Media Resource

Picturing America: Silver of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries

Paul Revere Jr., Silver Teapot, 1796
Photo caption

Paul Revere Jr., Silver Teapot, 1796

Tea is a fascinating subject of study, especially in the United States, where, thanks to the Boston Tea Party, it has long had particular symbolic value. One way to approach tea and its place in U.S. life and culture is by examining the social settings in which it has been served, from afternoon gatherings of colonial elites to popular tea houses to, today, a travel mug on a morning commute. The tea service is an integral part of those social contexts. In this video from Picturing America, learn more about the history of silver teapots and the silversmiths who make them.

View the video (5 minutes) on Picturing America.

Access the Picturing America lesson plan.

Classroom Connections

Comprehension Questions

  • What did silver teapots symbolize in 18th century colonial America? How did they fit into colonial society?
  • How did 18th century silversmiths create fluted teapots?
  • Why were fluted silver teapots popular in the post-Revolution United States?
  • How did silver teapots change in the 19th century, before the Civil War?
  • How did silversmithing change after the Civil War?

Discussion Questions

  • What can the ways in which tea was served and consumed tell us about American society?
  • How do both tea and silver illustrate the global connections shaping life in colonial America?
  • Tea played a major part in American politics on the eve of independence. Over time, other commodities have done so, as well. In the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, United Farm Workers led boycotts of lettuce and grapes to push for better working conditions for migrant farm workers (learn more with this lesson about the UFW). What other commodities or products have figured in U.S. (or global) politics and protests? How so?