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Antique Toleware Tea Caddy of Elliptical Form Circa 1790.

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Ref: 707TC-TW-hygra 

A  Tole ware tea caddy of rare elliptical form with traces of  raised Chinoiserie decoration surviving. Now mostly grey with the tin plated sheet iron visible. Originally the caddy would have been overall black with dramatic images of a far off semi imagined place.  The hinged lid has an unusual chevron pierced gallery. The caddy opens to reveal a single compartment interior still with its original working lock. (replacement key)

Origin: UK;  Circa: 1790; Materials: tole ware  tin plated ferrous metal with japanned decoration.

Size: 12 cm wide by 7 cm by 8.9 cm:  4.7  inches wide by   2.8 inches by  3.5   inches.

Condition: good original structure, japanning worn; working lock and replacement key; see images
As each person has different criteria and antiques by their very nature have wear  please enlarge the images and ask for extra information as needed. 

Keywords: Toleware, Tinware, japanned japanning, Stalker and Parker, Mathew Bolton, Baskerville, Angerstein's Illustrated Travel Diary

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Antique Toleware Tea Caddy of Elliptical Form Circa 1790. Enlarge Picture

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The hinged lid has an unusual chevron pierced gallery. Under magnification tiny file marks are just visible. 

Much of the japanning layer has been lost; in some places the pattern of the decoration is still visible. 

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Toleware is tinned sheet steel or iron. The tin coating was applied to resist rust. the joints were achieved with solder of the same material.

The origin of  of the name  is the French  tôle peinte. -   painted tin The first tole ware was made early in the 18th centaury.   

Toleware is sometimes known as Pontypool ware.  A factory to produce toleware was established about 1732 in Pontypool  Monmouthshire.

The decoration sometimes called japanning  was particularly durable.  The varnishes were hardened  by baking.

When closely inspected a fine crazing of the painting is visible  



See: Chapter 3 Antique Boxes, Tea Caddies, and Society, 1700--1880 
Antigone Clarke & Joseph O'Kelly,
ISBN: 0764316885

As early as the 1660s, Samuel Pepys mentioned chinoiserie designs in a "book with rare Cutts". However, it was not until 1688 that a really comprehensive and well distributed publication appeared, which was to influence chinoiserie for the next hundred and fifty years. This was a book by J. Stalker and G. Parker which explained how to prepare the surface, build up and paint the decoration and prepare and apply varnishes. The book also provided designs for copying. The designs, with their precise shapes and well defined lines, were easy to follow and are recognizable in many a box. There were complete scenes as well as pages of specific items to copy from, as for example various birds, so that a person could choose and compose scenes according to individual preference.


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Only traces of the japanning remain on the base. Much of the tin layer is still present.

The elliptical piece of metal that forms the bottom has had a welt beaten into its edges. The sides are soldered to it. A flux probably of  of rosin would probably have been used. see: 

Confusion of terms apart, the contribution of this book to the spread of japanned chinoiserie cannot be overstated. Arcane information about the properties of gums and varnishes was freely given. Instructions on how to coat a wooden surface and how to varnish to a mirror like finish were explained in detail. Pigments to be used for the attainment of different colors were listed with their properties. The reader was also tutored in the use of metal dusts for creating special effects, a direct copy from Chinese and Japanese practices. The different instruments needed were also described. These were such things as quills, varnishing pencils and Dutch rushes (a horse tail used for polishing).

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The construction is clearly visible. The sides are made of three pieces of shaped tin plated iron sheet.

The join is a soldered lap join. For strength the join in the lip is at the opposite end.

One of the best  and fascinating accounts I have found of steel working is by Reinhold Rucker Angerstein.  (1753-1755) He seems have been an eighteenth-century industrial spy.  He recorded his findings and detailed observations in illustrated diaries and notebooks.   A translation of the Diary by Torston Berg  and completed his son, Peter was published by the National Museum of Science & Industry in 2001 ISBN 1 900747243.
There is a preview of the book at: Google Books.

Many of the processes were kept secret to hinder competition! 
"In connection with Pontypool there is nothing further to be mentioned except that everything is kept very secret and all strangers are forbidden to approach the works. Anybody who intends viewing them must be prepared to use every possible means of achieving his wish.  I did not fail this time, but in the end I was caught by the implacable proprietor himself and was forced to witness the castigation of the workmen who let me in. "

"Sheet-metal fabrication in Pontypool
In pontypool there are two brothers by the name of Edward and Thomas Allgood who from black sheets fabricate bread baskets, tea trays, snuff boxes and various kinds of  of sheet-metal work that is cut and embossedin rings and then scoured, dried, varnished and painted in the same way as at Mr Baskerville's factory in Birmingham. An ordinary snuffbox with a golden flower painted on it is sold for 2 shillings."




The caddy seems to tell how it was made.

And it is a time consuming process.

The brown and gold drips beneath the lock tell the story of how the decoration was applied. The drips have entered through the key hole: 

The box was first given the brown coat, then the black.

The slight iron/rust staining near the hinge indicates that the metal was slightly overheated when the solder join was done. Ideally the melting temperature of the solder would have been below the temperature of the   plating tin. 


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Raised Chinoiserie decoration surviving on a japanned tinware box.

The layers of the disciplines of all the crafts men involved are visible. 

The top layer is the painting  

The next layer the gold leaf 

Below is  a glue layer  with chalk in places to build up a three dimensional quality 

The chalk layer then cut back or carved

 Below that  there seems to be just the black japanned layer.  

The metal from which the box was made was pre tinned.  Ideally the solder would have had a lower melting temperature to the the tinning.   


See :  Japanned Papier Mâché and Tinware c.1740-1940, Yvonne Jones.  

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All text and images and linked images are © 1999-2013 Antigone Clarke and Joseph O'Kelly. If you require any further information on permitted use, or a licence to republish any material, email us at