A tale of two caddies

For as long as I can remember, this tea caddy has been in my family. For some time now I’ve been using it to store my breakfast Darjeeling in.

old caddy

Neither of my parents know exactly where it came from, although my mum thinks it may have belonged to her grandfather. She believes she’s had it for at least 55 years, during which time it’s been well used. This goes some way to explaining its worn and shabby appearance.

caddy with lid open

The design on the caddy is known as ‘Black Jap’, and features three different scenes in black, gold, red and silver.

The lid, which has become very scratched over the years, is decorated with no fewer than six cranes, two inside a central circle and one in each of the four corners. Cranes are popular symbols in a range of different cultures and religions, and in Japanese mythology they’re said to live for 1000 years. As well as being symbols of longevity they’re thought to bring good fortune.

cranes lid

There are two more scenes on the sides of the caddy, each depicted twice. One of these features two young ladies holding fans, with what looks like a pomegranate tree behind them.

ladies with fans

The other scene shows a well dressed oriental gentleman sitting beside what I think might be a cherry tree planted in a decorative urn. A small boy boy approaches him bearing a bowl of food with chopsticks in it. The old tin is so scratched that the picture is hard to make out.

old gent under cherry tree

In the picture below, however, you can see what the original caddy would have looked like when it was brand new and clean as a whistle.

old and new caddies


The lid featuring six cranes.

This morning’s post brought me two items of mail from D C Thomson & Co Ltd, producers of numerous well known Scottish publications such as The Beano comic, Oor Wullie and The Broons, The Courier newspaper and The People’s Friend magazine.

Set up in 1869, The People’s Friend is the oldest weekly women’s magazine in the world. A few weeks ago I sent a letter to them, which seems to have been to their liking.


The prize was a double delight for me. Not only did it include a packet of excellent leaf tea (which I opened this afternoon to make a deliciously flavoursome post-lunch beverage), but the tea came inside a brand new ‘Black Jap’ caddy, exactly like the old scratched one.


Oddly enough, only a week or so ago I had been looking at the old caddy and wondering if it could do with being replaced.

Now that I’ve received the new one, however, I have a new appreciation of the old one. Seeing them sitting side by side in the kitchen brings a pleasing sense of continuity.

the old and the new

I’m not really a collector of anything, but I suppose if I were going to collect something Black Jap tea caddies would be a useful sort of thing to have. Do two caddies constitute a collection, I wonder? A small one, perhaps.

two black japs


24 thoughts on “A tale of two caddies

  1. Congratulations, Lorna! And how nice to win a tin of lovely tea! What a nice surprise, on a dreich day. That’s so strange because I remember that my Mum also had a tin like that, and I can remember looking at the pictures on it when I was a kid. It’s funny how things stay with you. I think collecting tea caddies would make a wonderful hobby! 🙂

    • Thanks, Jo, it certainly did cheer up a dull day. I don’t know if this design is popular in other countries but I think it’s very well known in the UK. Like you, I remember looking at the pictures as a child, but they became so much a part of everyday life that I stopped thinking about them. It was only getting the new one that reignited my interest. I’m happy to stick with two caddies for now, but if I were lucky enough to win another one I’d gladly add it to the collection. 🙂

  2. Fantastic post Lorna!!! And what a coincidence that they should send you a tea caddy the same as the one that has been in your family for such a long time 🙂 You must keep using the original caddy, it’s got so much more character to it, and I bet it’s seen plenty over the years 🙂

    • Thank you, Andy, it was a most pleasing coincidence. I’m still using the old one for my Darjeeling, while the new one houses the tea that came in it. They seem to be getting along very well together. 🙂

    • Thanks, Marian. I was delighted by my good fortune, and I can see the attraction of painted tins. I like the fact that they have a usefulness (and that their use involves tea), as well as being beautiful objects in themselves. I’m glad my mum kept that old one.

  3. Wow! What an amazing coincidence that your prize would include a tea caddy exactly like the old one. I love them both and you must keep the old one! How was the tea?

    • Thanks, Darlene. I fully intend to keep both caddies, with different types of tea in each. The tea they sent is excellent, full-bodied and flavoursome. The packet simply describes it as a blended tea, so I don’t know exactly what it is, but I would guess there’s some Assam in it.

  4. Pure serendipity. What are the odds? I was wondering what that lovingly worn caddy would have looked like brand new. ‘Tis a beauty in its old and new state. It’s a damn good story, too. Enjoy them both, my friend. I’d say you have the beginnings of a fine collection on your hands.

    Lucinda xo

  5. So marvellously fortuitous. Not only to be published in the magazine, but that the universe answers our needs when we need it! As for the caddy, I love the old one, it has its charms!

    Once when I was a poor student, I really wanted the new Harry Potter book, but it was only being sold in hard copy $50. (A lot for me in those days.) I bit the bullet, went out to purchase it. Lo & behold, on my way home I found $50 on the side of the road.

    The universe had answered & provided!!! True story!

  6. Good on you, Lorna! I have a collection of old tins which I keep above my kitchen cabinets and I do love how colourful and various they are. The only thing is that I’m a bit too rickety to climb up on my counter to clean them and my son says that if he does it, they will not be going back up there to collect more dust. Guess they will be dusty awhile longer. 😀

  7. Wonderful story – it must have been a good letter! I am wishing I had kept those old caddies on my mothers shelves. I’m afraid we have thrown them away, but we have collected some other types of tall square tins over the years and I am very fond of them.

    • Thanks, Hilary. It was a very short letter with a picture of tomato plants growing in an old phone box. I’m glad to hear you’ve got some treasured tins. You can’t keep everything (well, I suppose you can, but life would get unbearably cluttered).

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