Catalog Number: 1974.007.04
Nowadays we use our cozies, or “coozies,” to keep things cold, not warm, and they are usually found insulating a can of beer or pop. But it was not always so.
A tea cozy is a thickly padded cover placed over a teapot to keep the contents warm.
During the late 1800s, fashionable homemakers of the Victorian era who had leisure time were obsessed with covering and decorating almost every surface in their homes. Often beadwork was incorporated onto various domestic items such as fire screens, cushions, and tea cozies. This week’s artifact is an example of this trend in La Crosse, an intricately beaded tea cozy.
Marianne Bussell made this tea cozy circa the 1860s in La Crosse; she and her husband Winthrop lived in La Crosse County for over 30 years. Winthrop worked on and off for the lumber business, and later in life dealt with fancy horses. The Bussells had one child who died in infancy.
This tea cozy was likely made from a pattern featured in a women’s magazine. It is decorated with thousands of glass and steel beads arranged to create a grapevine and floral motif. The interior is lined with a thick tweed fabric, and there is wool stuffed in between for insulation.
Women’s magazines and books provided the homemaker with guidance for proper etiquette for all social aspects of life. In one book, Manners and Tone of Society, or Solecisms to be Avoided (1897), tea cozies were described as being a “thing that should never be seen in a lady’s drawing-room.” The book further states that hostesses utilizing a tea cozy display a lack of wealth. According to this publication, if the tea turns cold, a hostess should merely ring for fresh tea for her guests.
While the guide suggests otherwise, tea cozies were popular, and generally considered a practical device before the invention of insulated teapots and microwaves. Tea cozies like this one would have been saved for special occasions and used with the best silver or porcelain teapot in middle-class homes. The lining is stained, suggesting that Marianne Bussell, or possibly one of her family members, may have used it while entertaining guests.
Teapots are not the only things that could be kept warm with a cozy cover: the egg cozy is a tiny version designed to top a boiled egg and keep it warm. These could be knit or woven, and were often imaginative and playful in design.
The Bussell’s grandniece, Helen Hestad, donated this tea cozy and other items from the couple to La Crosse County Historical Society in 1974.
This article was originally published in the La Crosse Tribune on February 2, 2019.