Samovars are a necessary feature of the Russian mode of life and consequently a part of Russian applied art. Russian master craftsmen specialising in samovars did and still do rank high by making their produce of different forms, outlines and decors.
Skilful Tula blacksmiths and armourers could easily master the new trade for the metalworking skills and habits of art work descended down from fathers to sons. The first Tula samovar workshop was opened in 1778 by the Lisitsyns, but as early as the beginning of the next century other producers appeared. As a rule, such shops included two or three rooms in a wooden house. The samovars were hand-made and the whole process consisted of several operations with the most simple instruments — hammers, tongs, scissors, cutting tools, a vice, saws and forms for forging samovars.
Tula samovars were famed highly on the inner market and abroad. Especially popular were tombac (alloy of copper with zinc) samovars from the factories belonging to the Lomov and Vorontsov brothers.
Russian samovars vary in interior construction and exterior decoration and purpose. They were made of different metals — copper, iron, silver, silver plating on copper, steal, cast iron, and their decoration testifies to different stylistic art trends echoing the general tendencies in the artistic tastes of the period.
The earliest samovars resembled English tea urns or tea vessels. They had already the principal characteristic element — a tube situated inside and a wind box, but a spout and a carrying handle instead of a tap. The vessel was used for boiling water as well as for making a hot drink of honey with spices (sbiten).
Eighteenth-century samovars often imitated the traditional Russian cups and bratinas made of copper. Later, at the end of the century, samovars began resembling vases and antique urns.
The main principles of artistic decor in the genre have been established, and richly ornamented samovars, though an inalienable household object, became works of decorative art and were rightfully included in the interior decoration and table layout.
The nineteenth century saw various types of samovars including conical, faceted, plain, in the form of a ball, a jar, a wine-glass or a small barrel, the socalled "egg-samovars", acorn-, pear-, turnip-samovars, whose names were dictated by the vessels' association with certain objects.
Sizes and volume were also rather different, ranging from a glass-full to twenty litres each. By the late-19th century samovars had won popularity, both here and abroad and such a great demand led to the unification of forms and decor. A number of standard models for mass production, differing merely in cast details, were worked out.
The samovars became the symbol of Russian hospitality and family comfort as well as a sign of prosperity. Even travellers in this country could not manage without it and for this purpose special travelling samovars and tea caskets for all necessary accessories were invented. Step by step a peculiar ritual of tea-drinking emerged and was adopted in every Russian home. According to it, a hostess or her elder daughter poured the tea. In rich families tea was poured in an adjoining room and served by a servant. Sometimes a samovar was replaced by a bouillotte on the table. Silver or German-silver samovars demanded a metal tea set to suit them. Such a service consisted of a teapot, milk-jug, slop-basin, tea-strainer, sugar-tongs and tea spoons. Some families held two samovars, one, more plain, for everyday use, and a dearer one-for receptions and festivities. Samovars were usually kept in a reception-room on a special table or a sideboard. There were homes with separate samovar-rooms whose interior was crowned by the samovar.
The story of samovars continues. Many old factories produce them now, such famous centres of metalworking as Tula and Suksun (the Urals) among them. Electric vessels were added to the traditional models.
Interest in the craft has been mounting recently and many museums in the Soviet Union boast unique collections of samovars.
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