ALVR Blog:
Russian Teatime Traditions

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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 …

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Tags: 19th Century Russian

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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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”.

Antique Russian Carved Coconut Tankard with Imperial Portraits

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Finely and elaborately carved coconut mounted as a tankard with silver gilt mounts and gilded interior. Features the profiles of Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, and Elizabeth

Russian, 19th Century
Height: 6-1/4 inches

$18,000

Antique Russian Carved Coconut Tankard with Imperial Portraits, side bAntique Russian Carved Coconut Tankard with Imperial Portraits, side cAntique Russian Carved Coconut Tankard with Imperial Portraits, side d

Russian Antique 11th Artel Enamel Kovsh

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Gilded silver and shaded and cloisonné enamel kovsh with geometric and floral motifs on a blue ground. A kovsh is a traditional Russian drinking cup, originally carved out of wood in the form of a duck. In this decorative kovsh, the bird-like form is clearly evident.

By the 11th Artel, Moscow, ca. 1910
Length: 4-1/8 inches; height: 2 inches

$18,500

Russian Antique 11th Artel Enamel Kovsh

Russian Antique Decorative Arts and Jewelry

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The most noted Russian jeweler from the late 19th century to 1917, the year of the Revolution, was Carl Fabergé. He produced some of the world’s finest enamel work, featured on many different types of items, ranging from clocks to frames to jewelry.  Works of art included sculpture such as hardstone flower studies and miniature animals, and household items such as bellpushes, often made for the Tsar and other wealthy Russian families. Original Fabergé works of art have become some of the most coveted antique items on the market.  (More to come.)

Antique Russian Gold and Lacquer Charka

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Gold-mounted red lacquer charka, the handle set with an emerald.

By Carl Hahn, workmaster A. Treiden.
St. Petersburg, ca. 1890.
Length: 1 3/4

Austrian-born Carl August Ferdinand Hahn founded his company in 1873. He became an important supplier to the Imperial court and was awarded the distinction of purveyor to the court during the reign of Alexander III.

side and bottom view, Antique Russian Gold, Red Lacquer, and Emerald Charkatop view, Antique Russian Gold, Red Lacquer, and Emerald Charkamark detail, Antique Russian Gold, Red Lacquer, and Emerald Charka

ALVR Blog: A Toast to Russian Art

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Once simply traditional Russian drinking vessles, the kovsh and charka assumed an increasingly ceremonial status over the centuries, evolving into works of art. Check out our video or continue reading below:

The kovsh form has existed in Russia for centuries, originating as a type of drinking vessel in the shape of a duck. They were made of wood, and some were also made out of tightly woven cloth. In the 16th century, they evolved into presentation objects and began to be fashioned in silver. By the 17th century, kovshi (plural for kovsh) designs became more elaborate, rendered in both gold and silver.

Two examples of kovshi in our collection were made by the Russian Court Jeweler Carl Faberge (1846-1920). While famous for his Imperial Easter Eggs, he designed a wide range of decorative objects, often transforming traditional Slavic forms into his own beautiful precious jeweled vernacular. This yellow kovsh features rich guilloché enamel, a technique typical of Fabergé’s work, and for which he was renowned, and in this special case over 18k gold. The 5-ruble coin of Empress Elizabeth (r. 1741-1762) set in the base is a modification of an old Slavic tradition of insetting metal objects with coins. Traditional in form with a European touch, it’s an exquisite example of Eastern and Western aesthetics converging into a beautiful design. It was made in St. Petersburg, Russia’s window to the West, where art and architecture followed a European model. Moreover, we’re particularly fortunate to have Fabergé’s watercolor sketch. 

Our other Fabergé kovsh, of particularly impressive stature, was by contrast made in Moscow, and its polychrome enameled design reflects those origins, a hallmark of the eastern, Muscovite style. This circa 1910 example is Fabergé’s take on Slavic Revival, a stylistic movement that emerged in the nineteenth century when Russian artists turned to the medieval past for design inspiration. Also referred to as Pan Slavic, this style was a specialty of Fabergé’s Moscow branch.  Featuring contrasting fluid, bold art nouveau forms on the handle and upper portion of the cup, with purely geometric designs in a pastel palette on the base, this kovsh is also distinguished by the inscription on the handle, translating to “To the good memory of Russian friends,” for its 1914 presentation. 

side view, Antique Russian Gold, Red Lacquer, and Emerald CharkaThe charka, or charki (plural), is a small cup used for drinking strong drinks, predominantly vodka. They were traditionally made of silver, and their designs varied widely.  Like kovshi, in time they evolved into decorative objects, some inscribed as presentation gifts, others with drinking maxims. This example is by Alexander Treiden, head workmaster for the Russian court jeweler Carl Hahn (1836–1899), Fabergé’s highly regarded contemporary. Simply designed in red enamel and gold, the handle is set with an emerald.

No longer simply drinking vessels, over time the kovsh and charka became objects as worthy of display as any other work of art. And to that, we raise a toast!

Antique Russian Niello Dessert Service

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Gilded silver and niello dessert service, each piece richly decorated with intricately designed illustrations of gun dogs, wild game, and game birds set against varying landscapes.  34 pieces, comprising two sugar tongs, two cake servers, six coffee spoons, six teaspoons, six dessert spoons, six knives, and six forks.

By Nicholls and Plincke, St. Petersburg ca. 1850.

Images celebrating the hunt were a common design motif in nineteenth century decorative arts. The St. Petersburg firm Nicholls and Plincke, also known as Magasin Anglais, was established by two Englishmen, Constantin Nicholls and William Plincke, in 1829. One of the most important retailers of luxury items in Imperial Russia, the firm initially imported English silverware and also later produced designs inspired by it, in addition to a wide range of important works of silver, and thereby catered to Russian aristocracy’s growing taste for western design.

Niello is a method of decorating metal using a metallic alloy composed of silver, copper (or zinc), lead, and sulphur, which produces a blackish hue.  Used by the ancient Egyptians and the Romans, the technique later spread throughout Europe. It is known to have existed in Russia since the tenth century, and figured prominently in Russian decorative arts over the centuries.

other view of cutlery selection of antique Russian niello dessert servicedetail view of game bird decoration on Antique Russian niello dessert servicebox view of Antique Russian Niello Dessert Service

Russian Pan Slavic Silver Bogatyr Beaker

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Antique Russian silver beaker with repoussé and chased design depicting two bogatyrs, heroic warriors from Slavic folklore. Cyrillic inscription along bottom: “zastava bogatyrskaya,” meaning “bogatyrs’ outpost.”

Russian, ca. 1900.
Height: 3 7/16

$850

text detail 1, Russian Pan Slavic Silver Beakertext detail 2, Russian Pan Slavic Silver Beakertext detail 3, Russian Pan Slavic Silver Beakermarks detail, Russian Pan Slavic Silver Beaker

Antique Russian Enamel Kovsh

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Russian gilded silver and enamel kovsh, decorated with a polychrome scrolling floral design and twisted rope border, the bowl terminating with an acorn finial.

A kovsh is a type of Russian drinking vessel, the oval shape modeled from a boat, with some versions designed as birds and ducks. Originally made of wood, silver versions emerged in the 16th century as the form increasingly assumed a ceremonial status.

Moscow, late 19th century.
4-3/8  x  2-1/4  x  2-1/4

$3,400

top view, Antique Russian Enamel Kovshside view, Antique Russian Enamel Kovshdetail view, Antique Russian Enamel Kovshmarks, Antique Russian Enamel Kovsh