A Family of Three at Tea

This painting is an interesting representation of English tea culture in the early 18th century. I could say a lot about this painting, but what principally interests me is the silver tea kettle.

"A Family of Three at Tea," attributed to Richard Collins, c. 1727

"A Family of Three at Tea," attributed to Richard Collins, c. 1727

The first English silver teapot, which, like the kettle pictured here, had a wooden handle, was manufactured no later than about 1670. (Here's an interesting early example from the V&A Museum.) The decade of the 1680s also saw the first large importations of Chinese porcelain to England and the Netherlands. The English fell for porcelain, hard, but lacking the technology to produce it (porcelain manufacture would not take off in Britain until the 1750s), the English made their first teapots out of silver. The earliest English silver teapots often had handles made of wood, to insulate them from heat; another alternative was to cover the metal handles with leather for comfortable handling.

The kettle pictured features a spirit lamp (that apparatus underneath the teapot), which was probably a predecessor to the English tea urn, which seems to have appeared during the first decade or so of the 18th century.

In the late 1720s, around the same time this painting was made, the first Russian silver teapots were manufactured. Like the English variety, they featured wooden handles and sometimes spirit lamps (konforka). Later, the teapot-and-konforka combination would come to be known in Russia as a bul′otka.