An eight-sided English tortoiseshell caddy, about 1820, sits on bone ball feet. Highly prized, exotic veneers command premium prices.
Wood caddies were carved, inlaid, veneered, and japanned. In fact, some of the greatest English cabinetmakers tried their hand at box design, always remembering to lock behind them. Back then, tea was a pricey commodity so precious that, like jewelry, it was subject to theft and kept under lock and key. "I have never seen a period tea caddy without a lock," says Thomas Woodham-Smith, director of Mallett Inc., specialists in 18th- and 19th-century English and Continental furnishings.
Tea caddy courtesy of Sallea Antiques; photograph by Doug Todd