article # 68



by Kari Helenius
(click on photos to enlarge image)


A Finnish collection of Russian charkas (silver vodka cups) is exhibited in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum of the Finnish National Gallery from September 28, 2006 to January 7, 2007.
The exhibition covers the whole Romanov era, i.e. from early 17th century till early 20th century. About 170 charkas are exhibited and arranged by the period of each ruling tsar from Michael to Nicholas II.
Did you know that there were 18 Romanov tsars ruling Russia from 1613 to 1917. The collection covers all of these from Michael, to Nicholas II.  
The word charka means vodka or tot cup which has a centuries old tradition in the Russian culture. As well as a liquor cup, a charka is also an old vodka measure of 143,5 ml, first appearing in the 16th century. As a result of the 19th century decree, the measure was reduced to 1/100 vedro, which corresponds to 123 ml.
The Russian word
charka in cyrillic
has been transliterated to several languages:
English = Charka
French = Tcharka
German = Tscharka
Finnish = Tšarkka, Sarkka
Swedish = Tscharka, tjarka
The word is rarely found in dictionaries however it appears in literature on the subject of antique silver, and is used in antique shops and auctions. The word is often translated as vodka or tot cup. It is rarely used in modern Russian. Charka is only one of the many different Russian silver drinking vessels. This reflects the importance of alcohol in the Russian culture. In addition to charka there is bokal, bratina, chara, charotska, chasha, korchik, kovsh, kruzhka, kubok, rjumka, stakan and stopa. All different in form and use but intended to use for drinking.
These are all part of the Russian silversmith tradition but they also tell us about the russian cultural history.
Russian Charka Russian Charka
high: 1690      middle: 1697-1698
low: 1691-1692
Charka has been an object of vertu which has been carefully designed. The charkas have changed their form during the years and each reign and period has given them its typical shape. You can see the features from the mid 17th century renaissance to baroque, rococoo, different stages of classism and the late 19th century panslavonic design.
The early 17th century charkas were usually large and shallow. At that time, vodka was weak, only 15-20%. When the art of distilling developed, vodka became stronger and the charkas became smaller.
Russian Charka Russian Charka
upper row: 1753-1768     1752     1761
lower row: 1744     1750-1770     1750
upper row: 1878     1878    
lower row: 1879     1878     1880
The late 17th century charkas can be divided into several distinct variations. Common features found in all types of charkas are the flat horizontal handle and either one or three feet. The earliest models, seemingly from the third quarter, were usually unmarked cups, often demi-spherical or shallow in shape.
Perhaps the most common charka of this time is comprised of a cup with one foot and a horizontal handle. It is adorned with sea monsters and large birds, a popular motive being Jonah and the whale.
Russian Charka 1684 Russian Charka 1783 Russian Charka 1778
Only a limited number of charkas are available from the first quarter of the 18th century. The style changed at the turn of the century and the charkas started to resemble traditional goblets. The most common shape of the 18th century was one of a thistle flower often with a scroll handle attached to it in a vertical position.
From the early 19th century, glass replaced silver as the material of drinking vessels. Thus there are few charkas on the market from this period. Also the style changed and the 18th century designs were no longer appearing on the market. Later in the 19th century rich panslavonic design became dominant.
Russian Charka 1899-1908 Russian Charka ca. 1620
ca. 1620
At turn of the 20th century silversmith profession reached a new level with several suppliers to the court like Faberge, Grachev, Khlebnikov, Occhinnikov, Sazikov among others.

Russian Charka 1861 Russian Charka 1784

You can learn more from a recently published book
The Russian Charka. The Silver Vodka Cup of the Romanov Era
The K Helenius collection of charkas of the Romanov era 1613 – 1917

157 charkas arranged by the period, 204 pages, 255 pictures,
text in three languages; English, Russian and Finnish
Size 170mm (height) x 230 mm x 20mm. Hard cover
Publisher W Hagelstam, Helsinki 2006, ISBN 952-5125-23-8
Price € 49,90 (1st class mail included)
If you are interested in the book please send email to Kari Helenius, email:
The Russian Charka. The Silver Vodka Cup of the Romanov Era book The Russian Charka. The Silver Vodka Cup of the Romanov Era book
front cover
back cover
Kari Helenius
- 2006-