An important silver presentation punch serviceSazikov, St. Petersburg, 1874-1875 (28)

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Lot 92* W
An important silver presentation punch service
Sazikov, St. Petersburg, 1874-1875

£ 250,000 - 350,000
US$ 340,000 - 470,000
Various properties
An important silver presentation punch service
Sazikov, St. Petersburg, 1874-1875
comprising a bowl, salver, 24 drinking cups, cup stand and ladle; all decorated in the Old Russian style, the large circular bowl raised on a spreading circular foot, the body chased with rows of traditional Russian geometric patterns, the sculptural handles realistically modelled as maidens in traditional Russian dress supporting circular cup rests with crenellated rims, the edges draped with four trompe l'oeil drapery cloths flanking applied plain plaques, the large circular salver with engraved borders reminiscent of Russian peasant carvings and two engraved dedication inscriptions raised on shaped feet, the handled cups engraved with Russian proverbs, the ladle with a pierced handle terminating with a double-headed eagle and a perforated cup stand, gilded interiors, 84 standard
length of ladle: 32cm (12 5/8in), height of cup: 7cm (2 3/4in), diameter of salver: 49.9cm (19 5/16in), width of cup stand: 33.4cm (13 1/8in), height of bowl: 20.6cm (8 1/8in). (28)


  • Provenance
    Presented to Captain Joseph Wiggins by the Imperial Russian Naval Ministry, 1894.
    Collection of the Royal Geographic Society (gift from the above, 1905).
    The Royal Geographical Society, Christie's, London, 5 October 1989, lot 32.

    Henry Johnson, The Life and Voyages of Captain Joseph Wiggins, New York, 1907, pp. 268-284, illustrated.

    This splendid silver-gilt punch set, executed in the traditional Russian style, was an official gift to Captain Joseph Wiggins (1832-1905) by the Russian Naval Ministry on behalf of Emperor Alexander III (1845-1894). The set was presented to Captain Wiggins to commemorate his distinguished carrier as a marine explorer and his invaluable contributions to the establishment of a trade route between the North Sea countries and inland Siberian territories.

    Born in Great Britain and trained as a mariner, Captain Wiggins became intrigued by the possibility of discovering a trade route between Western Europe and Russian Siberia by way of the Arctic seas and the great Siberian rivers. According to the results of a government study, it was believed that it would be impossible to establish a trade route by sea due to the impenetrable ice and fog in the region. Nevertheless, Wiggins argued that a branch of the warm Atlantic current would open up a Western entrance to the Kara Sea and in conjunction with the outflow of the great Siberian rivers, a route through the sea itself.

    In 1865, the Russian gold merchant and entrepreneur M. Sidorov (1823 -1887) announced a prize of £2,000, to be awarded to a captain who would succeeded in finding a route from the Northern Sea to the estuaries of the Ob and Yenisei Rivers. Undeterred by skepticism from both the Imperial Russian and Royal British Geographic Societies, Sidorov announced the competition in a leading British newspaper. On June 3, 1874, Captain Wiggins launched his first expedition on board the steamboat Diana, in hopes of demonstrating the feasibility of reaching the Ob and Yenisei Rivers through the Kara Sea. He kept a detailed log documenting the perils of the expedition's progress, as well as his meteorological and scientific observations. On September 22, after four months of arduous travel, Wiggins finally reached the mouth of the Ob River. The belief that the Kara Sea was blocked to navigation all year round by impenetrable ice was thus disproved.

    Siberian merchants looked upon Captain Wiggins' voyage as the first step towards opening a new and profitable trade route with Europe. To advance further exploration, a second expedition was launched on June 28, 1875 on board the small vessel Whim, but delays along the way and unfavorable weather conditions cut the trip short. Delivering an address in St. Petersburg to the Russian Society for Supporting the Sea Trade, Captain Wiggins appealed to Russian merchants and government officials, stating that he hoped not only to win the prize, but to open a way to deliver abundant supplies of European produce to the starving people of Arkhangelsk Province. A year later, after securing financial support from the Russian millionaire and entrepreneur A. Sidorov, Wiggins headed to the Siberian waterways yet again, this time on board the steamboat The Thames. He reached his goal of chartering a safe channel through the Yenisei River and went up its small tributary Kureika.

    In the following years (1778-1893), Wiggins concluded eleven separate voyages to Russia, leading ships on behalf of British naval trade companies and the British-Siberian Syndicate reaching the Ob River twice and carrying five cargoes to the Yenisei River. In addition to navigating single ships, Joseph Wiggins began to lead entire flotillas through the unhospitable Northern Russian waterways. The last two expeditions in 1893-1894 were conducted by the request of the Russian government, in connection with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Wiggins was tasked with delivering a large cargo of rails up the Yenisei River. In late summer, led by the Captain's steamer Orestes, the fleet set sail from England with 1600 tons of rails and reached Yeniseysk on October 23, welcomed by enthusiastic crowds. After being entertained by the local authorities for several months, Wiggins arrived in St. Petersburg, where on January 21, 1894, he was presented with a large silver-gilt punch set decorated in the traditional Russian style. The account of this occasion is given in a detailed and well researched biography of Captain Joseph Wiggins by Henry Johnson, published in 1907 in New York. Johnson described that the lavishly decorated set was delivered to Wiggins by order of Emperor Alexander III and was accompanied by a letter from Naval Minister Nikolai Tchihatchoff (1830-1917):

    St. Petersburg, January 21, 1894

    To Captain J. Wiggins.

    Sir, I have great pleasure in forwarding to you, with the authorization of His Majesty, the Emperor, the accompanying box, which I beg you to accept from the Russian Naval Ministry, in remembrance of your last summer's voyage, in company with three Russian warships, to the Yenisei River, and also as an acknowledgement of the valuable services you rendered during that expedition, as testified by commanding officer, Captain Dobrotvorsky. –Believe me to be, Sir, yours truly. N. Tchihatchoff
    ( Henry Johnson, Ibid, page 279-280).

    The salver of the handsome presentation set is inscribed with two dedications. The first reads, "To Captain Wiggins from the Imperial Russian Naval Ministry. In commemoration of the voyage in 1893 to the mouth of the River Yenisei jointly with the ships of the Imperial Navy: 'Lieutenant Ovtzin, Lieutenant Malygin, Lieutenant Skuratov.'"

    A later engraving in the center reads, "This salver was presented to Captain Joseph Wiggins F.R.G.S./Siberian explorer/by the Czar of Russia in 1894/and left by Captain Wiggins to the Royal Geographic Society, England/September 1905."

    Wiggins's voyages and discoveries made significant contributions to a three-hundred year exploration of Northern sea routes and Siberian expansion, exemplifying a fascinating collaboration between British citizens and various Russian entrepreneurs and explorers, united by their common interest in geographic explorations.
An important silver presentation punch serviceSazikov, St. Petersburg, 1874-1875 (28)
An important silver presentation punch serviceSazikov, St. Petersburg, 1874-1875 (28)
An important silver presentation punch serviceSazikov, St. Petersburg, 1874-1875 (28)
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