February 24, 2022 10:00 EST

The Gilded Age

 
Lot 139
 

139

A Russian Silver-Gilt Plique-à-Jour and Cloisonné Imperial Presentation Tankard
Pavel Ovchinnikov, Moscow, 1892

The lid marked for Pavel Ovchinnikov with standard mark of 84 and St. George for Moscow 1861-96, the base marked with 'NO' for Pavel Ovchinnikov and assay mark for Anatoly Apollonovich Artsybashev, 1892, sold together with a letter dated May 27, 1893, from Prince Cantacuzène on behalf of Tsar Alexander III on letterhead from the Russian Imperial Legation, Washington DC, dated May 27, 1893, to A.W. Biddle.

H: 7, W: 6 in.

Provenance

Presented by Prince Cantacuzene on behalf of Tsar Alexander III to A.W. Biddle, May 27, 1893.
Thence by descent.

Estimated at $40,000 - $60,000


 

The lid marked for Pavel Ovchinnikov with standard mark of 84 and St. George for Moscow 1861-96, the base marked with 'NO' for Pavel Ovchinnikov and assay mark for Anatoly Apollonovich Artsybashev, 1892, sold together with a letter dated May 27, 1893, from Prince Cantacuzène on behalf of Tsar Alexander III on letterhead from the Russian Imperial Legation, Washington DC, dated May 27, 1893, to A.W. Biddle.

Provenance

Presented by Prince Cantacuzene on behalf of Tsar Alexander III to A.W. Biddle, May 27, 1893.
Thence by descent.

Note

This exceptional tankard was presented to Dr. Alexander W. Biddle (1856–1916) in gratitude for services provided to Russia during the famine of 1891-92. Poor harvests throughout the 1880s had taken a deep toll on the agrarian peasantry of Imperial Russia, and nationwide relief efforts began across America, including representatives of Philadelphia’s business and social elite. Philadelphia was the first city to fund, organize, and dispatch a ship (the Indiana) filled with flour and other provisions, doing so in less than a month. The Indiana left Philadelphia on February 22, 1892, and arrived in Libau (the Russian Imperial name for Liepāja, Latvia) on March 16. Accompanying the shipment were “the members of the Philadelphia committee, Messrs. Blankenburg, Drexel, and Biddle.”

The American aid efforts left a mark not just on the Russian populace and state apparatus, but the Imperial Family as well. Tsar Alexander III told the American minister to Russia: “I am very much touched by the interest and kindness which the people of the United States are showing in sending ships of flour to my suffering people.” The generosity of the Philadelphians would not be forgotten. A year later, on May 27, 1893, the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer read “The Czar Rewards Friends In Need: Russia’s Grateful Ruler Sends Costly Silver Gifts to Nine Leading Philadelphians.”

To mark Alexander III’s decade on the throne, a great Coronation Day program of events was planned for Philadelphia; the flagship Dimitri Donskoi and a second Russian ship, the Rynda, anchored in the Delaware River overlooking the city. The Russian Minister to the United States, Prince Cantacuzène, provided the media with the text of his letter to the gift recipients. This letter of appreciation was reprinted in full on the front page of the May 27th edition of the Inquirer; it is identical to the original letter from Prince Cantacuzène to Dr. Biddle, which accompanies the tankard in this sale. Both Biddle and Drexel attended the events aboard the Dimitri Donskoi, and were recipients of gifts from the Tsar.

“Each present possesses a distinct individuality and is conceded to be a chef-d’œuvre of the silversmith’s art,” the Inquirer observed, as well as noting that all were made in St. Petersburg — two by Grachev and eight by Ovchinnikov. Dr. Biddle’s tankard is not individually described, but it is noted as “a silver gilt enameled cup, similar to that prepared for Mr. C.M. Reeve” (Charles M. Reeve was a Minneapolis businessman who had been involved in the Midwestern group of relief efforts.) Mr. Reeve’s similar gift is described as such: “a tankard, gilt and enamel. The enameling of this tankard, or covered cup, is exquisite. The bottom, perforated, had a bold design of leaves and vine tendrils wrought into the perforations in translucent enamel, with an extremely rich affect.” With the exception of the unique design used on the tankard underside and lid, this description matches Dr. Biddle’s tankard precisely.

For similar examples see: Hillwood Museum, Washington, DC, item no. 15.44, and Bonham's, December 1, 2021, lot 128.

Related Literature

Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, February 1, 1892.
George S. Queen, “American Relief in the Russian Famine of 1891-1892,” The Russian Review vol. 14, no. 2 (April 1955).
Foreign Relations of the United States 1892, Document 319.
Foreign Relations of the United States 1892, Document 321.
American Sympathy with Russian Distress,” The Russian Famine Relief Committee of Philadelphia (1892).
The Inquirer Washington Bureau, “Czar Rewards Friends in Need,” The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia), May 27, 1893.
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Philadelphia), May 28, 1893.

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