Covered sugar basinMaker:
Richard Morton & Co.
Material and Medium: Sterling silver , Glass
Dimensions: Overall: 190 x 116 x 107mm (7 1/2 x 4 9/16 x 4 3/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: L1927.14
This is an eighteenth century sugar basin with lid, used for storing and serving table sugar. It is ornately decorated with a pierced body and leaf and swag details. The ram’s head design over each of the three legs is one its most striking features. The lid is finished with an acorn-shaped finial. The basin is lined with blue glass as was common for salt, mustard and sugar vessels of the period. Coloured glass liners effectively highlighted the detail of the silver piercing work.
The growth in popularity of silver sugar bowls developed alongside the increasing popularity of tea-drinking. Sugar was initially kept in boxes similar to tea caddies but by the end of the seventeenth century, the box shape had evolved into a covered bowl. Some early covered sugar bowls were designed so that the lid could be turned upside down to serve as a receptacle for used tea-spoons. By the time this covered sugar basin was made in 1776 however, the use of spoon dishes had declined and the lids changed to become more ornate with decorative finials.
This sugar basin was made by Richard Morton & Company in Sheffield. In 1773 Richard Morton & Company was one of seven Sheffield firms that came together to form a local silversmiths' association, which ran for around ten years. The main aim of the association was for manufacturers to fix selling prices for their goods to create a healthy, competitive market in the city. Richard Morton first registered his own makers mark in 1773 and was based at Plate Works, Brinsworth Orchard in Sheffield. He manufactured goods from silver and Old Sheffield Plate.
Historically, sugar was a luxury commodity and was highly taxed by the government. Like tea, it was initially stored in special lockable containers. Seventeenth century British colonial expansion in the West Indies, the main area of production for sugar cane, led to sugar becoming more widely available in the eighteenth century but it was still expensive. In 1874 the British Prime Minister William Gladstone abolished sugar tax, making it more widely available for all classes of society.
Sugar was bought and sold in solid form as cones or ‘loaves’ until the later nineteenth century when granulated and powdered sugar became available to buy. Prior to this any grinding or grating of sugar would be done at home in the kitchen as required. Pieces of sugar would be snipped or chiselled off the main block and served at the tea table as little pieces in a bowl. Sugar tongs would be used to pick up the individual lumps.