A Thimbleful of History

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Antique thimbles are trinkets most often of …

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Tags: 18th century 19th Century Decorative Art Design History gold

A Micro History of Miniature Mosaics

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Antique Micromosaic Butterfly Earrings
After Napoleon’s 1814 defeat, Europe became open to tourism once again. Italy was the most popular destination, where tourists flocked in pursuit of works of art. Souvenir purchases often included copies of masterpieces and also jewelry in the form of cameos, intaglios, and, most notably, miniature mosaics.

A miniature mosaic is a composition of tiny, glass tesserae cut from pieces of glass known as smalti filati. Some tesserae are not glass, but stone. Miniature mosaics are also known as “micromosaics,” a term coined by avid collector Arthur Gilbert. His collection of mosaics, among other treasures, were originally housed at LACMA, but have found a permanent and prominent home in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Making a micromosaic entailed arranging tesserae in mastic or cement on glass panels with tweezers. Once the composition was complete, the gaps within the arrangement were filled with colored wax and the surface polished. Some of the finest miniature mosaics can have as many as 5,000 tesserae per square inch.

Micromosaics date to the eighteenth-century, inspired by the larger, interior mosaics of ancient Rome. They are still made in the Vatican workshops to this day.  Earlier micromosaic pieces lacked perspective and revealed visible spaces between tesserae.  Later artists achieved more realistic works, like the renowned Antonio Aguatti. His technical improvements made more realistic micromosaics possible and he is considered one of the leading Roman micromosaic artists from the early nineteenth-century. He made the micromosaic mounted in this snuffbox:

Antique Micromosaic Snuffbox

Many micromosaics were purchased as panels and mounted into box lids or jewelry upon a traveler’s return home. The most popular motifs were the buildings and ruins of Rome, landscapes, animals (mostly birds), and flowers.

Antique Micromosaic Bracelet

They ranged in scale, from snuff boxes and jewelry, to large tabletops and replicas of full-sized canvas paintings. In fact, when Arthur Gilbert brought his first micromosaic home to show his wife, Rosalinde, she famously thought it was a cracked painting. Little did she know it was the first of many that would amass one of the world’s finest collections.

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Mistress and Muse, Lady Hamilton and the Maltese Cross

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Antique Pink Topaz Maltese Cross

The Maltese cross originated as the symbol of the Knights of Malta, otherwise known as the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights of St. John. Because of its beautiful form, as time went on, it morphed into the popular jewel we know today. This was in great measure due to Lady Emma Hamilton, mistress of Lord Horatio Nelson, who received one in 1800 from the Russian Emperor Paul I.

She frequently wore the cross at balls and other events, and soon, Maltese crosses, worn as pendants and brooches, were in vogue, with the trend peaking in the 1830s and 1840s.  Though mainly set with diamonds, designs also used carved hardstones like agate and chalcedony. The form evolved over the years in accordance with current fashions, but never becoming unrecognizable. Our diamond Maltese cross is an example of the liberties taken with evolving nineteenth-century fashion.

Maltese Diamond Pendant

Lady Hamilton’s life was a succession of scandals. Her origins as a courtesan, coupled with her reputation as a woman “no man can resist” rendered her not highly regarded in English society. Quite beautiful, she was the muse of many artists. In fact, she is thought to be the most painted woman in all of British history. Mistress and muse, history acknowledges her with another term: trendsetter.

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ALVR Blog: The Empress of Gems – Pearls

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Appropriately dubbed  “the queen of gems,” pearls have long been associated with royalty, crowning the heads of many queens throughout history. Cleopatra’s legendary pearl earrings, Byzantium’s Empress Theodora’s pearl tiara, and Queen Elizabeth I’s pearl-studded ensembles, for example, immediately spring to mind. But here at A La Vieille Russie, we think of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna.

Colored photograph of Russian Empress Alexandra FeodorovnaThe Tsarina was not particularly interested in fashion, preferring simpler, lightweight gowns to the sumptuous finery she donned at court. Her taste in jewelry was similar, favoring pearls over other gems, noted by American writer Kellogg Durland, who traveled to Russia in 1907 to write about the Empress. He later reflected on this visit in his 1911 book, “Royal Romances of To-Day,” in which he remarks on Alexandra’s fondness for pearls:

“The Tsaritsa’s pearls, which she wears with her court costume are famous the world over. […] Perhaps, of all her jewels, she cares most for a long string of wonderful pearls, which she wears very often. The string is so long that she can wear it twice around her neck, and yet have the longest loop reach to her knees. The short loop comes to the waistline, and is finished with one single pear-shaped pearl of enormous value.”

This penchant for pearls was nicely documented, for example, in our colored photograph of the Empress (pictured above) and in this charming photograph of Alexandra and the Tsarevich, Alexei, playing with her pearls:

1913 photograph of Empress Alexandra and her son, Alexei, playing with her pearls

Empress Alexandra and the Tsarevich, Alexei, via Wikimedia Commons

Who can blame the Empress’s preference for pearls? These gems of the sea have captivated mankind for millennia and it’s easy to see why, from their beautiful luster to their seemingly magical, organic formation.

Pearls have long been associated with purity, innocence, and humility, qualities that can be attributed to their mystifying, organic origins. American mineralogist, (and Tiffany & Co. Vice President 1879-1932), George Fredirick Kunz explains how: 

“Unlike other gems, the pearl comes to us perfect and beautiful, direct from the hand of nature. Other precious stones receive careful treatment from the lapidary, and owe much to his art. The pearl, however, owes nothing to man […] it is absolutely a gift of nature, on which man cannot improve.”

As an organic gem, the pearl’s origins intrigued and perplexed man for centuries. Its association with the sea led to many water-inspired myths and theories. Ancient poets surmised that pearls formed from tears of the gods that fell into open oysters.  Similarly, in Greek and Roman mythology, Aphrodite/Venus shook droplets of water from herself as she rose from the sea, the droplets then hardening into pearls. Such myths inspired the belief that pearls formed from drops of dew, a theory that persisted for centuries. This theory endured until around the 16th century, when naturalists began to speculate that pearls formed from oyster eggs.

Pearls in fact are the result of a mollusk’s response to a foreign particle. The pearls form when layers of nacre (mother of pearl), a variety of calcium carbonate, surround a foreign particle, like a grain of sand or a parasite. 

For centuries, the main sources of pearls were the warm waters of the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean, as well as the rivers and lakes of China and the coast of Japan. After 1492, the discovery of pearls in the New World provided Europe a supply so great that the region came to be called the “Land of Pearls.” 

alternate view, Baroque Pearl and Diamond Dog FigurinePearls come in many colors, ranging from white to black, and varying shades of cream, gray, blue, yellow, lavender, green, and mauve. The color produced depends on the mollusk and its environment. Pearls also vary in size, from tiny seed pearls, to large, irregularly shaped baubles called baroque pearls. Baroque pearls were popular in their namesake Baroque period but also so during the Renaissance, when jewelers fashioned them into pendants and brooches resembling animals, mermaids, and other creative, figural representations. Baroque pearls continued to inspire jewelers in subsequent periods, including during the Renaissance Revival period in the mid-nineteenth century, and even later. For example, our baroque pearl and diamond dog figurine/pendant dates to the early twentieth century.

Contemporary Diamond and Pearl Spider BroochContemporary jewelers continue to use pearls in creative ways. For example, a large cultured pearl is used as the body in this late 20th century spider brooch. A cultured pearl results from manmade intervention in the pearl-making process. A particle, such as a bead or a piece of shell, is placed inside a mollusk for the layers of nacre to form around it. While such attempts existed for centuries, it wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century when a number of individuals successfully refined the process. What was once a rare jewel only accessible to royals and aristocrats now became attainable for many people throughout the world.

Throughout history, pearls were not just prized for adornment, but also valued for their presumed curative properties. Ingesting pearls was believed to cure any number of ailments, from indigestion to melancholia. Elixirs were made with pulverized pearl and vinegar, sometimes with the addition of lemon juice and other ingredients. While we can’t speak on the curative benefits of ingesting pearls (in fact, please don’t), wearing them is sure to chase away the blues! As George Fredirick Kunz, said, “there are few ills to which women are subject that cannot be bettered or at least endured with greater patience when the sufferer receives a gift of pearls.” At ALVR we’re pleased to offer a lovely assortment of pearl gifts, from brooches to rings. Here are some of our favorites:

Sources:
Dirlam, Dona M, Elise B. Misiorowski, and Sally A. Thomas, “Pearl Fashion Through the Ages,” GIA.edu. https://www.gia.edu/doc/Pearl-Fashion-Through-the-Agesv.pdf (accessed 6/1/2020).
Durland, Kellogg. “Royal Romances of To-day.” United Kingdom: Duffield, 1911.
Kunz, George Frederick., Stevenson, Charles Hugh. “The Book of the Pearl: The History, Art, Science, and Industry of the Queen of Gems.” United Kingdom: Century Company, 1908.
Matlins, Antoinette L. The Pearl Book: The Definitive Buying Guide – How to Select, Buy, Care for and Enjoy Pearls. United States: LongHill Partners, Incorporated, 2001.
“Pearl” on Antique Jewelry University, Lang Antiques & Estate Jewelry, https://www.langantiques.com/university/pearl/ (accessed 6/1/2020).
Pointon, Marcia R. “Brilliant Effects: A Cultural History of Gem Stones and Jewellery.” Germany: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2009.
Ward, Fred. “The History of Pearls,” PBS.org, December 29, 1998. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/history-pearls/ (accessed 6/1/2020).

ЗА ВАШЕ ЗДОРОВЬЕ! (to our health!): A Little History of Vodka

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Imperial Russian Green Glass Vodka Bottle Elizabeth Bem

This blog post raises a glass to Russia’s favorite spirit: vodka. Derived from the Slavonic word for water, voda, the beverage certainly lives up to the vitality implied by this etymology. Throughout Russian history, vodka has been so culturally and economically vital that it’s no wonder it’s been called, “the elixir of life, the living water.”

One decanter in ALVR’s collection is adorned in such a way that speaks to vodka’s significance in Russian history and culture. It was designed around the year 1900 by Elizabeth Bem (1843-1914), an artist most well-known for her popular postcard designs and children’s book illustrations. Her works of glass are just as highly regarded and she received significant recognition for them at many world’s fairs.

Elizabeth Bem Wikipedia

Elizabeth Bem, Wikimedia Commons, ca. 1900

Imperial Russian Green Glass Vodka Bottle Elizabeth Bem

Made of green glass and adorned with dancing devils and Russian drinking maxims, this decanter certainly suits our motto, Where the Unusual is Usual! The maxims translate as follows:

Oh, Vine!
My sweet friend!
Go down my throat!
It’s so wonderful, my sunshine!

Hello, shot glasses!
How do you do?
Waiting for me?
Drink-drink, and devil you’ll see!

First of all – I do not drink;
Second – I do not like it,
And third – I have had a drink already!

Got drunk, broke in fight!
Woke up, got a fix,
And friends again!

Imperial Russian Green Glass Vodka Decanter Elizabeth Bem_snake detailAlso of note is a green serpent in an orange box in the upper left corner of the decanter. “Zelyony zmei,” or, the’ green serpent,’ is a Russian nickname for vodka that references both drunken visions and the coils of the pipes involved in distillation. The coil, or ‘serpent’ had to be especially made, making vodka more expensive to produce than beer, mead, or kvas. It’s believed that the image of the coil within poorly distilled muddy-green vodka inspired the ‘green serpent’ metaphor. Bem appears to play on this reference with both the addition of a serpent and the green hue of the glass.

Vodka’s fiscal benefits were first realized in the sixteenth century during the reign of Ivan IV (“The Terrible” 1533-1584). In the 1540s Ivan opened a few kabaks, or taverns, with the intention of using the profits to fill the state treasury.  And so began a state monopoly on vodka production. Subsequent rulers introduced various laws to control vodka’s production and consumption. Peter the Great (rumored to drink up to half a gallon of vodka a day) created liquor licenses to constrain home-brewing, only to later rescind such restrictions. Catherine the Great limited production to the aristocracy, which helped improve vodka’s quality and fill the state treasury. Vodka’s fiscal contrition continued to rise and by the nineteenth century it became the single most important source of government revenue.

That an inebriated public was easier to rule did not go unnoticed. In fact, some historians attribute Russian sobriety to the Romanov downfall. In 1914, Czar Nicholas II was so troubled by rampant drunkenness that he made alcohol illegal. The revolution can’t be attributed to Russian sobriety alone, but lifting the drunken spell certainly must have helped. Prohibition lasted until 1925, coincidentally, when the Bolsheviks began to run low on funds.

Why do Russians drink so much? For one, alcohol consumption has always been linked to Russian spiritual and social life. From the many events on the closely intertwined church and agricultural calendars to a long list of other holidays, there has always been an excuse to raise a glass…or drain a bottle. Russia’s long cold winters also play a role. After all, vodka warms both body and soul! Russians also believe vodka has medicinal qualities. Truly an “elixir of life,” there is nothing vodka can’t cure.

Economically, socially, culturally… even medicinally, this special Russian “water” has been vital to Russia’s existence. So here’s to life, vodka, and ЗА ВАШЕ ЗДОРОВЬЕ! (to our health)!

For more ALVR blog posts click here

Sources:
“Elisabeth Boehm” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elisabeth_Boehm (accessed 12/28/17)
David Christian. ‘Living Water’ : Vodka and Russian Society on the Eve of EmancipationOxford University Press, 1990.
David Christian. “The Green Serpent: Vodka, Marx and Primitive Accumulation” in Eat History: Food and Drink in Australia and Beyond. Cambridge, 2013.
Martin McKee, “Alcohol in Russia” Alcohol and Alcoholism. Volume 34, Issue 6, 1 November 1999, Pages 824–829. Oxford Journals https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/34/6/824/192703 (accessed 12/28/17)
Claire Suddath, “Russians and Vodka” Time January 5, 2010
http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1951620,00.html (accessed 12/28/17)
Edwin Trommelen. Davai! The Russians and Their Vodka. Russian Life Books, 2012.

World War I Era Fabergé

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Faberge copper pot

At the time of the Great War, the sons of Russian nobility wrote to their mothers that they had food at the front, but had nothing to cook it in. In response, their mothers commissioned cookware by Fabergé, not knowing of any other sources.

For the centennial of World War I, we present one such object: a copper and brass soup pot lined in pewter, with the imperial warrant and “K. Fabergé/war/1914” stamped in Cyrillic on its underside. Simple and utilitarian, lacking ostentation and splendor, it is an object unexpected from the jeweler’s workshops.

Fabergé adapted to the drop in orders and wartime austerity measures by making items out of less expensive metals like copper and gunmetal. However, some of these items merely feigned austerity and there are some silver objects ‘gilded’ to resemble copper and brass.

Nonetheless, Fabergé contributed much to supporting the war effort. Early in the war Fabergé offered his workshops for making munitions, but did not begin doing so until a year later when he finally received a response to his offer. His silver factory in Moscow produced hand grenades and casings for artillery shells and his Petrograd workshops made syringes and other smaller items.

Fabergé lost much of his workforce to conscription and pleaded with the authorities to allow twenty-three to remain who were particularly vital to the business, including the only master enameler remaining.

Fabergé wartime objects like this soup pot represent a turning point in history. The revolution and civil war that followed ensured there would not be a return to the opulence of preceding centuries. And so this soup pot, a Fabergé piece stripped of the gilding, enameling, and fine jewels long associated with that name, is made out of practicality rather than ornament, marking the end of an era.

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Nicholas & Alexandra, a Romanov Romance

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1901 photograph of Nicholas and Alexandra of Russia

Photograph from the Illustrierte Zeitung, 1901, via Wikimedia Commons

“I never saw two people more in love with each other or happier than they are,”

wrote George, the Duke of York, to Mary in England regarding the wedding of the Russian Tsarevich Nicholas II and Princess Alix of Hesse-Darmstadt.

Some of the greatest love stories exist in history books, and the romance of Nicholas and Alexandra is quite the page turner, set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Russian Revolution.

They first met at the ages of 12 and 16, when Alix’s sister, Ella, married Grand Duke Serge, the younger brother of Tsar Alexander III. The two could not help but exchange glances.They did not see each other again until five years later, when Alix spent six weeks in St. Petersburg and they began spending more time together.

The romance, at first, was not without conflict, as the shy and awkward Princess did not make the best impression on Russian society. Nicholas’s parents, Alexander III and Empress Marie, expressed anti-German sentiments, instead having their sights set on the daughter of the Comte de Paris, Princess Hélène. But Nicholas only had eyes for Alix.

Princess Alix, torn about giving up her Lutheran faith to become Russian Orthodox, tearfully turned down Nicholas’s first proposal. Her hesitancy to abandon her faith did not last long, however, as she conceded the next day, at the convincing of her father, her grandmother, Queen Victoria, and, ultimately, her own heart.

Among the most touching aspects of their story, is their correspondence. Not long after their betrothal, Alix discovered Nicholas was keeping a diary and began writing her own entries. These included prayers, poetry, and other notes, including,

“I am yours, you are mine, of that be sure. You are locked in my heart, the little key is lost and now you must stay there forever.”

After their wedding she wrote,

“Never did I believe there could be such utter happiness in this world, such a feeling of unity between two mortal beings. I love you, these three words have my life in them.”

Such a happy and affectionate marriage lasted the rest of their lives. While they met a tragic end, in the words of Alexandra, they would

“meet again in the other world and remain together for eternity.”

(Quotations from Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra).

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Holy Moley: 18th Century Patch Boxes

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Swiss Gold and Enamel Patch Box

On April 26, 1687, the famed diarist Samuel Pepys noted that the Duchess of Newcastle wore “many black patches because of pimples about her mouth.”  She likely carried them in a patch box, or boite á mouches. Such boxes were often made of gold, tortoise shell, silver, or ivory and fitted with a mirror, adhesive, brush, and compartments for patches. Some feature additional compartments for cosmetics like rouge or kohl.

Made of silk, leather, or taffeta, patches became popular face and body accessories beginning in the 16th century. They came in a range of shapes, including geometric forms, stars, and different phases of the moon.  Some were even more whimsical, like the shapes of animals and insects. One theory behind the trend is a superstition of moles and their placement, which were admired as marks of beauty.

Donned by both women and men, patches served to accentuate the whiteness of one’s skin and to conceal blemishes. Their placement was a flirtatious language of gestures, as different positions suggested different types of flirtation.  A patch near the lips was called the ‘coquette,’ on the forehead, the ‘assassin,’ the ‘roguish’ on the nose, the ‘impassioned’ near the eye and, on the cheek, the ‘gallant.’ Which one are you?

micromosaic dog box

A Taste For Paste

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Victorian Paste Pear-Shape Drop Earrings

What exactly is paste jewelry? A type of glass, paste easily emulates precious stones, but we must stress that it is by no means imitation anything. Its luster, malleability, and quality of workmanship set it apart from other jewelry materials.

What we know as paste jewelry developed from glass makers experimenting with lead oxide to closely emulate gemstones. In the eighteenth century, glass makers aspired to match the luster of the increasingly popular diamond. Paste jewelry came to be called “Stras,” or “Strass,” after Georges Frédéric Stras, a jeweler from Strasbourg, employed in Paris, who became famous for his paste jewelry and so highly regarded, he was appointed Jeweler to the King.

Paste jewelry was usually foiled and backed in silver. These materials, in addition to the different shapes paste could produce, rendered it a widely coveted jewelry-making material. Considering all these characteristics, it is easy to see how one might cultivate a taste for paste.

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Trompe l’oeil Silver

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tromp l'oeil

Trompe l’oeil, meaning ‘fool the eye,’ is a term traditionally applied to paintings exhibiting such photographic detail as to make the viewer believe they are actually seeing the object(s) depicted. When used to describe these late nineteenth-century works of Russian silver, the term refers to the way these pieces simulate birch bark wood. Objects decorated to look like wood were quite popular in Russia in the second half of the nineteenth-century, as craftsmen sought to mimic the “bast” shoes made of woven birch bark worn by the peasants.

Romanticizing the peasantry is a frequently occurring theme in the arts, particularly the nineteenth-century. This especially rang true in Russia following Alexander II’s emancipation of the serfs in 1861. Suddenly there was tremendous interest in the music, arts and crafts, and daily life of the serfs.

A yearning for a Russian art unmarred by Western influence contributed to what became the Russian Revival in the 1870s and 1880s. In addition to studies of serf life, there was also an interest in exploring earlier Russian artistic traditions, providing craftsmen a rich body of sources for creating beautiful, distinctly Russian works of art.

Trompe l’oeil  was an international trend, being also in fashion in America during this period and produced by notable firms like Gorham and Tiffany. However, this 1871 birch box and 1882 milk jug, coupled with a number of other exceptional pieces, leave no one fooled as to the mastery of this genre.

Kvasniki

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Kvasniki

Kvas, a mildly alcoholic drink made from bread, has a long history of being a drink of the common people. The recipe involved soaking leftover dark bread in hot water and left to ferment for a few hours, adding honey, fruit, or sugar for sweetener as desired. Kvas was cheap to make and the yeast provided nutritional benefits to an otherwise limited diet, so becoming a staple for the Russian peasantry.

In the 19th century it became more popular than in earlier times, even enjoyed by the nobility on occassion. The degree of ornament applied to these kvasniki, pitchers for kvas, hints at the newly elevated status of the beverage. Of the askos form, modeled after ancient Greek goat-skin containers, they recall a renewed interest in classical art. In the second half of the nineteenth-century, applied decorations like flowers or bright red coral, as seen here, became fashionable. These decorative yet functional vessels attest to how a simple beverage transcended class boundaries, to the extent that the Russians, in the words of Pushkin, “like fresh air they loves kvass”.

ALVR Blog:
Russian Teatime Traditions

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Russian Tea Drinkers from chatterbox magazine
From “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” in Chatterbox, 1867

How greatly tea is used in England by every class of society, we all know… But greatly as tea is used in England, it is still in Russia more common. From the palaces of the great and wealthy nobles, down to the wretched hovels of the poor peasants, tea is the universal beverage. – James F. Cobb

James F. Cobb noted the significance of tea in Russian culture in his 1867 article “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers” for the English publication Chatterbox.  While Mr. Cobb noted that British tea culture has its own interesting history and customs, Russian culture is steeped in its own rich tea traditions.

Pictured right: Gilded silver teapot with the Imperial Eagle. St. Petersburg, ca. 1785Gilded Silver Imperial Teapot with Russian Imperial Eagle

Russian tea’s status as a national beverage was slow to brew. When it was first introduced in the seventeenth century, Russians were skeptical. This early tea was very different from the tea drunk today. The tea was in a brick form, which was smashed and mixed with grain and butter, and then consumed as both a meal and beverage.

In the eighteenth century, during the reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796), tea consumption increased slightly, but it remained expensive and rare, confining its consumption to the Russian aristocracy who used it primarily for medicinal purposes.

Russian Cloisonné Enamel Teapot and Silver Napkin Ring with Imperial MonogramIt was not until late in the nineteenth century that tea became a national beverage consumed by all classes. By this time, the cost of tea had decreased by half, and thus more widely accessible. Also by this time, Russian tea, and its customs and material culture, became associated with national identity thanks to the work of the country’s most revered writers. Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and Checkov wrote about tea as a part of everyday life, celebrating the samovar in particular as a symbol of Russianness.

Pictured left: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel teapot. Moscow, ca. 1900

Some scholars speculate that the samovar is actually an English invention, as both the English and Dutch made the earliest vessels for brewing tea and coffee in the late seventeenth century. The first samovar likely came to Russia in the early eighteenth century, taken by Peter the Great as one of many aspects of western culture he hoped to emulate to modernize Russia. The technology of the samovar better suited a Russian home, which was heated with a large stove, instead of an open fireplace to easily boil water. It is not the samovar itself that makes Russian tea. Rather, the samovar dispenses boiled water for diluting the concentrated tea, which is brewed in a small teapot, or zavarka, as shown in the introductory illustration.

main view, Antique Russian Lacquer Tray

Pictured above: antique Russian lacquer tray depicting peasants drinking tea. By the Lukutin Factory, Moscow, 1888-1894.

By the turn-of-the-century, the invented tradition of Russian tea was an integral part of Russian identity. For Russians, the day began and ended with tea. In the morning it was enjoyed with sweet buns, plain rolls, or bread with butter and maybe a little cheese. A few hours after dinner was vecherny tchai, or evening tea consumed with various cold cuts, cheeses, small cakes and candied fruits.

Tea was enjoyed inside and out of the home. In the nineteenth century men congregated in teahouses according to their class – ones for wealthy merchants and others for their carriage drivers. The gendering of Russian tea culture was delineated by these establishments and also by objects. Men drank their tea from a glass set in an elaborately ornamented metal holder, like the one picture below, while women drank their tea from a cup.

Antique Russian Enamel Tea Glass Holder

Pictured: Gilded silver and cloisonné enamel tea glass holder. By the 11th Artel, Moscow, ca. 1910.

Regardless of how much Russian tea customs are the product of nineteenth-century nationalism, beautiful works of art, like the tea glass holder and teapots illustrated in this post, attest to the significance of tea in Russian culture, past and present…even if that past is not so long ago.

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References:

Cobb, James F.  “Russian Tea-houses and Tea-drinkers.” Chatterbox. London, 1867.

Hardie, Anne-Marie. “Exploring the Origins of Russian Tea Culture.” The Daily Tea. August 6, 2015. Accessed August 12, 2015.

Jones, Catherine Cheremeteff. A Year of Russian Feasts. Bethesda, Md: Jellyroll Press, 2002.

Papashivily, Helen and George. The Cooking of Russia. New York: Time-Life Books, 1972.

Yoder, Audra Jo. “Myth and Memory in Russian Tea Culture.” Studies in Slavic Cultures. August 8, 2009.