Anastasia Shteinert, Communications and Engagement Manager

Flowers, cards, jewelry, dinner dates: these are the customary expressions of love on Valentine’s Day. But what’s missing from that list? Sweets, of course! Inspired by the international celebration of love and romance, we scoured the Russian History Museum’s collections storage vault to bring you a selection of tins that once contained sweet treats. Although the contents are long gone, we can still enjoy the eye-catching packaging that tempted customers to purchase these sweets—perhaps for that special someone.

Here, Have Some… Straw?

Solomka tin. Firm of A. I. Abrikosov and Sons. Russian History Museum collection

Profusely ornamented with a floral border and a bird, this tin once housed a specific Eastern European delight, solomka. Translated from Russian as “straws,” solomka is a baked good shaped like thin sticks—something of a cross between a cookie and a breadstick. It can be sweet or savory, often coated with poppy seeds. Contemporary solomka, typically packaged in plastic, lacks the aesthetic appeal of its historical counterpart, which adds a unique charm to this piece.

Solomka. Source: candystor.ru

The solomka tin was produced by Abrikosov and Sons, a firm founded by entrepreneur Alexei Abrikosov in 1804. He became known as the “chocolate king” and implemented, as we would say nowadays, effective marketing strategies to sell his sweet products. For instance, Abrikosov and Sons produced chocolate Father Frosts (the Russian version of Santa Claus) and hares, which were in high demand during New Year and Christmas time. In their advertisements, the firm used various animals and fictional characters, targeting younger consumers. 

Abrikosov and Sons had a factory and store in Moscow, along with branded retail outlets and wholesale warehouses in Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Kiev, and Odessa, where this particular tin was sold. From 1899, the firm was a supplier to the imperial court. In 1919, the Soviet government nationalized the factory, renaming it the State Confectionary Factory No. 2. then the Babaev Factory. A similar fate befell many other firms that produced tins and sweets.

Advertising posters by Abrikosov and Sons. Source: miloserdie.ru

From the City Duma with Love

Tin commemorating 50 years of emancipation of the serfs. Eliseev Brothers. Russian History Museum collection

This limited-edition tin commemorates the 50th anniversary of the emancipation of serfs in the Russian Empire. Its lid features Russian Emperor Alexander II (1818–1881) reading the emancipation manifesto, a pivotal edict issued on February 19, 1861 that liberated more than 23 million serfs in the Russian Empire. This reform was a key objective of Alexander II’s reign, as the Emperor once remarked, “It is better to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until it begins to abolish itself from below.” The date of the manifesto’s promulgation is printed on the tin.

According to an inscription on the tin, it was distributed as a commemoration souvenir by the Saint Petersburg City Duma (municipal council). The sweet contents—possibly chocolate—was produced by the famous trade house Eliseev Brothers, while the tin itself was made by the firm of Kok and Birman. The Eliseev Emporium in Saint Petersburg was the most opulent food hall in the Russian Empire. Located on Nevsky Prospect, it is still open to customers.

The Eliseev Brothers' store in Moscow, before 1913. Source: kupetzeliseevs.ru

The Eliseev Brothers' store in Saint Petersburg. Modern interior. Source: Wikipedia

Gift À La Russe

Tin depicting falcon hunt. Ramon' factory. Russian History Museum collection

This tin is adorned with relief ornaments, imperial eagles, and chromolithograph images depicting a falcon hunt. Falconry is the practice of hunting wild animals in their natural state and habitat using a trained bird of prey. The characters in the pictures wear traditional Russian garb. The style of this tin appears to be a continuation of a broader à la russe trend in the pre-Revolutionary Russian Empire.

At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, artists and intellectuals found inspiration in Russian folklore and attributes of Russian life before the westernizing reforms of Peter the Great in the early 18th century. This trend took hold during the reign of Alexander III and his successor, Nicholas II. It is worth mentioning that the falcon hunt, depicted on the tin, was one of the favorite activities of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (1629–1676). His traditional Russian robe inspired Nicholas II’s costume for the Grand Ball of 1903.

The Tsar's Falconers. K. Lebedev. Illustration from "The Tsar's Hunt in Rus" by N. I. Kutepov.