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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Past Still Gleams In Restored Samovars

"Me and my Masha by the samovar until dawn," or so goes the lyric from a well known sentimental oldie. Given the importance of tea-drinking in Russia, one of the country's simplest and most beloved rituals, it is no surprise that the samovar would hold a special place in the Russian heart.

Few appreciate samovars as much as Sergei Kalinichev, 42, who has purchased and restored hundreds of samovars from throughout Russia and sold them to tourists, businessmen and diplomats at the Vernisazh, Moscow's arts and crafts bazaar at Izmailovo Park.

Kalinichev, who laments the fact that few of his customers know how to light a samovar for tea, sells mostly to foreigners. He would be happy to sell to Russians, but says they seldom buy; when a Russian shows interest in Kalinichev's gleaming wares, it is usually to calculate the worth of an inherited samovar at home. Nor do Russia's museums have money to acquire rare models. Until the late 1980s, the government purchased samovars, but only to melt them down into copper, zinc and tin.

Kalinichev, however, saves samovars, which originally came to Russia from Persia and the Middle East in the 18th century. Insisting that he is not speculating in Russia's heritage, he points to his work as a restorer and collector. Indeed, the studio in the communal apartment he shares with another family is filled from floor to ceiling with tools and samovars in various states of disrepair. After decades of polishing, some of the samovars are paper- thin. Others are dented and scratched.

To plug leaks or smooth surfaces, Kalinichev works the inside of the samovar. When a samovar needs a spout or handle, he searches through his collection of spares for the proper replacement. When he finds antique samovars that have been fitted with electric elements, he removes the parts and installs chimneys so that the samovar can be heated the old-fashioned way.

Prior to restoration, the price of a run-of-the-mill samovar goes for $20 to $30; restoration doubles their value. Rarer models often cost several hundred dollars.

Technically, foreigners are not allowed to export samovars that date from before 1945, said Elvira Chechegova, an art historian at the Moscow Committee on Culture. But she said that the Ministry of Culture sometimes allows pre-1945 samovars to be taken out of the country.

"If it's a common model and in poor condition they may allow you to remove it," she said.

Foreigners wishing to export samovars dating after 1945 still need official permission. They first must go to the Moscow Committee of Culture (8 Neglinnaya Ulitsa, 921-3258 or 924-3453) which, for a fee of 1,000 rubles, will give the preliminary papers. The samovar must then be inspected at the Historical Museum on Red Square (Tel. 292-0928).

Kalinichev's samovars are mostly standard, mass-produced models dating from the turn-of-the-century and into the 1920s that were once kept in many peasant homes and can still occasionally be found in the provinces. Though the finest custom-made samovars that were stolen from the aristocracy by the Bolsheviks remain in the hands of the nomenklatura, Kalinichev is sometimes approached by dealers who are looking to sell a rare and valuable samovar. Unlike most samovar dealers, Kalinichev is also a collector and is not likely to pass up a museum-quality piece.

His most recent acquisition is a samovar in the shape of a locomotive.

"I won't keep a samovar just because it is valuable," says Kalinichev, who recommends samovars made by the Pets, Vorotsov and Malikov firms to prospective buyers. "It must give pleasure to the eye."

Sergei Kalinichev can usually be found on weekends at the Izmailovo crafts market at the end of one of the middle rows to the left of the top of the main stairs.