To understand the history of Russian match holders it is necessary to know a bit about the
Russian system of hallmarks and some aspects of Russian silver and gold smithing. Up until the
late 19th and early part of the 20th century Russian silver and gold was not marked in a
unified manner; each locality marked their pieces differently.
Once the marking of Russian metals was standardized, the "Kolosnik" mark showed the initials of the
director of the assay district, as well as the Zolotnik Standard. The Zolotnik is a Russian denomination
of weight, equal to 4.5 grams or 1/96 of a Russian pound (later it became 1/72 of a pound). Thus
a conversion table for Zolotniki to carats has values that run from:
- 1 zolotnik = 10.4166/1000 = 1/4 carats
- 4 zolotnik = 41.66 /1000 = 1 carat
- 84 zolotnik = 875/1000 = 21 carats
- 88 zolotnik = 916.67/1000 = 22 carats
- 91 zolotnik = 947.92/1000 = 22.75 carats
- 96 zolotnik = 1000/1000 = 24 caratsv
Hence, 96 zolotniki equal 24 carats in the USA system. If a piece did not meet the silver or
gold standard it was stamped with the cyrillic letters N.P. which transliterates as English i
r (see Figure 1) that meant it was rejected by the assayers.
The other marks that often appear with the Koloshnik mark are a girl's head with a "kokoshnik"
(a peasant head dress) looking right or left. The profile right was introduced in 1908. There
are often other marks that may signify regional designations (Greek letters) or places of
assay (see appendix # 2) or import marks.
Maker is Sazikov. Firm founded in 1793 in Moscow. In 1842 opened a branch in St.
Petersburg and in 1846 received the Imperial Warrant. Firm closed in 1917. Known
for its high quality silverware. Exhibited at Great Exhibition, London, 1851.
To review; Russian silver and gold for the period that match safes were made
(1845 - 1925) had:
- Maker's mark
- Assayer's mark or tester's initials
- Silver standard mark
- City hallmarks
There were several important centers of gold and silver workers in Russia during
the 1845 - 1925 period. They were Moscow, St. Petersburg, Velikiy Ustyag, Tobolsk
and the Baltic Provinces and Finland. Moscow work tended to consist of traditional
designs. Thus from 1860 on the 17th century style of cloisonné enamel work was
resumed with its tendencies toward an "oriental" look.
St. Petersburg craftsmen developed a new style that had a western orientation yet
retained Russian characteristics. From about 1830 through 1930, Russian aristocrats
favored English design and Russian silver work showed evidence of that liking. The
idea of combining European art with Russian technical genius produced great pieces
of art, e.g., Faberge.
Veliky Ustyug was noted for its niello work and the Baltic Provinces and Finland
sent most of their greatest silver and goldsmiths to Russia and St. Petersburg,
in particular. It is interesting to note that many of Faberge's finest workers
Faberge's firm received the Imperial Warrant in 1884-85 and had branches in Moscow
(from 1887), Odessa (1890 - 1918), Kiev (1905 - 10) and London (1903 - 15). The
firm was especially noted for its guilloche enameling and stone carving techniques.
Many of the finest Russian match holders used enamel* as a decorative element.
There are many different ways of using enamel on match holders. Some of them are:
- champleve (cavity fusion enamel): depressions are made in the metal and filled
with colored, opaque enamel.
- basse - taille: enamel is laid in depressions that are carved in low relief.
The different depth of the carvings give different shades of color.
- guilloche: metal is incised, by machine, with parallel, intertwined, concentric
or circular lines to form a wave-like pattern. Translucent enamel is laid on so the
incised pattern remains visible.
- ametal ridges are soldered on a plate in an outline and form compartments that
are filled with enamel.
- plique-a-jour: a filigree design is made of silver wire and its strands are
soldered together. The openings are filled with transparent enamel. Hence, you wind up
with a stained glass window effect.
From a technical point of view, enameled match holders represent the most complicated
craftsmanship of the Russian smiths. Many decorative techniques were combined with
enameling to produce an integrated whole; some of them are punching, chasing, engraving
Briefly, chasing is a continuous decoration achieved by moving the punch while it is
being hit by a hammer. While simple punching is just what it sounds like, a hammer hitting
a punch to mark the metal.
Also important to all match safe collectors is the nielloed technique that is frequently
found on Russian safes. Niello is an alloy of silver, copper (or zinc), lead and sulphur.
Proportions varied with the maker. Niello is black or grey-black in color and is used to
fill engraved decoration.
To make niello, the above ingredients are mixed together, heated and allowed to cool.
Then it is ground to make a fine powder and moistened with boracic solution. The paste
that results is applied to silver and gold that has been carved. The piece is then fired
and the niello adheres to the metal. After the firing is completed the extra niello is
ground off and the surface is polished.
While much of the Russian nielloed work is attributed to metal workers from Tula, a
city south of Moscow they were, in fact, made in Moscow or St Petersburg.
Finally, it is important to remember that at the end of the 18th century a law was
passed stating that silver articles could not be below "84" silver standard therefore
all Russian silver match safes made between 1845 - 1917 are, at least, of that quality.
I hope that this brief article helps collectors to identify their Russian match holders
and appreciate some of the techniques used to create them.
*" Enamel is a form of glass flux made from siliceous sand and colored with metal
oxides." ( p. 39,von Solodkof).
Paulsen, Paul E. GUIDE TO RUSSIAN SILVER HALLMARKS,1976
von Solodkoff, RUSSIAN GOLD AND SILVERWORK. 17TH - 19TH
CENTURY. Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. New York, 1981
Photos courtesy of John Capano.
Gustav Gustavovich Klingert
Firm founded in 1865 ended in 1917. Exhibited at Chicago World's Fair, 1893. Until
1899 his mark was in Latin characters, thereafter in Cyrillic. Trademark style is
use of filigree tracery.
Russian smoker's combination cask of rounded oblong form with reeding, with match safe
compartment and taper tube with knarled wheel, the cover with applied gold
monogram. St. Petersburg, circa, 1895. 7oz. I think it is from the Grikurov
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