Time for tea

This month’s Antiques For Everyone show at the NEC will reveal a stirring story of Brum past and present

Now in its 30th year, Antiques for Everyone will again grace the halls of the NEC providing a hunting ground for collectors, interior designers and enthusiasts looking for that unique find. Each season the fair features a special area of interest and for Spring 2015 it centres around that very British institution – tea drinking which is holds a particular significance for Brum. When loose tea was first imported into Britain by the East India Company around 1660, it was a luxury commodity and was stored in ornate boxes known as tea caddies. The tea leaves were measured out in precise scoops using a caddy spoon and it is these quirky little items that will be on display, charting the social history of tea making and drinking from the 17th century to the present day.

JEWELLERY QUARTER

With a renewed interest in ‘real tea’ the days of the caddy spoon are far from over and this exhibition, The Story Of The Caddy Spoon c 1775-2015 presented by the Society of Caddy Spoon Collectors is sure to stir up plenty of interest – particularly because the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter was the biggest producer of caddy spoons in the UK. It was the birth of the Birmingham Assay Office in 1773 that really turned the corner and established the city’s silversmiths, craftsmen and artisans who became famous for their ornate and intricate work. The Assay Office was founded by an Act of Parliament after vigorous lobbying by silversmiths, especially Matthew Boulton who argued that the trade would never truly prosper in Birmingham without its own Assay Office and he was finally rewarded by the Hallmarking Act. The society’s treasurer Brab Hallowes explains why the city was such an important centre for caddy spoons: “Birmingham was famous for its skilled workers and they were brilliant at bringing together all the key trades necessary to make and engrave amazing silverware. During times of war they would switch to arms and weaponry and then go back to making more decorative items in peacetime. There are still many silversmiths in the Jewellery Quarter making caddy spoon for special events such as Royal births and most recently the 2012 Olympics.” After going through a lull in the 1960s because of the popularity of tea bags, caddy spoons are now a much sought after collector’s item but are still within reach with prices starting from around £30 or £40 and rising to thousands for the rarest items. The exhibition will feature around 500 spoons in wood, ivory, glass, mother-of-pearl and even gold as well as the huge range of silver items, mostly made in Birmingham.

Visit Antiques for Everyone, Halls 17-19, NEC, Birmingham B40 1NT, 9-12 April www.antiquesforeveryone.co.uk