Samovar

ARTIST / MAKER: Unknown
DATE: 19th century (made)
PLACE: Russia (made) Possibly made in Mexico/South America
MATERIALS AND TECHNIQUES: Silver parcel-gilt, wood
COLLECTION NUMBER: 549

Of central importance to the Russian tea ceremony is the samovar, a heated metal container used to boil and dispense water for the teapot. During the 19th century, tea was steeped in a small teapot for a very long time to create a highly concentrated brew, known as zavarka. The brew was diluted in a cup with freshly boiled water from the samovar, and taken with spoonfuls of sweeteners such as jam, honey and sugar cubes placed in the mouth between each sip. The flat chimney atop this silver samovar is a common feature, on which the teapot is placed to be kept warm by the rising steam. As the central gathering point in the Russian home, the samovar reflected the social status and wealth of its owners and quickly became a symbol for Russian hospitality.

The hallmarks on this samovar indicate that it was made in Mexico in the 1900s. The samovar was likely intended as a presentation piece rather for use, and commissioned by a wealthy member of the Russian Jewish community. Russia’s pogrom persecution of Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries forced them to migrate to North and Central America and form Russian Jewish communities there. This particulalry lavish samovar features sculptural putti (cherubim) on either side of the chimney, along with a finial cast to form the head of a boy wearing a yarmulke, a brimless cap traditionally worn by Jewish males.