Wednesday 28 May 2014

The Tea Machine

First seen in the late 1700's, the tea machine is a very splendid thing indeed.
Image from History of Old Sheffield Plate,
by Frederick Bradbury.

Used to serve up different types of tea or in some cases, tea and coffee, the tea machine is perhaps the rarest and most collectable of items ever made in Old Sheffield Plate and considered the Holy Grail for Old Sheffield plate collectors. Also known as Tea Equipage, the cost to produce these charming and enigmatic objects meant few could afford them. They would most likely be found in aristocratic households, or homes of the very wealthy.

Image from Old Sheffield Plate,
by Gordon Crosskey.
Although rare and beautiful Tea Machines were also extremely useful. A showpiece, found on the sideboards of breakfast rooms in stately homes, the design allowed guests to serve themselves as was the fashion of the time. The large central urn would hold six pints or more of hot water which could then be swivelled, allowing the spout to fill and refill the urns on either side. These smaller urns were used to serve different types of tea, for instance Assam and Lapsang Souchong, or tea and coffee. All three urns stood on a shared plinth but could be removed to allow individual use as well.

There are only two known examples of Tea Machines made in sterling silver. One is in the Colonial Williamsburg Collection,Virginia, USA and the other in St. John's College, Oxford, UK.

Our very own example in Old Sheffield Plate (circa 1800) is pictured below and is available on our website at
If you have any queries regarding this item please do not hesitate
to get in touch with us at