Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Tea Cart - For Serving English Tea

This is a Gibbard-built "1642 Tea Wagon". Gibbard was an amazing quality furniture company located in Napanee, Ontario, Canada that started in 1835 and produced much of the fine furniture in the southern Ontario region. They prided themselves in having well-developed designs and on hand polished furniture. Sadly, the business folded in 2008.

 This tea wagon is made of mahogany veneer and measures 18"W x 27"D x 30"H.

There is a drop handle and a drawer. There are two wings that lock extending the surface to a full 39". There are 2 large cartwheels and 2 smaller stabilizing wheels. The larger wheels have a band of rubber to dampen the bumps along the way. Its value today is in the range of $200-$400. These carts were very popular for the serving tea when entertainment in one's home was popular. The carts were made in different woods and styles. If you have one, it is best if left in the original condition. There are some replacement parts still available, such as the wheels.

Lets have a chat about some of the uses of the wagon for tea. Certainly it is a convenience to have a table with wheels for any home. I doubt that in 1624 there would have been such a table made. Tea was just coming to Europe and was not at a stage where afternoon teas were served in the style as they were later a century later. It wasn't until the mid to late 19th century that tea was a popular beverage and served among the gentry with fancy sandwiches and dainties (pastries and other sweets).

This tea cart has two shelves below the table top. There is one tiny drawer for silver teaspoons and sugar tongs. There is a detachable handle used to push or pull the cart to and from the kitchen,  and as needed to guests across a broad room. The most wonderful thing about this piece is the two elegant drop leafs that are able to lock in place. They serve as table extensions.

Typically the cart would be wheeled into the kitchen and loaded up with items for a fancy tea. The maid or hostess would wheel the cart out, with tea cups clinking lightly. The sandwiches and sweets and plates would be tucked on the shelves underneath.  The tea service (tea pot, cream and sugar   containers) would sit on top of the wagon. The hostess would prepare and pour the tea for her guests either from the top of the wagon or transferred to a table top. "Low tea" would be served from a low table, at coffee-table height while the hostess would sit on the edge of a sofa.

The glass tray is an elegant addition. However, only light items could be set on the glass. Tea would be poured by the hostess and the maid or a responsible girl from the family would go around the sitting room and offer the tea cup with milk and sugar from the tray to seated guests.

So, if you have a tea wagon, take care of it. Get out your good china and silverware and fancy napkins and make tea a party! If you need some guidance on tea party-ing, consult The Tea Party Guide.

Update - July 2014:
I found a few photos of a vintage tea cart on display at the Rutherford House in Edmonton, Canada, the home of Alberta's first premier, A.C Rutherford. The home is restored to circa 1911 and is open for public viewing and tours.  In the living room, there is a lovely silver tea pot on a tea cart. Fine homes would have enjoyed serving guests tea by a maid servant wheeling the tea cart across to guests around a large room.

Rutherford House, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Rutherford House Tea Cart - Profile

Rutherford House Tea Cart

The ornate silver tea pot pictured above and below is suspended in a cradle or stand from a pin at each side of the vessel. This permits the hostess to pour from her chair elegantly by tipping the heavy tea pot over each cup. The cup would be passed to either the guest or a maid would take the cup to a seated guest on a tray. This style of tea pot may also be used for guests to serve themselves. It is stationary so there is more control, less chances of spillage and easy access for refills.

Magpie at the Rutherford House
Tilting Silver Tea Pot on Stand

Update: May 19, 2015. Added additional views of the tea cart

1 comment:

  1. I have a Tea Cart very similar to the one on your blog it is made by Malcolm Better Built Furniture. I was wondering if you have heard of this company and could give me any information on my tea cart. I'm curious about it and about how old it is. I have pictures but I wouldn't know how to show them to you.
    Thank you for any information you may have.