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!