This silver tea caddy was made in Moscow by the 9th Artel. Active in Russia between the 1860s and 1950s, artels were cooperatives for craftsmen and labourers, living and working together in fields as varied as silversmithing, fishing, or wood carving. Each artel specialised in the use of specific techniques, and the items they produced were synonymous with high quality craftsmanship. The 9th Artel was active in the early 20th century, specialising in engraved wares inspired by Art Nouveau and traditional Russian decorative styles.
The decorative scrollwork on this baluster-form caddy is achieved with the technique of niello, a metallic alloy of silver, copper, lead and sulphur. Starting as a powder-like substance, it is first applied to an engraved base and then heated, causing it to melt and infill the design. The excess is scraped off until only the filled channels are visible. The surface is then polished to create intricate designs in black. The technique dates back to Ancient Rome, reaching its peak in 15th century Italy and revived in Russia in the 1700s.