The Samovar – the Russian tea machine, as it was referred to in Western Europe – stands out against all other water-heating devices.
The literal meaning of “samo-var” is “self-boiling”. In earlier times the samovar was used not only for boiling water, but also for boiling soup and sbiten (hot honey&spice drink).
The first records of samovar production date back to 1745. The custom of tea and coffee drinking that got established in Russian life by the mid 18th, promoted spreading of new tableware and water-heaters – kettles, coffee pots and samovars.
As well as most of other inventions, the samovar had its predecessors. First of all it was the Chinese ho-go, which had a pipe and an ashpit, just like samovar.
The first samovars had the appearance and construction similar to the so-called English "tea urns" or "tea vessels", which served for boiling water and were used in England in the 1740s-1770s. By the end of the 18th century the samovar already had all its presently known distinctive constructive-functional features required for water boiling. So the samovar can be considered a specifically Russian national device.
Throughout all the history of the samovar its design and decoration changed according to fluctuations of taste and fashion. Initially the samovars showed an impact of rococo style, then inclination to empire style, and in the end of their existence did not avoid the influence of art nouveau. The inner essence, nevertheless, remained traditional.
However, in the later 19th century there came about the kerosene samovar, whereas the Chernikov Brothers’ factory launched manufacture of samovars with a lateral pipe that intensified air movement and thus accelerated the boiling process.
Samovars entered each and every house in Russia, becoming a characteristic feature of Russian life.
Poet Boris Sadovsky wrote in the preface to the collection "Samovar": "Samovar in our life, without our own awareness, takes a huge place in our life. Being a purely Russian phenomenon, it is beyond understanding of foreigners. In the humming and whispering of the samovar a Russian person seems to hear voices familiar from childhood: sighs of spring wind, dear songs of the mother, cheerful invocatory whistle of a rural blizzard. These voices cannot be heard in a European city cafe".
Before the Patriotic War of 1812 the largest samovar manufacturing enterprise was Peter Silin's factory located in the Moscow Province. It produced 3000 samovars every year, but by the 1820s Tula took the lead and gained fame as the samovar capital.
Hence is the Russian proverb: “They don't carry samovars to Tula town”, meaning the same as “they don't carry coals to Newcastle”.
The 19th century was the Golden Age of samovar business in Russia. Every factory tried to make up a samovar different from others. Hence is the diversity of samovar shapes, but despite their variety, all the samovars had the same construction.
Samovar manufacture in Russia reached its heights in 1912-1913, when only Tula produced 660 thousand samovars per year. The First World War suspended samovar production, which was revived only after the end of the Civil War.
Though samovars are no more an integral part of modern life in Russia, they remain a symbol of family warmth and coziness, cordial get-togethers and traditional festivities. Different types of samovars – electric samovars, fire (using wood or coal) samovars, painted samovars – are available nowadays.
A samovar will make an original souvenir and gift!