Ornately decorated boxes catch collectors’ eyes

Russian lacquer boxes have been considered an important art form beginning in the early 18th century. They have never stopped being made. These days they are flooding the collectibles market place and all over the internet. They are a flea market staple. Collectors love the often depicted fairy tale subjects signed by important artists. Prices can be as high as several thousand dollars. A museum reproduction, “On Guard at the Borders of the USSR” originally done in 1935 is currently priced at $1,500. However, many others are offered from thirty dollars to a couple of hundred.

Historically, 18th century pieces included fans, boxes of all shapes and sizes and mounted lockets. The primary wood was lime-wood. By the second half of the 18th century metal was also lacquered, as was papier-mache. The latter used glued prints of battle scenes, portraits and geographical maps. By the early 19th century there were many lacquer workshops around Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The most important was the Lukutin, and artist Piotr Lukutin. He created dozens of new objects and shapes that included tea caddies, plates and cigarette cases. Pieces were created for Russian society and the nobility were copies of fine art. For the lower middle classes subjects were town and country scenes. By the mid-19th century Ukrainian peasant scenes were popular.

There were four important areas making papier-mache’ miniature lacquered boxes by the turn-of-the-century: Fedoskino, Palekh, Kholui and Mastera.

Many of the artists became recognized and their signatures added value to the boxes and became seriously collected. Popular subjects changed to include fairy tale scenes.

CLUES: Authentic Russian boxes should be papier-mache’. Fakes are wood,

Poured acrylics or a pressed sawdust board called argillite. A simple test will tell what the material is. Tap the box. If wood, the sound will be sharp, the same for plastic. Papier-mache’ will have a muted sound. Look at the art work with a magnifying glass or jeweler’s loupe. Old pieces were made with many layers of paint. Reproductions will show the dotted surface of a flat and dotted surface of a print. Early 20th century boxes will be labeled USSR made for export to West. Check out internet listing of books on the subject.

Do you have an antique item and need more information?

For a personnel reply send a photo, along with history, size and any signatures with a self-addressed and stamped envelope and $25 to Anne Gilbert, 1811 Renaissance Cmns. Blvd., #2319, Boynton Beach, FL, 33426