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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Tea Chests

Most people know what a tea chest is: a wooden case with riveted metal edges, about 20"x20"x30", used to transport loose leaf tea from the plantation factory to the docks to the warehouse and finally to the retailer:

You don't see many of them here in the US, but I love the way Bill Waddington of
Tea Source in Minneapolis uses them in his shop:

In the glory days of the great clipper ships, heavily-filled tea chests would be packed end-to-end in the hull to serve as ballast:

Tall and Handsome and I were watching an old British movie one evening (Noel Coward's In Which We Serve, I believe) and in the scene where the family were moving into a flat in London's East End, I thought I saw a tea chest in the room. I exclaimed, "Is that a tea chest? What's a tea chest doing there?" and he explained to me that because they were so readily available, empty tea chests were used by "removal companies" (moving companies) to pack/haul household goods:

It would be very rare indeed (though not impossible) to find a removal company today still using empty wooden tea chests, but removal companies do refer to their (approx.) 20"x20"x30" cardboard boxes as being "tea chest" size.

Besides being used to transport tea and later to move household goods, my research has led me to discover yet another use for the tea chest: that of musical instrument!!! The "tea chest bass" is the British first-cousin to the American washtub bass:
The bass is made from a pole (usually a broomstick) placed alongside (or into) the tea chest. One or more strings are stretched along the pole and plucked. The tea chest bass is usually associated with skiffle bands. Skiffle music is a type of folk music with a jazz and blues influence. The Beatles actually evolved from a skiffle band called The Quarrymen, and skiffle music can be found lurking about the musical family trees of people like Mick Jagger and Van Morrison. (View a tea chest bass being constructed, then played here.)

Who would have guessed that the humble tea chest has such a fascinating background? I am very fortunate to be the owner of a tea chest, a generous gift sent to me from a very special tea friend:

But I can promise you that this is one tea chest that won't be turning a tune!


Rosemary said...

What great photos! and fun post! Thanks for sharing.

Denise at Uniquely Tea said...

You are welcome .... and thanks for the pressie! By the way, the tea shoes post is back up. Some sites (like mine) were getting error messages and previously posted material went missing. Blogger was finally able to restore my post, but they lost all comments.

Linda said...

Lucky you for owning a tea chest. I also enjoyed this post!

Rupert Blanchard said...

hi, i love your information about tea chests, i'm a tea chest fan as well, you can see some of my tea chests at hopefully i'll add photos of my own collection soon -thanks! rupert (London UK)

Anonymous said...

you can actually find quite a few tea chests in england - some of the removal companies sell new ones for anywhere from $11 to $17.



they sell nesting ones too, in a set of three.

good luck!


Rivers of the World said...

Hello, I am a teacher of English here in Paris and I just wanted to know what you called these logos on the wooden tea chests? You know the ones indicating the origin and the year... I am looking for the accurate word in French and I can't so I thought the tea specialists could help me.
Corinne L├ętant.

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