M19781.1-7 | Tea set

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Tea set
1873-1874, 19th century
Gift of Sir Allan H. Montagu
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Tea set (1)
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Keys to History

The upper classes were very fond of their tea, often attributing curative powers to it. They purchased quality tea and drank it from fine china cups with matching silver flatware.

Towards the end of the 19th century, tea became a social activity among wealthy Montrealers. The day began with tea served in bed. In the afternoon, ladies met at four o'clock for a cup of tea. In the evening, they sometimes attended a tea dance, at which between 20 and 40 people in evening dress would dance and drink tea and eat dessert in the dining room.

This tea service was made in London between 1872 and 1875 by the Goldsmiths' Alliance Ltd., a firm that did business in all the British colonies. It was presented to Sir Hugh Allan in 1880 on the occasion of the launching of his ship, the S.S. Parisian, in Glasgow. When the ship landed at Montreal, on May 10, 1881, a banquet was held in Sir Hugh's honour at the Windsor Hotel.

  • What

    The patterns on this silver tea service incorporate traditional Indian iconography and show a variety of Chinese influences, reflecting the Victorian penchant for Orientalism.

  • Where

    Tea from India and China was not imported regularly into Canada until after the conquest of New France by the British.

  • When

    The custom of afternoon tea, served between luncheon and dinner, was established by the Duchess of Bedford (1783-1857).

  • Who

    Sir Hugh Allan left Scotland for Montreal in 1826. By 1870, having become a shipping and railway tycoon, he was the richest man in Canada.