‘A Gift for Valeryan from Mum’: The story of a 17th century mug that miraculously ended up in Moscow

‘A Gift for Valeryan from Mum’: The story of a 17th century mug that miraculously ended up in Moscow
A silver mug. 17th century. Europe. Found in Moscow in 1974 during excavation. The Museum of Moscow collection
Read on to learn about a mysterious Moscow family that knew how to give each other gifts.

Today’s issue of the History of Things, our joint project with the Museum of Moscow, is devoted to a mug by Dutch master Christian Paulsen. The mug is part of the museum collection.

The inventory book of the Museum of Moscow’s precious metals collection includes an entry for a silver mug made by Christian Paulsen between 1630 and 1645 in the Prussian town of Danzig (today’s Polish city of Gdansk). As the notes say, the mug and several other artefacts were found in Plotnikov Pereulok. The find was missing from the Moscow records though. Step by step things became clear – the items did exist, but got split up, as those newly restored were displayed in different collections of the museum.

And now, the story.

A silver mug. 17th century. Europe. Found in Moscow in 1974 during excavation. The Museum of Moscow collection

In 1974, excavations unearthed the find opposite 10 Plotnikov Pereulok. It consisted of seven household silver objects and four coins – all dating back to the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries except for one baroque-style mug with a lid from a much earlier period. The digging caused severe damage to the mug as it was almost broken by the excavator bucket. Restorer Yevgeny Butorov repaired it completely, smoothing out all the dents. After polishing the item and making it like new, specialists determined that the creator of the mug was 17th century Dutch artisan Christian Paulsen.

Nearly all the items sport Russian-language engravings of a later period – “A Gift for Valeryan from Mum, 28 May 1892” on the mug, “Mary” on the powder box and “Misha” on the liqueur glass. All the articles must have been presents to mark a birth, coming of age or another important event in a Moscow family.

The coins were probably family relics too. These included the coronation rouble minted in 1883, the year of Alexander III’s crowning, and the gold coin issued in 1886 to celebrate another event – the revival of the practice of embossing an emperor’s portrait on coins.  

It can be assumed that the family hid the objects in one place out of sight in the late autumn of 1917.

Of most interest is the mug from Danzig, the present for Valeryan. We can only guess as to how it ended up in the Moscow family. In the 17th century, such silverware was imported to Russia as luxury items. Or possibly, it was a war trophy – in 1734, Russian troops took Danzig under the command of Field Marshal Münnich. Or maybe it was brought to Moscow in late 18th century following the Partition of Poland, or in 1813, during the Napoleonic Wars, when the Russian army sieged a large French garrison in Danzig. Perhaps one of Valeryan’s ancestors was involved in the events.

A silver mug. 17th century. Europe. Found in Moscow in 1974 during excavation. The Museum of Moscow collection

But maybe the explanation is much simpler. The mother bought a nice mug for her son’s birthday from an antiquarian? Did Valeryan like it, we wonder. 

Follow the History of Things project for more stories about antiquities from the Museum of Moscow collection