Lot 512
  • 512

Glazed yellow earthenware four-sided tea canister Southeastern Pennsylvania, dated 1846

6,000 - 10,000 USD
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  • Four-sided Tea Canister
  • Glazed yellow earthenware
  • 7 1/2 by 3 3/4 by 3 5/8 in.
  • 1846
Incised: Tea Canister, made Sept. 22, 1846


George Horace Lorimer, Philadelphia
Parke-Bernet Galleries, "Fine American & English Furniture Collected by the Late George Horace Lorimer," March 29-April 1, 1944, lot 414
Joe Kindig, Jr., York, Pennsylvania, 1967
Chris A. Machmer, Annville, Pennsylvania, 1994


American Radiance: The Ralph Esmerian Gift to the American Folk Art Museum, p. 135, fig. 95A


Old chip on the bottom
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

By the mid-1700s, the exotic custom of drinking tea was firmly established among the upper and middle classes of colonial America. In Pennsylvania, a number of early travelers commented on the widespread popularity of the beverage among both urban and rural English and Germanic households. Swedish minister Israel Acrelius observed during his travels in Pennsylvania in the late 1740s that the custom had reached even the more isolated communities: "Tea is a drink very generally used. No one is so high as to despise it, nor anyone so low as not to think himself worthy of it .... It is always drunk by the common people with raw sugar in it. Brandy in tea is called lese."1Tea merchants realized the lasting pungency of their products required a dry, relatively airtight storage environment and prescribed such canisters or boxes for their customers.

As new domestic customs in the service of food and beverages emerged, local craftsmen scrambled to create new table forms to accommodate the trends. While matching serving suites for the drinking of tea, coffee, and chocolate remained rare in most Pennsylvania households throughout the eighteenth century, individual teapots, tea "caddies," sugar bowls, cream pots, and cups grew to be regular products of the redware potter. One of the earliest surviving examples of Pennsylvania sgraffito-decorated earthenware is, in fact, a tea canister dated 1767 and made by Bucks County English potter Joseph Smith.2

 The three tea canisters from the Esmerian Collection suggest the range of techniques employed by Pennsylvania potters to produce the form. The four-sided tea canister, from the mid-nineteenth century, follows the form of contemporary manufactured blown-in-mold glass medicine or "case" beverage bottles of the period. This canister was thrown with rounded walls on a wheel. The walls were then flattened and trimmed on each side while the clay remained wet and plastic; crisp bevels were trimmed on its corner edges prior to application of the trailed slip decoration. Identified by its inscription as a "tea canister," its opening was probably sealed with a simple round cork stopper.

The other two tea canisters are early types, with thin wheel-thrown walls and tapering angular necks. Their form follows that of imported English creamware and pearlware examples. Both are ornamented with opaque yellow slip, through which sgraffito patterns have been applied and green copper manganese splotches added. On one, the sgraffito pattern of a bird and the word "dodoe" has been incised, perhaps documenting the extinct, heavy, flightless bird that held the interest of many amateur naturalists during the period. -J.L.L.

1 Israel Acrelius, A History of New Sweden; or, The Settlements on the River Delaware, vol. 2 (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1874).
2 Rawson W. Haddon, “An Early Decorated Canister," in Diana Stradling and J. Garrison Stradling, The Art of the Potter (New York: Main Street/Universe Books, 1977), p. 27.