A rare pair of George III papier mache oval tea caddies, attributed to Henry Clay. Decorated using the grisaille method, with classical figures in the Etruscan style. Each caddy is decorated with bands of classical anthemia, one has a chevron pattern, the other a floral decoration on the lid. This was done purposely, probably to enable the caddies’ owners to distinguish which caddy contained green or black tea. Each features a solid silver handle stamped “HC”, bearing the assay office mark for Birmingham. The gilt metal-rimmed tops open to reveal tin foil lined interiors, which retain their original silver-handled floating lids.
The caddies originally formed part of the display in the Etruscan Dressing Room at the famous ‘palace of palaces’, Osterley Park in Isleworth, designed by the architect Robert Adam. They were believed to have sat on a table, also by Clay, in the Dressing Room (still displayed at the house today). The table was described in the 1782 inventory as ‘a Pembroke table richly Japanned by Clay’. George Child Villiers, 9th Earl of Jersey, gave Osterley Park to the National Trust in 1949. At the same time, he gave his sister, Lady Joan Child Villiers, this beautiful pair of caddies. They left the house when they were sold to a family friend and avid tea caddy collector around thirty years ago. We are now very privileged to own these caddies along with several others from the collection, also featured in this year’s catalogue.
Henry Clay produced items ranging from small caddies, trays, knife boxes and dressing cases to small pieces of japanned furniture. Clay moved to London from Birmingham, first establishing a workshop at 18 King Street in Covent Garden, where his array of clients included the Royal Family, eventually becoming ‘Japanner in Ordinary to His Majesty and His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’. Other clients included members of high society, notably Robert Child of Osterley, the Dukes of Bedford, Horace Walpole and Baron Scarsdale of Kedleston.