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Before 1700 there was no systematic control over silver marking and it was only with Peter the Great that a "silver standard" was set and Assay Offices established in all major cities.
The standard for Russian silver is measured in zolotniks: the most common fineness is 84, corresponding to 875/1000 standard. There are also other standards that can be encountered, which include 88, 91, 94 and very rarely 96 (meaning pure silver).
Up to the late 19th century each silver item had to be marked, other than with the silver standard mark, also with town mark, Assay Master mark with date, and Maker’s mark.
In 1896, Tsar Nicholas II (1868-1918) issued an edict and a new system of marking was introduced, known as the Kokoshnik mark (a cartouche containing a woman’s head looking left flanked by the silver fineness, usually 84, and the assayer’s initials). After 1908 the mark changed, the head facing right and the assayer’s initials replaced by a Greek letter representing the city in which the assay office was located. This system continued until the Revolution.
Russian Imperial silver is very appreciated for its quality and peculiar style, often sober in design but finely decorated. Enamel is the most distinctive feature of Russian silver: multicolour cloisonné, champlevé, plique-a-jour and the peculiar niello can be found on a variety of items such as cigarette cases, tea services, tankards, beakers and kovshes (traditional Russian drinking vessels).
Another peculiar and desirable characteristic of 19th century Russian silver is the Pan-Slavic revival, featuring geometric and stylized motifs inspired by historical items.
The late Imperial period is the most prolific and successful for the silver production, with a great deal of workshops and silversmiths producing exceptional objects. Important makers of this period (most of them awarded with Royal Warrant) are: Grachev, Nicholls & Plincke, Ovchinnikov, Sazikov, Saltykov, Klingert, Ruckert, the Artels (cooperative of masters working at a very high-level) and others, including the legendary workshop of Fabergé.
Russian silver, being so popular and desirable, is also one of the most difficult areas to approach as a beginning collector, as the market has been flooded for years with fakes and replicas of all kind and quality. For this reason, before making a purchase, is very important to seek the advice of an expert and rely on respectable dealers.