Saturday, November 29, 2008

Tea in a Pill

I found an old tin at the Avondale Sunday Market on March 9 this year. It was cheap enough, and fascinated both myself and the seller. I did tell her I was with the Avondale Waterview Historical Society, and that I’d look up on the Internet just what was the story behind this unusual wee tin. Here it is ...

What does a cuppa tea have to do with newspapers today such as the Sunday News or NZ Truth? A word which was once a brand name invented by a 19th century English pharmaceutical company named Burroughs Wellcome & Co — “tabloid”. Able to mechanise drug production by the 1880s, a process which has led to the tablets and capsules we also have today in our prescriptions or simply bought at the supermarket, Henry Wellcombe invented the brand name “Tabloid” for the company’s compressed pills.

The company produced “Tabloid” first aid kits, “Tabloid” photographic developer chemicals — and “Tabloid” tea, a cuppa in a pill. As the website for Wellcome’s archives says: “One can imagine the advertising for such a product: no matter where you were in the British Empire, no matter how inhospitable the climate, with the help of Burrough Wellcome & Co, a taste of Britain could be guaranteed.” The tin I bought may be as old as 1900.

However, the “tabloids” did not sell well. Instant tea had yet to find a niche in the pantries of Britain and elsewhere in the Empire. The brand name, however, now applied to a condensed form of the news of the day rather than a tablet to be dropped in a cup of hot water, has survived.


  1. Oh that is just too cool for words. Wow that means it would be 108 years old. Tea in a pill wonder if it will become popular in another hundred years? Awesome post.

  2. Thanks, folks. This kind of thing is why I love having a look at markets. You never know what you might find amidst the rubble.