Smoke Painted Fancy Tea Caddy

tin box with painted flowers

Smoke Painted Fancy Tea Caddy or Canister

Probably American, 1825-1835. tin sheet iron with original brass handles and original smoke grained and fancy decoration. 5 1/4″ x 4″ x 3 1/8″ (MW2015002)

Although tea canisters such as this were often British made for the American market, the smoke grained finish likely indicates an American origin. The popular finish, now referred to as “smoke graining,” was usually applied on top of a solid coat of paint. Before the paint was allowed to dry, the painted object was moved through the smoke of a burning candle, which left the trademark “sooty, translucent, cloudlike impression.” (1) Once the desired effect was achieved, a protective coat of varnish was applied. It was not uncommon to see this decoration applied in combination with other techniques, such as the sweet flowers painted on the front of this charming tea canister.


The tea canister survives in very good condition and retains remarkable color and finish. As expected with age, it exhibits small scattered losses to the finish, concentrated on the lid and rim of the canister. The seam of the canister, located at the rear left, has popped, and the hinge has separated from the lid, however neither of these minor flaws affects the visual or structural integrity of the piece.

Back, Smoke Painted Fancy Tea Caddy, American, 1825-1835

(1)Sumpter Priddy, American Fancy (Milwaukee: The Chipstone Foundation, 2004), page 109-110122-123.