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:
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:
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:
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.
Teapot seal (on the bottom of the pot):
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:
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!