Silver of Russia

Money box in the form of a rich peasant house, silver, enamel, Theodore Nugren, St. Petersburg, circa 1885
Money box in the form of a rich peasant house, silver, enamel, Theodore Nugren, St. Petersburg, circa 1885

Silver in Russia became widespread after the adoption of Christianity. It was used to make objects for worship chalices, candelabra, salaries for images. Soft and malleable silver alloys were suitable for creating the most bizarre shapes and decoration motifs. Due to its bactericidal properties, the material has found wide application in the manufacture of vessels for holy water. Silver jewelry in Russia until the discovery of deposits was available only to the nobility. The silver of Russia in the pre-Petrine era was for the most part imported. It was delivered from the countries of the East and Europe in a crushed form, ready for remelting. Master goldsmiths used coins and ingots, which were used to settle merchants. Very few large items of the early Middle Ages survived, since obsolete items were immediately melted down.

Silver in Russia began to be in short supply in the XIV century deposits in the countries of the East were gradually depleted, and Western Europe reduced the export of coins due to the huge spending on the Crusades.

The development of jewelry was also delayed by the Mongol-Tatar invasion the death of cities and the destruction of trade ties led to the fact that complex methods of processing and decorating products were forgotten for a long time. Jewelry craft developed in those regions that were not occupied by the Mongol-Tatars.

Box in the form of a loaf of bread with a salt shaker, gilding, Gubkin, Moscow, 1862
Box in the form of a loaf of bread with a salt shaker, silver, gilding, Gubkin, Moscow, 1862

Silver of Russia from Ancient Rus to the October Revolution: history, masters and styles

Archaeological excavations at the site of ancient Novgorod indicate that there were several dozen workshops in the city that made jewelry and church utensils. The techniques of casting on a wax model, free forging, embossing, engraving, embossing and brazing were used.

The main supplier of silver for the Novgorodians was the Hanseatic League. Up to 80 thousand coins were brought on one ship. Russian art was closely associated with Byzantine artistic traditions. Greek jewelers worked in Kiev, and students from the local population adopted the secrets of their craft from them. The products brought from Constantinople served as a standard copies were made from them, sometimes they were modified and added to the national flavor. Silver frames from this period have survived to this day.

The history of the branding of silver in Russia before the reign of Peter I has b

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Box “A box with mushrooms”, silver, Sazikov, Moscow, 1872

een little studied. Until the end of the 17th century, the sample was “unidentified” (unidentified), since then they simply did not know how to determine the purity of the alloy. The samples were efimki and levka coins that were issued by the elders to jewelers and merchants to determine the quality of silver.

In October 1700, the tsar’s order was issued to make four silver samples in the Armory. The Russian master Panteleimon Afanasyev was engaged in manufacturing. Three samples matched exactly 96, 90 and 84 spool samples. The fourth alloy was with a high admixture of copper, its purity was still determined “against levka” (since 1711 62 samples). From that moment on, even provincial workshops were obliged to brand the products, which were previously allowed not to do this.

Silver dish in the form of a wicker basket with a linen napkin, silver, gilding, Pyotr Loskutov, Moscow, 1884
Silver dish in the form of a wicker basket with a linen napkin, silver, gilding, Pyotr Loskutov, Moscow, 1884

Silver business in the 18th century

Immediately after the founding of St. Petersburg, Peter I invited artisans from Europe to the new Russian capital, among whom there were many goldsmiths and silversmiths. In 1714, the emperor allowed jewelers to create workshops, which were headed by an elder, endowed with special powers.

In the first half of the 18th century, for the first time, they began to divide jewelers by profile. And workshops appeared that specialized only in silver, although many worked simultaneously with gold. Russian craftsmen soon merged into one workshop, which included:

  • court jeweler Pazunov (Pazulov);
  • Samson Larionov;
  • Fedor Razumov;
  • Mikhail Belsky;
  • Ivan Libman.

In 1793, there were 44 jewelers in the Russian workshop, each master necessarily marked his product. Information about the stamps of that period is very scarce. It is known that the so-called “names”, which consisted of the manufacturer’s initials, were applied to the items. Towards the end of the 18th century, to avoid confusion, masters began to indicate their full name and surname on their creations. It was not necessary to register such hallmarks, therefore, the marking of that time is diverse.

Silver salt shaker on a malachite stand, P. Ovchinnikov's factory, 1870
Silver salt shaker on a malachite stand, P. Ovchinnikov’s factory, 1870

During this period, silver mining in Russia was already in full swing. In 1704, the Nerchinsk silver smelting plant started operating, and a coin was minted in the capital. With the discovery of the Altai and then Pechora deposits, the issue with the extraction of silver ore was finally resolved. The development of the mining industry was also facilitated by the fact that until 1782 anyone who wanted to search for and smelt precious metals was allowed.

The transformations of the first Russian emperor led to changes in the lifestyle of the nobility. Following European customs, new household items appeared in everyday life: silver accessories, table setting, and toiletry. Throughout the 18th century, styles changed under Peter and Elizabeth, baroque came into fashion, in the “golden age” of Catherine II, rococo and classicism gained popularity. For products of this era, a mixture of directions is characteristic in the decoration of one object, elements of different stylistics could be combined.

Russian silver cake basket, brand GL (probably Gerasim Loskutov), Moscow, 1881
Russian silver cake basket, brand GL (probably Gerasim Loskutov), Moscow, 1881

Russian silver of the XIX century

In the 19th century, the art of Russian silversmiths reached its peak. The latest achievements of technology were added to manual labor, manufactories appeared, which put the production of household items on the stream. The European fashion for silver quickly spread in Russia it was used to make table sets, massive fountains and refrigerators for wine, sets of candelabra for lighting, accessories and ladies’ little things.

The list of outstanding manufacturers and craftsmen of the 19th century includes:

  • the Sazikov jewelry company;
  • Carl Faberge; I.P. Khlebnikov’s company;
  • Fedor Rückert; Pavel Ovchinnikov;
  • Ivan Gubkin;
  • firm “Brothers Grachev”.
Birch bark mug with a rural landscape and a man playing a pipe, silver, P. Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1867
Birch bark mug with a rural landscape and a man playing a pipe, silver, P. Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1867

The products of the first half of the century are distinguished by their expressiveness and laconicism. The craftsmen combined smooth, polished surfaces with embossed ornaments, decorating the items with floral patterns in high detail. The production of the Sazikov dynasty manufactory, designed in the “Russian style”, brought a resounding glory to the Russian jewelry art. Sculptural compositions on the theme of Russian history and scenes from peasant life enjoyed great success at international exhibitions. Russian craftsmen have reached such a high level in working with enamel coatings that individual elements of jewelry items were brought from France to the manufactories of Ovchinnikov, Khlebnikov, and the Grachev brothers. The capital’s jeweler Pavel Ovchinnikov managed to recreate the long-lost art of filigree enamel and master the stained glass technique.

A dish in the form of a wicker basket with two rope handles, covered with a folded linen cloth with a lace edge, silver, enamel, P. Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1888
A dish in the form of a wicker basket with two rope handles, covered with a folded linen cloth with a lace edge, silver, enamel, P. Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1888

Faberge cutlery was in great demand among the nobility factories in Moscow and St. Petersburg were inundated with orders. The best silversmith of the firm was Julius-Alexander Rappoport. In his workshop, a wide variety of things were made from table writing instruments and cigarette cases to ceremonial sets and intricate decorations for the dining table. The skill of the jeweler can be judged by the decanter he created in the form of a figurine of a beaver masterfully executed chasing gives the full feeling that the animal’s fur is soft to the touch.

Cigarette case in the form of a suitcase, silver, gilding, ruby, aquamarine, FW stamp, late 19th century.
Cigarette case in the form of a suitcase, silver, gilding, ruby, aquamarine, FW stamp, late 19th century.
The decline of pre-revolutionary jewelry art

The February events of 1917 forced many aristocrats to emigrate, which led to the closure of some of the workshops. The October Revolution finally destroyed wealthy customers, and robberies forced the overwhelming majority of jewelers to flee to Europe.

In 1918, searches began in large and small workshops, revolutionary sailors took away everything that looked like gold, silver and precious stones. A huge amount of jewelry was sold abroad, and the proceeds went to fan the world revolution. The commission set up by the Bolshevik government did not understand the artistic value of 19th century silver items. The masterpieces of Sazikov, Faberge, Ovchinnikov and Khlebnikov were not melted down only because it was unprofitable.

Many items of museum value from private collections were presented to the Red Guards as a reward for military service. In the 1920s, a store was opened in Leningrad, where they traded in palace property like old junk in an effort to help out at least some money for it. As a result, from the legacy of Faberge, which numbered about one hundred thousand items, no more than six hundred items remained in the homeland.

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Box “A box with mushrooms”, silver, gilding, enamel, St. Petersburg, stamp AB, 1875

Silver of Russia

Dish in the form of a wicker basket, silver, champlevé enamel, P. Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1879
Dish in the form of a wicker basket, silver, champlevé enamel, P. Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1879
Unusual samovar in the trompe l'oeil style. Made in the form of a covered birch bark vessel with a linen lid, with two realistic figures of Russian men straining to pull the
Unusual Russian silver samovar in the trompe l’oeil style. Made in the form of a covered birch bark vessel with a linen lid, with two realistic figures of Russian men straining to pull the “rope” at the top. Sazikov, Moscow, 1877
glass holder with imitation of wood, with figures of peasants and a shield with a crown, Alexander Nikolaevich Sokolov, St. Petersburg, 1879
Russian silver glass holder with imitation of wood, with figures of peasants and a shield with a crown, Alexander Nikolaevich Sokolov, St. Petersburg, 1879