Tea leaves and coffee beans both gradually lose their flavor when exposed
to air. The green ceramic tea canister seen here would originally have had
a tight-fitting silver or pewter lid that kept moisture from hydrating the
dried leaves. Similarly, coffee sellers in the late nineteenth century developed
the vacuum-packed can and the one-pound coffee bag. The Great Atlantic and
Pacific Tea Companybetter known as A&P storeshired industrial
designer Egmont Arens to create modern-looking airtight tins for its three
grades of coffee. The bold designs became so iconic that A&P adapted them
into promotional coin banks.
The French word demitasse (for half-cup)
was adopted by English speakers around 1840 to describe small cylindrical
cups used for serving strong French-style coffee. Susie Coopers hand-painted
Art Deco design emphasizes the overall geometry of the demitasse form. A softer,
curved precursor is seen in the black earthenware coffee cup to the left,
whose gilt floral decoration is partially lost today but which originally
would have glittered brilliantly on a candlelit tea table.
Demitasse with Saucer, 1928
A. E. Gray and Company, Ltd.
Burslem, Staffordshire, England
Lent by Jody and Dick Goisman