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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Russian Tea Glass Holders - Practical Luxury

Russian tea-glass holders: practical luxury

A lot of Soviet families used to spend their summers somewhere in the South, near the sea. Travelling by plane was too expensive, so they mostly went there by train. If you would ask a child if he or she loved travelling by train, you would most certainly get an enthusiastic affirmative reply. One of their favorite parts of the journey was definitely taking meals there. Many children are bad eaters, but the train offers a totally different experience. So taking meals there is much more interesting for a child, and during the Soviet times every meal in the train would end up with some tea served in glasses with beautiful metal holders like this:
russian tea glass holder

The tea was always freshly brewed and very hot, so it would be impossible to hold a glass without a tea glass holder like that! And even if you wanted to wait till your tea got a bit cooler, you’d still use the holder, because it gave a totally different feeling to the whole process. A beautiful tea glass holder would definitely make you feel like an aristocrat. No wonder these things are still so popular.

What’s the purpose of tea-glass holders?

Obviously, they were created so you could drink hot tea without burning your hands when holding a glass. A lot of people in post-Soviet countries, including Russia, of course, prefer hot tea. And this tradition of serving and drinking tea appeared long before the Soviet Union.

But before we immerse ourselves in the history of tea-glass holders, I think it’s important to know more about the history of tea culture in Russia.

Tea was first brought to Russia from China in 1600s when the Chinese ambassador to Moscow gave several chests of tea to Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich as a gift. At that time Russia was trying to establish trade relations with China, and tea became one of the major import articles.
At first, there only existed a caravan trade route from China to Russia. It was long and difficult. No wonder, the tea was extremely expensive, so only rich people could afford it. But with the opening of Trans-Siberian Railway the situation changed. The train route was much faster, which helped to reduce the price of tea. In the XIXth century Russia started growing its own tea. In the first years the number of tea plantations was growing steadily, but in the XXth century the tea production experienced a decline. Nowadays the main area of tea production in Russia is located near Sochi, which makes those plantations the northernmost tea plantations in the world.

Now that you know a bit more about Russian tea culture, let’s talk about the history of tea-glass holders.

Historians say that in the XVIIIth century it was considered best for women to drink tea from porcelain cups, but men were supposed to drink it only from glasses. And as you know, glass gets hot pretty fast when you pour a hot drink into it. So it was necessary to come up with some kind of a utensil to protect the hands of men. And that’s how tea-glass holders appeared.
The first holders didn’t look very nice, but they did the trick. Soon Russian craftsmen realized that they had a unique opportunity to make this new utensil a true work of art, just like they did with samovars.
The tea-glass holders experienced the highest wave of popularity as pieces of art in the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth centuries, up until the Revolution. All kinds of private workshops produced them using the technique of art casting. They used precious metals and strived to make holders with a unique design in order to create real works of art. The ornaments were either made in the Russian traditional style, or following other world trends like Art Nouveau, or Gothic art style.
After the October Revolution the production of tea-glass holders briefly stopped, though the Revolution leaders continued to use the holders made in the Russian Empire. The production resumed several years later in small private workshops. Then, in 1930s, the tea-glass holders suddenly became popular again, after the Communist Party leaders realized that these things could also be a means of Soviet propaganda. That’s when big state plants began producing tea-glass holders. They made series of holders on different topics reflecting the most important events in the political and cultural life of the Soviet Union. The first tea-glass holders were made from silver, but in the XXth century they started using nickel silver, cupronickel, and other alloys of nickel, silver, or gold plating. In the Soviet times the tea-glass holders mostly were produced by a plant in the town Kolchugino, not far from Vladimir.

The tea-glass holders are still made today. As in the previous years, the holders are bought mainly by the Russian Traffic Ministry and used in trains. So don’t forget to order your glass of tea if you ever choose to travel by rail road anywhere in Russia. You are also welcome to check our own collection of Russian tea glass holders at The Russian Store. You can use them to drink hot tea, or for any other drink served in a glass! If your child needs some extra motivation to drink something that he or she doesn’t really like, a glass holder like that would be your perfect choice!

1 comment:

  1. PS- Russian Tea Glass Holders made the list for Buzzfeed's "27 Items All Tea Lovers Need In Their Lives"