When you consider the huge volume of silver and treasures that was melted down by the Bolsheviks in the wake of the Russian revolution of 1917, it’s a wonder any of it survived at all.
In that tumultuous time, literally tons of silver faced the melting pot, from large-scale punch bowls, candelabra, commemorative trophies, processional icons, chargers and tea services to sets of spoons, tea cups and saucers, charki, cigarette cases and wine glasses.
This is why I pounced on this wonderful heavy silver Borscht ladle by the renowned Moscow silversmith Ivan Khebnikov.
Its simplicity belied its quality. Of classic form, it was made during the reign of the Russian tsar Alexander II, and was fully hallmarked with the imperial warrant of the firm, Moscow, 1879. Indeed, by researching its history, I learned that Khlebnikov, founder of the famous Moscow silver firm I. Khlebnikov and Sons had received the title of Purveyor to the Court of Alexander II on May 12, 1879, the very year he produced this piece. This honor allowed the firm to use the Imperial State Emblem or a Romanov double-headed eagle not only on its letterhead, storefront, fitted cases and invoices, but also on the objects themselves.
Thus, on the handle to the left of the Khlebnikov stamp in Cyrillic, appears a double-headed eagle punch. This emblem from the tsar led to fame and increased sales for only a few select enterprises.
So, who helped save the silver?
In early years, we had Torgsin, the Foreign Trade System created in 1931 by the Soviets, to credit for the survival of some of the silver from the period of the revolution. Thank you Torgsin! In fact, documents from 1933 state, “… it is necessary to conserve exceptionally well-executed articles from the firms Fabergé, Khlebnikov and Ovchinnikov, etc …”. Even Bolshevik Maxim Gorki recognized his country’s unique cache of tsarist silver items when he called them antiques worthy of preservation. Although the Marxists suffered few qualms about melting down jewels and dismantling enormous volumes of gold and gems, the silver gave them pause – and some of the simpler designs were no doubt spared because of the fame of the silversmiths to the Russian empire … in this case, Ivan Khlebnikov.
What a treat it is then, to still today, come across imperial Russian silver! Not to mention, to handle it and have the pleasure of researching its origins.
This is why I love my job. Hunting for Russian imperial silver, jewels and treasures to uncover the mystery of their survival. What could more thrilling?
For more information on this specific ladle, click here.
For another wonderful example, see Khlebnikov’s Russian silver salt shakers and mustard pot from 1888.
To see all our Russian Imperial sliver, click here.