East of Paris Bookstore

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lomonosov Tea Set

Ismailovski Park, is the name of a subway stop on the Moscow Metro Blue Line.  It is also the name of a park with a huge and wonderful open-air flea market, with a minor entrance fee, that offers both old and new things for purchase.    There are household items from the 1960s, old cameras, military surplus clothes, carpets from Central Asia, antique icons as well as newly-manufactured “antique” icons, vintage clothing and furniture, handicrafts, lacquer boxes, matriosha dolls, radios, computers, and what not.  It is also where I bought my Lomonosov tea and coffee service.

Lomonosov porcelain, manufactured in Russia, is sublime and luminescent.  The Lomonosov factory was founded by Michail Lomonosov, a “Renaissance man” born in 1711 in Russia.  He was a scientist, poet, grammarian, and founder of the Moscow State University.  His porcelain, which graced the tables of the Tsars and Russian aristocracy, is still manufactured and in high demand.

When I worked in Russia, I priced a number of Lomonosov porcelain items and found the best deal on the pattern I wanted at the open-air market at Ismailovski Park.  After a few visits, I narrowed down my choices, and struck an agreement on what I was buying and for how much.  Before wrapping my purchases in old newspapers [bubble wrap was rare and an expensive import that also carried a large VAT tax], the vendor showed me how to test each cup and the sugar bowl and creamer for cracks.  She took an ordinary wooden pencil with eraser, and ran the metallic ring, which holds the eraser to the pencil, around the rim of each cup.  On cups with no flaw, this test yielded a clear ringing sound.  On cups with even an unseen crack, the sound was a dull thud.  A very useful and, heretofore, unknown to me trick.

I packed all my porcelain into a big sturdy plastic shopping bag [a Harrod’s souvenier] and carried it with me like a fragile baby on board several flights and safely to California.  My set consists of tea cups and saucers, demitasse coffee cups and saucers, a big round pot for hot water, a smaller round tea pot, a tall slender coffee pot, a creamer and a sugar bowl, dessert plates and a serving plate.  The design is called “cobalt net.”  It is very special for me -- I have only used it twice!

P.S.  Ismailovski Park gets its name from the old Romanov estate of Ismailovo, where a young Tsar Peter I found a boat in a storage shed that the English had given to Ivan IV; Peter learned to sail the boat, which became the pre-cursor of the Russian navy.  The Ismailovo estate also gave its name to the Ismailovski Imperial Guards Regiment.

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