Kettles were made from silver, but out of the reach of most ordinary folk. . Their shape was subject to experimentation. So from being the kettle for the poshest, the kettle was to evolve into a kettle for the poorest, whoever you were, from the humblest cottage to the large open fire of a working kitchen you'd find a copper kettle boiling. They were rarely used anywhere near the hearth for fear of tarnishing the metal. The kettle would be placed on a trivet by the edge of the fire or suspended from a simple bar or hook, or from a chimney crane mounted to the inner wall of the fireplace indoors. The price steadily declined throughout the 18th century and took a sharp dip in the 19th century when the removal of importing monopolies opened up trade with the Orient.
Circular kettles became the most popular for the next 200 years; there were minor variations in design, with metal handles in the 19th century often curved and movable, straight topped fixed handles made of wood or bone, suggestive of the later Victorian period. Specialising in 18th and 19th Century furniture, together with creating custom hand-made furniture which is supplied to various interior designers, trade and the retail market. Located in Suffolk just outside Woodbridge, Martlesham Antiques is run from a spacious thatched cottage housing nine large showrooms with a vast adjacent car park. Almost in response to their increasing popularity kettles designs celebrated by coming in all different shapes and sizes from the sensuous rounded shoulder kettle to the no nonsense cylindrical body with angular spouts poking out like goose necks. As you can imagine cauldrons were not much good for boiling water, much less trying to syphon the water into another container and possibly giving yourself third degree burns in the process. Finally, make sure that the kettle and the lid do, in fact, belong together. Later ones had handles with grips of wood or bone to protect the user's hands from burning.
One type in particular was known as the half kettle with its semi-circular shape, its flat side designed to be placed against the grate. Your best defence against buying a reproduction at the price of an 18th or 19th century kettle is to buy from a reputable dealer. Antique shops, fairs and markets may yield items of interest, while dealers in kitchenalia and auctions of kitchen equipment are also likely sources. The copper kettle continued to be popular well into the 19th century especially in the countryside where food would be prepared over an open fire. As much more metal was in contact with the heat, they boiled quickly, but they were unwieldy and difficult to pour. Originally, the word kettle was used for any flat-bottomed, lidded pan used for cooking, as opposed to the round bottomed cauldron.
The silver ones are exquisite in their design and the simpler copper ones have the solid warmth and comfort you feel is associated with its rich history. Copper kettles were flat-bottomed to stand on the newly developed hob grate or range. Copper kettles continued to be used until the advent of electricity and stainless steel and they were eventually replaced. Copper was to be the most successful material as it was bright and cheap. Plain copper kettles continued to be used by the fire, but in Georgian and Edwardian times ornate silver or brass tea kettles mounted on spirit lamps graduated from the kitchen to the drawing room. Other teas included blossom, thyme, mint, camomile, cowslip and lime. The kettle became increasingly popular in the 18th century and at this time tea was only for those who could afford it.
All of Martlesham Antiques furniture is hand polished by their own French polishers and restorers to a very high standard. The copper kettle sat at the centre of everything, suspended above the hearth or sitting on an iron hob; it was efficient, attractive, the very picture of domestic perfection. Semi-circular half-kettles were put on a trivet with their flat side snuggling close to the grate, but their sharp angles made them difficult to air. They are still very much a popular collectors' piece with 18th century kettles a rare but valuable find. As 18-th-century tea drinking was a fashionable social habit, kettles weren't confined to the kitchen, and usually came complete with stands and heaters so they could be used in the drawing room. Country tea using herbs local to the area were used as well as china and Indian tea. Sometimes the handles were hinged.
Silver tea kettles were elegant objects; silver is more easily shaped than copper; and being more expensive is always more elaborately decorated. However, it wasn't easy to repair unlike more conventional ones once it was broken. However, we have the Romans to thank for having come up with this rather ingenious way of boiling water. By the time Victoria was firmly seated on her throne, tea was served above and below stairs. This means, unfortunately, that they have been widely reproduced for some time. Every piece on the showroom floor is in excellent condition and ready to go straight into the buyers home or premises.
Known as a fast boiling kettle their purpose was to speed up boiling water and make tea breaks go faster, clearly they weren't keen on a work life balance. Martlesham Antiques is a family run business and has been trading since 1984. There are some excellent examples here of both and copper kettles on this site, with some on trivets from Victorian and Georgian periods. Water was unclean and need to be boiled before it could be used and boiling water was the only way to ensure the water was drinkable. Thankfully cheaper materials were to become more readily available and kettles were made from brass, iron and copper. Be sure to check wooden or bone handles for signs of splitting or other serious damage; they can be difficult to replace. If this is not possible, check for signs of age.
A retractable wick provides a small flame, but silver conducts heat so well it was sufficient to boil the water relatively quickly. Wide, low kettles were tried at the end of the 18th century. The kettles we have today do not convey the domestic warmth and conviviality that surrounds the copper kettle. Instead, they came complete with a stand containing a well that was filled with spirit, chosen because it burns hot and clean. Before tea became the national drink, water had always been heated in large iron cauldrons suspended over an open fire. It could be brought to the boil and with a flat bottom, which meant that it could be removed and put down without spilling over.
Popular shapes towards the end of the 18th century were low, square, rectangular models. The lovely warm patina that comes with age adds value and isn't easily faked; ideally, copper kettles should glow quietly, not shine with metal polish. Splits, of course, are a very serious matter you can hardly boil water in a holed kettle. You may feel this would be the least trustworthy person you'd want to pass your broken kettle to, but the Victorian tinker was often a skilled craftsman, but if even he couldn't repair it then you could always purchase a new one from any one of the travelling hardware representatives passing through, keeping in mind that many villages would have had no shops and would be far from the nearest town or city. Thankfully, for them and us, the aquamanile reappeared and was adapted into the kettle with a serpentine spout allowing steam to escape. Kettles as we know them today evolved alongside tea drinking.