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CHARKA EXHIBITION IN HELSINKI
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.
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 Russian word
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
These are all part of the Russian silversmith tradition but they
also tell us about the russian cultural history.
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.
high: 1690 middle: 1697-1698
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
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
upper row: 1753-1768 1752 1761
lower row: 1744 1750-1770 1750
upper row: 1878 1878
lower row: 1879 1878 1880
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
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
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.
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.
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 –
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