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Tea Service

Burnett, Charles A.
Place Made:
Georgetown District of Columbia United States of America
Date Made:
Coffeepot: HOA: 10 1/2″; WOA: 13 1/2″; DOA: 4 1/2″
Teapot: HOA: 9 1/4″; WOA: 12 1/4″; DOA: 4″
Sugar Bowl: HOA: 8 1/2″; WOA: 8″; DOA: 3 1/2″
Cream Pitcher: HOA: 7″; WOA: 5 3/4″; DOA: 3 1/2″
Waste Bowl: HOA: 5 1/2″; WOA: 6 1/4″; DOA: 4 1/4″
Accession Number:
DESCRIPTION: Five-piece tea service in the neoclassical style consisting of a coffeepot, teapot, sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and waste bowl. Each component features wide lobed fluting, gadrooning on rims (and lids of coffeepot and teapot), and floral banding on the bodies as well as faces of the square bases. Cast urn finials top the hinged lids of the coffeepot and teapot and removable lid of the sugar bowl. Scroll wooden handles on coffeepot and teapot with acanthus carving on top and attached to body with shaped silver sockets; sugar bowl and cream pitcher have strap silver handles, scrolled at bottom. The floral bands were probably made by a specialist and purchased by Charles A. Burnett because identical bands can be seen on pieces finished by various Baltimore silversmiths.

INSCRIPTION: Engraved on side of body with script initial “L” for Nathan Loughborough (1772-1848) and his wife Mary Cary Webster (1776-1841) of Georgetown.

MARK: Coffeepot struck on the bottom of the bases with intaglio “C•A•BURNETT” mark in rectangular reserve and two intaglio eagle head marks in a cut-corner square reserve. Teapot, sugar bowl, and cream pitcher have same “C•A•BURNETT” mark as coffeepot struck on bottoms of bases but only one eagle head mark. Waste bowl not marked. Eagle marks are found on silver made in cities throughout America during the Federal period and may have served as an informal national mark, similar to the lion’s head, thistle, and harp used, respectively, by British, Scottish, and Irish guild halls. They marks may also have been used by large manufacturers selling their wares to be retailed by other silversmiths and jewelers. See Catherine B. Hollan, “Eagle Marks on American Silver” (McLean, VA: Hollan Press, 2015).

MAKER: Charles Alexander Burnett (1769-1849) was a prolific silversmith whose shop was well-known throughout Virginia and the District of Columbia. He served his apprenticeship under Fredericksburg, Virginia silversmith James Brown (1732-1808) and worked in that city under his own name until 1793 when he moved to Alexandria, Virginia. In 1796, he left Alexandria and moved to Georgetown, District of Columbia and formed the firm Burnett & Rigden with John E. Rigden, a partnership that lasted ten years. While in Georgetown, Burnett continued his silversmith’s operation and also began working for the government manufacturing silver trade items for frontier trading stations. He is credited also with crafting the silver skippet used to enclose the United States seal attached to the Treaty of Ghent that ended the War of 1812. It is probable that Burnett’s silversmithing business tapered off during the depression of the 1830s and had completely ceased by 1840. He died intestate in 1849. See Catherine B. Hollan, “Virginia Silversmiths, Jewelers, Watch- and Clockmakers, 1607-1860: Their Lives and Marks” (McLean, VA: Hollan Press, 2010).

FORM: For most of the eighteenth century the accouterments for tea and coffee were acquired separately and did not necessarily match in style and shape. By the 1790s, all elements of a tea service (coffeepot, teapot, sugar bowl, waste bowl, and cream pitcher) were made somewhat uniformly in style, with the smaller pieces following the form of the coffee and teapots. In the eighteenth century, coffeepots were taller than teapots for two reasons: function and economics. They are taller in order to raise the spout higher from the bottom to prevent the coffee grounds (which sink to the bottom) from being poured into teacups or bowls; conversely, tea leaves float and are less likely to flow out the spout when tea is poured. This difference in coffee/tea pot heights carried forward into the nineteenth century as tradition even after strainers and other means for preventing coffee grounds from pouring out the spout were made popular. The second factor, economics, was driven by the expense of tea in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Tea was so expensive that only a small amount would be brewed at a time to prevent waste. In 1662 London, a pound of coffee cost between 4 and 7 shillings; around 1680 a pound of tea cost 11 to 12 shillings. The price of tea continued in the eighteenth century to rise higher than the price of coffee. See Wolfgang Schivelbusch, “Tastes of Paradise: A Social History of Spices, Stimulants, and Intoxicants” (New York: Pantheon Books, 1992), 83; Jane Pettigrew, “A Social History of Tea” (London: The National Trust, 2001), 140; and William H. Ukers, “The Romance of Tea: An Outline History of Tea and Tea-Drinking Through Sixteen Hundred Years” (London and New York: Knopf, 1936), 226, 226. All things considered, however, Charles Montgomery wrote an insightful summary of why we cannot be certain why coffeepots are larger than teapots in his book “A History of American Pewter” (New York: Knopf, 1936), 182-183.

Engraved on side of body with script initial “L” for Nathan Loughborough (1772-1848) and his wife Mary Cary Webster (1776-1841). A native of Fairfax Co., Virginia, Loughborough was a protege of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), built a large house near Georgetown, District of Columbia called Grassland, and served as Comptroller of the Treasury under President James Madison (1751-1836).
Credit Line:
Given in memory of James P. Donovan