Stein of the Month - June 2000

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The Admiral Beatty Tankard
Magnificent silver
-gilt & shaded enamel work, by Ovchinnikov. 

~ The Admiral Beatty Tankard ~

Re-written from the March 1979 issue of PROSIT, originally written by Patrick J. Clarke

The Admiral Beatty Tankard

On June 8th, 1978, at the world-famous auction galleries of Sotheby Parke Bernet (N.Y.), the beautiful and dramatic stein pictured on the right was offered for sale to the highest bidder. Sotheby Parke Bernet's description of the stein in their catalogue of that date was terse:

"Important and rare Russian silver gilt and shaded enamel tankard, Ovchinnikov-Moscow c.1900. The cylindrical barrel finely enameled with a peacock flanked by sirens, surrounded by multi-colored flowers and foliage, with scroll handle and hinged domed cover with ball finial, the spreading base embossed with co-joined scrolls. Height 12 1/2 inches."

Their estimate of what it would bring was between twenty and thirty thousand dollars!

It is important to note that the gallery was sufficiently impressed with the quality of the stein to feature it on their catalogue cover in full color and we are indebted to them for allowing us to use that same photo in PROSIT (March 1979 issue).

When the excitement of the bidding was over and the final bid was made, the stein was knocked down at the winning price of $25,000, and it was delivered into the hands of an SCI member, also a member of the N.J. chapter of SCI. A work of art such as this must have a reason for being and this one is no exception. It brings together 3 famous names and 3 great countries. Namely - Rear Admiral David Beatty, Viscount Borodale of Borodale, Baron Beatty of the North Sea and Brooksby, of England; Paul Akimovich Ovchinnikov of Imperial Russia; and Marshall Field of Chicago, Illinois. The inscription around the rim of this tankard reads, "The Municipality of St. Petersburg to Rear Admiral D. Beaty (sic) R. N. June 12-25, 1914."

Let us explore the "story behind the tankard" and introduce each of the three principals:

1. The Recipient

David Beatty, born 1871, died 1936, entered upon a naval career at an early age. Anglo-Irish by ancestry, and from a military lineage, he went to the training ship "Britannia" at age 13 and at age 15 was at sea as a midshipman. His first 10 years of naval life were uneventful but by the end of the century he was involved in a sustained period of combat. In 1896 he was given the command of a small fleet of gunboats, which was to accompany Kitchner's army along the Nile in it's advance to recapture the Sudan. For his daring handling of his boats - at one stage he beat the army in the race to capture the important town of Dongala - he was awarded the D.S.O. and in the following year he was recalled to Egypt at Kitchner's request. He again so distinguished himself that he was promoted at the age of 27 years to the rank of Commander, which, to those familiar with the worship of seniority in military or naval circles, caused some resentment. To add insult to injury, his leadership in handling naval landing parties during the Boxer Rebellion resulted in his promotion to Captain at the age of 29, and by 1910, at age 39, he was a Rear-Admiral. In 1913 he was flag officer of the Battle cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet!

It was apparently in this capacity (and this is pure speculation) that Beatty made the trip to Russia that resulted in the presentation to him of this fine Russian enamel tankard. Whether he went as an individual or as part of a visit of the fleet to Russian waters my research does not reveal, but as the Great War broke out shortly thereafter and the great powers were already making their plans at that time, it seems logical to assume that this man was no tourist, and the presentation of such an important gift was not insignificant. Two months later his command was victorious in the battle of Helgoland Bight and during the Dogger Bank action he succeeded in the sinking of the German cruiser "Blucher". He was in command of battle cruiser operations at the battle of Jutland and emerged a hero. In December 1916 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet and in this capacity eventually received the surrender of the greater part of the German Navy after the Treaty of Versailles. After the war he was appointed First Sea Lord and was the British delegate at the Washington Conference on arms limitations. It is said by many naval historians that his daring and ability placed him in the same category as Admiral Nelson and that he was a man born out of his time. So much for the recipient of the tankard: A distinguished man at an important and interesting time in history.

2. The Tankard Maker

What Macy's is to Gimbel's, what Van Cleef and Arpels is to Tiffany's, so was Paul Akimovich Ovchinnikov to Carl Faberge'. During the latter half of the nineteenth century a group of artists came into being in Russia who revived the old forms and motifs of medieval Russia. The use of Slavic subjects and dramatic color combination became known as the Pan-Slavic movement. It excited new interest and especially influenced the decorative arts of Moscow. To accomplish the utmost in color, many craftsmen turned to the use of enamel. Enameling was first introduced by the Byzantines to Kiev, in Russia, as early as the eleventh century. The use of it continued through the years; new techniques were employed from time to time, but by the early 19th century, the original techniques had been mostly forgotten and the surviving enamels were generally the painted ones. Paul Akimovich Ovchinnikov, one of the most original and productive of the silversmiths working in the Pan-Slavic manner, founded a firm of silversmiths in Moscow in 1851. By 1872 it had become sufficiently established and noted for quality to be granted an Imperial warrant. Probably because of this success, a branch was opened in St. Petersburg in 1875. There the founder's son, Michael Pavelovski, became director and in 1898 took over the entire firm. On the eve of the Revolution in 1917, the firm was still in existence. The coming of the Bolsheviks spelled the end of the House of Ovchinnikov.

Paul Ovchinnikov is credited with being chiefly instrumental in reviving the original enameling techniques - champleve, filigree, painted and plique-a-jour. He employed many workmasters doing such enameling, hence there is a great variety in the work of this firm. Ovchinnikov maintained a high standard of craftsmanship through the years, earning for him and his firm enormous prestige and success. Ovchinnikov was so interested in the artistic and technical sides of the production of his men that he, first of the manufacturers in Russia, set up a school to train craftsmen. The school had as many as 130 pupils for the 5 to 6 year period of training in drawing, modeling, sketching, calligraphy, etc., plus practical experience in divisions of the workshops. His pieces were signed either P. Ovchinnikov in Cyrillic letters or his initials alone, also in Cyrillic. The hallmark included the assayer's initials, the date, an illustration of St. George and the Dragon (for Moscow), and the silver content. The Russian Imperial Eagle also appears, indicating the Imperial warrant, an honor bestowed by the Czar and well deserved for the excellent quality of the work.

Ovchinnikov's work today is treasured along with the work of the other giants of the craft, who were his contemporaries: Carl Faberge', Ivan Khlebnikov and Maria Semenova, to name just a few.

3. The Third Name

In May 1901, at the age of 30, David Beatty married Ethel Field, daughter of Marshall Field of Chicago, a leader of the merchandising field and rivaled in size and wealth only by Macy's in New York. There were two sons by this marriage and we can only suppose that this is how the tankard arrived in the United States, probably by estate dispersal of one means or another. And that is all we know about the Field "involvement."

The consignor of this tankard to the recent (March 1979 issue) Parke Bernet auction is also a member of SCI and of the New Jersey chapter. He had purchased the tankard in 1956 from a 6th Ave. New York City antique dealer for $510, including tax, and the dealer in turn had purchased it at auction from Parke Bernet sometime previously! One can only speculate how long this beautiful piece, so rich in history and exquisite in workmanship, lay on the dealer's shelf until someone came along who could appreciate it.

Stein Collectors International 1996-2000