Tea glorious Tea! Deputy Curator Georgina talks all about nation's favourite drink appearing on stamps and even under the sea!

I like many other people am obsessed with tea and drink numerous cups of the stuff daily. Having lived in Britain all my life it’s drummed into you from birth that tea can fix any problem and must be consumed during any good chinwag. 21 April marks National Tea Day, a day to celebrate one of our nations favourite drinks.

SS Gairsoppa

Our current exhibition Voices from the Deep documents the letters and other items recovered from the SS Gairsoppa, which was sunk by a German U-Boat on 16 February 1941. On board were 1,765 tonnes of tea, this was enough to sustain 65% of the British population for a week. Tea at the time was rationed but essential for the country’s morale, a loss of this magnitude would have been a true disappointment. We are lucky enough to have an example of a tea tin on display in the exhibition.

Photograph of a tea tin that was rescued from the sunken SS Gairsoppa.

Tea Tin from the SS Gairsoppa, E15982/11

Cutty Sark

The Cutty Sark was a tea-clipper built in 1869 to transport tea from China to England. It competed for the fastest tea trade voyage but never managed to take the title. She made 8 successful trips to China quenching Britain’s thirst for tea. However, with the opening of the Suez Canal and the introduction of steamships, she became redundant for tea transport and started to move other cargo.

Stamp depicting a painting of the Cutty Sark at sea.

1st NVI, Tea Clipper Cutty Sark 1870, Merchant Navy, 2013

British Ships

The Cutty Sark had featured in two stamp issues, firstly in British Ships from 1969. The below images are by three of the artists commissioned to submit designs but were not successful. You can see that they all chose to depict the vessel with sails unlike the adopted stamp, designed by David Gentleman which did not.

1/9, Unadopted design by Andrew Restall
1s, Unadopted design by Clive Abbott
9d, Unadopted design by Johan T Polak
Stamp depicting a drawing of the Cutty Sark without sails.

9d, Cutty Sark, British Ships, 1969

World Stamps

Tea production and cultivation have appeared on stamps from around the world. Here are just a few examples. Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, was initially a Coffee producing country until a severe blight wiped out the crop. They began tea plantation in the 1860s and by 1873 tea was being sold to Britain. Below we also have a tea stamp from India, where commercial tea plantation was driven by the British who were finding it more expensive to get tea from China. Tea production continued and thrived after independence in 1947 and they are now the second largest producer in the world.

Stamp depicting a female tea picker on a plantation.

85c, Tea, Ceylon Stamp, 1954

Stamp depicting a female tea picker plucking tea leaves.

0.15, Plucking Tea, India Stamp, 1965

Stamp depicting a female tea picker with basket.

1/2d, Tea Picking, Rhodesia & Nyasaland Stamp, 1959

And finally, during my hunt for anything tea related in our collection I came across this beautiful wade teapot depicting a post office in operation, which really is ‘a first-class teapot’.

Ceramic teapot decorated to look like a Post Office with customers.

Model Post Office Teapot, 2009-0081/657

Tea seems to be a staple in British culture and I for one would hate to give it up. If you’re interested in seeing the tea from under the sea, why not come and visit our temporary exhibition ‘Voices from the Deep’.

– Georgina Tomlinson, Deputy Curator (Philately)

Sources

Voices from the Deep; The British Raj & Battle of the Atlantic in World War II by Sean A. Kingsley