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October 30, 2007

Last chance to view fascinating exhibit of antique tea containers

Museum guests of Colonial Williamsburg have just a few weeks remaining to view an exhibition at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum that chronicles the history of tea from 1680 to 1810 through the containers used to store the precious commodity.

“Canisters, Caddies and Chests: Fashionable Tea Containers of the 18th Century,” an exhibition detailing the evolution of tea containers from novelty stage through development to standardization, closes Sunday, Dec. 2.

“This exhibit was great fun to put together because we used such fascinating artifacts,” said research associate John Hyman, who worked on the exhibit. “The exhibit, which emphasizes silversmiths’ work, also includes tea containers fashioned in Old Sheffield Plate, tortoise shell, ivory and inlaid wood.”

By the late 18th century, tea was the most widely used beverage in the world. It was so intertwined with the social and economic attributes of the culture that tea containers became a significant silver form.

The exhibit, which includes the earliest known tea canister produced in London circa 1685, traces changes in drinking and dietary habits reflected in the increasing consumption of tea and its explosive growth as a cultural phenomenon.

Great Britain imported 150 pounds of tea from the Far East in 1650. By the end of the American Revolution, Britons were importing seven million pounds annually. After the tea tax was slashed in 1784, annual tea imports reached 15 million pounds by 1791 when the typical English working family spent 10 percent of its income on tea and sugar.

The exhibit also explores the strong relationship between tea and sugar. As tea containers evolved from canisters to caddies to chests, matching sugar containers joined the progression as sugar replaced honey as the primary sweetener.

Entrance to the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum and the Museums of Colonial Williamsburg is through the Public Hospital of 1773 on Francis Street between Nassau and South Henry Streets. Operating hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Admission is by Colonial Williamsburg admission, a separate Museums admission ticket or Annual Museums Pass.

Established in 1926, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is the not-for-profit educational institution that preserves and operates the restored 18th-century Revolutionary capital of Virginia as a town-sized living history museum, telling the inspirational stories of our nation’s founding men and women. Within the restored and reconstructed buildings, historic interpreters, attired as colonial men and women from slaves to shopkeepers to soldiers, relate stories of colonial Virginia society and culture – stories of our journey to become Americans – while historic trades people research, demonstrate and preserve the 18th-century world of work and industry. As Colonial Williamsburg interprets life in the time of the American Revolution for its guests, it also invites them to interact with history. Williamsburg is located in Virginia’s Tidewater region, 20 minutes from Newport News, within an hour’s drive of Richmond and Norfolk, and 150 miles south of Washington D.C., off Interstate 64. For more information about Colonial Williamsburg, call 1-800-HISTORY (447-8679) or visit Colonial Williamsburg’s Web site at

Media Contact:
Jim Bradley
(757) 220-7280