Samovar SCOOOOORE!!!

I had this urge to go to Goodwill the other day. Alexander, my beautiful assistant, agreed to go with me. After the first minute in the store, as we moved around the shopping carts, there we saw a brass samovar, teapot, and tray on a little bump of carpeted plywood near the cast-off wedding dresses. I love it when Goodwill calls me. Not to sound all woo-woo,  but I seem to have a knack for knowing when I should go in there. That feeling has won me a vintage wall phone and a hand-pump fire-extinguisher. 

But back to the samovar… So we gently place this thing that costs only $39.99 in the cart. Based on my previous ebay research, just the water-heater part of a samovar set tends to go for a couple hundred dollars–even in bad condition. The get up in my cart has four pieces. It’s only missing a drip bowl. Needless to say, I watched my cart like a hawk while I shopped to make sure no one wandered off with it. Finally, we got rung out and headed home. 

And here it is:

Samovar, teapot, and chimney

Samovar, teapot, and chimney

The samovar has a stamp near the steam vent with some cyrillic letters and a double-headed imperial eagle. The tray has a round stamp with a bust of Alexander in the middle. These two stamps seem to be, based on research, seals that were commonly put on samovars during the Czarist period of Russia. 

Here are the samovar and tray stamps:

Czarist Russian seal with the letters т.ф.и.г.б.

Czarist Russian seal with the letters т.ф.и.г.б.

The technology of the samovar and chimney include some hand-fabricated bits, spun brass bits, and primitive threaded parts that lead me to believe that they’re from the mid-to-late 1800s. The tray appears to be pressed brass with some hand-hammered finish areas along the decorative edges.

The tray and tray stamp:

Drip/spill tray for samovar

Drip/spill tray for samovar

Czar Alexander's head seal

Czar Alexander's head seal

The teapot is probably spun brass that is hammered to look like it was formed by hand. It has a spring-loaded lid-remover that is a pretty modern compression spring, and there are some nicely machined threads that hold the sieve screens in place. So I’m guessing the teapot is from as late as the 1920s or 1930s. The teapot has a little stamp on it that has two fishes, belly-to-belly, pointing in opposing directions.

Squeeze the lever to pop the lid off the pot

Squeeze the lever to pop the lid off the pot

 Teapot seal (on the bottom of the pot):

Opposing fish. Maybe from Odessa?

Opposing fish. Maybe from Odessa?

The guts of the samovar have about 1/4 inch of accumulated scale on them, which I’m hoping has protected the tin lining. We’ve been working since Friday night to get that scale out. Which has involved a lot of vinegar and hot water. The kitchen currently smells like a sidewalk after the first rain in a month.

Soaking brass in vinegar, by the way, is a great way to get it cleaned up. Vinegar removes the brownish deposits of oxidation, and all that remains to finish it is a rouge cloth.  

Here’s the interior:

The interior chimney of the samovar--the location of the fire for boiling water.

The interior chimney of the samovar--the location of the fire for boiling water. The white stuff in the bottom is fizzing vinegar.

We loaded the samovar full of water and determined that it has two leaks–one at each handle. The spigot drips somewhat, but based on its simple design, it’s not surprising. All that remained was to research the use of one of these things. The best description and compiled history of the samovar that I’ve found is here:

After several cleanings, we decided to test it. Saturday morning, in our pyjamas, we headed out to the front sidewalk with a bag of paper scraps, five pinecones, some gathered twigs, a box of matches, and a samovar full of water. The chimney and the tray came with us also.

After a few tries, we got the fire lit. It required a lot of feeding with twigs. Next time I do this, I’ll have a pile of small wood pieces stacked and ready to go. After about 20 minutes, we had a good fire going, and 1/2 gallon of boiling water in the samovar. 

And here’s the crazy video:

So it works. The cleanup continues. I’m looking into re-tinning services, thoughI could probably do it myself with the proper equipment (thanks to my minor in art metals). I just need a really big, fluffy torch and an enclosed fire box. In the meantime, we’ll be looking into finding good tea and trying to figure out what this thing is worth, and we plan to take it to Burning Man to do some tea service. The clock is ticking… EEK!


10 Responses to “Samovar SCOOOOORE!!!”

  1. […] friend Mad Maxine scored an awesome old samovar at Goodwill the other day – she has a great post on her blog about how it works. It reminds me a bit of a rocket stove – it uses very small amounts of fuel very efficiently. This […]

  2. Annette Keffer Says:

    awesome. I got to know did you see it on ebay and for how much?

    • madmaxine Says:

      I’ve seen these go for several hundred dollars just for the samovar itself. I’m almost done digging the lime out of it. It’s the re-tinning that will be a challenge.

  3. Sara Crayne Says:

    Ah, so! A steampunk is someone into old technology? Then I must be one! I live in rural N. California, use a 65 year old woodburner furnace every year. It’s simple. It calls to me because I understand it.

    I have my grandmother’s old samovar: most pieces extant except the steam valve that belongs where the 1/1″ hole is on the lid. Thanks for info on cleaning brass. My next research question is, how can you tell whether there is lead alloy in that tin?

    • madmaxine Says:

      Your stove sounds lovely. I am jealous.
      As for your lead question, you might start by scrubbing a nice clean surface on the tin coating or solder joints (especially in the interior) and then using one of these:
      I suspect that will tell you if there is presence/absence of lead.

      For back up, you may be able to talk to an environmental lab that does metals testing (usually in air filters, soils, etc.). EMSL (in the first link) is one of those labs. Here’s another one:

      Let me know what you find out!

    • Sorry for the delayed reply. There are easy to find lead swabs that you can use for testing surfaces for lead. I bet you could find them at the hardware store. People usually use them for testing paint, and you should rough up the surface before you do the test (maybe some steel wool). You crack a glass ampule in the tube of the swab and smear the brush end on the surface. If it turns red, it’s lead. If it doesn’t it’s not 100% guaranteed that it’s got no lead, but it is a good start.

  4. Hello! For the leaking spigot, some fat smeared on the “cone” might solve the problem. On the booklet that came with my vintage soviet-erq Tula samovar, they recommend using “vegetable or animal fat”. A neutral oil or lard work quite well. Just clean and re-apply regularly as these fats can become rancid pretty quickly (giving funky taste to tea).
    I now use a food-grade gasket grease (the one used by plumbers) and it works marvelously well. Not a drop leaked in several weeks, and even though it leaves some fat streaks on the first cups, it does not impart any taste to the water. 🙂

    As for the scale, small amount of citric acid in hot water work well and are more nose-friendly than vinegar (dunno about tinning though).


    • madmaxine Says:

      Thanks! I will try the fat trick and citric acid too. I’ve never seen this much lime outside of a normal water heater. I ended up with my own weed-burner torch for a roofing project, and I bet I can figure out how to use it for tinning. I used to do metals mithing, and I’ve done it before, but it’s been around 25 years. I’m sure there are youtube videos out there…

  5. Alexander Says:

    Czarist Russian seal with the letters Т.Ф.И.Г.Б (picture # 2 above) means in Russian” Тульская Фабрика Ивана Григорьевича Баташева”( Tula’s Fabric of Ivan Grigorievich Batashev),It worked from 1825 till his death in 1860.
    In 1850 he permitted to put his own seal on products-two head eagle with crown and aforementioned letters.So samovar was made between 1850 and 1860, but they produced a lot. Only in one 1848 year they made over 7000 items. This information I found in one Russian article.I was interested because I just bought samovar with the same seal.

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