A complete 5-piece solid silver tea and coffee service, in the shape of tree trunks, with straight sides and flat tops and bottoms. They have indentation on one side, with chased and engraved woodgrain and knots. They are further embellished in relief, with plum blossom branches. The handles and finials, are in the shape of gnarly branches, with separators to avoid the handle becoming too hot. The eye-catcher of the service, is the kettle on its stand with its original burner; it could be tilted forward to pour the hot water to refill the teapot. The kettle, smaller teapot sugar pot and a creamer are all marked Singfat. Only the coffee pot is marked Zeewoo shanghai, who we know operated from 307 Honan Road, Shanghai. The items are perfectly matched, so it is possible the coffee pot was ordered as a later addition, to augment the service.
Chinese Export Silver is very functional, usually with European shapes. Talented local silversmiths, would use typical Chinese decorative motifs such as robed figures, animals or natural elements, using repoussé and chasing techniques. The result is always a charming fusion between East and West. This type of silverware, was often made for the Westerners, who were living in China and taken back home when they moved back. But this type of silverware also appealed to the group of Chinese, who had adopted a more Western lifestyle - particularly in bustling trading ports such as Shanghai.
Drinking tea was a serious business in China, as well as the West. So using silver when serving tea, elevated the whole affair. Because tea was a luxury in the West and revered in China, how it was very served was important. The accoutrements of tea drinking, were a statement in their own right, as important as the quality of tea served.
The origin of this particular tree trunk design is not clear, but it is believed the underlying message was that the reality of life is likened to gnarled wood, contrasting with the soft beauty of the plum blossom. Silver tree trunk tea services appear to have been quite popular, as various examples and makers have been documented. Makers using this design, include Zeewoo, Singfat, the famous Wang Hing and the unknown maker ‘PK’. Other recorded items with the same decoration include a hot water jug, mustard pot, bud vase and a tea caddy.