that you've freshened your antique tea caddy spoons up, you have just enough time to make yourself a cup of tea.

Tea Time Made Simple

One of the best things about collecting antique tea caddy spoons is that they're hearty enough to be able to be used in a modern context. Whether it's to make yourself a cup of tea or parse out some other loose ingredient, you can help ensure that these antique tools can continue to serve their purpose long after their original owners have passed.

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The Tea Caddy Spoon: Behind the Tasteful Collectibles