To Defender of the Motherland Day: "Military cigarette case of the 19th century"
As a rule, holidays and memorable dates do not appear from nothing. Some of them have a long history. This can be said about the Motherland Defender Day.
The Day of the Order of St. George holders, which was officially celebrated on November 26, 1769 (according to the old style) - from the moment the order was established, can be considered a kind of this holiday “precursor”. The holders of the Order of St. George the Victorious were honored on this day.
At the end of the 19th century, the royal family members presented cigarette cases made of precious metals with precious stones and the emperor's monograms to the Motherland defenders that especially distinguished themselves in battles, as memorable gifts. During the world wars of the 19th - the first half of the 20th centuries, cigarette cases, while retaining their main household function, acquired a new meaning. Award and personalized, designed for officers or for soldiers cigarette cases were made. The collection section “Snuffboxes and Cigarette cases” features several dozen military cigarette cases.
Many cigarette cases from the museum repository are decorated with an anchor, a traditional maritime forces symbol. Such accessories were created for the Imperial fleet officers. For example, one of such cigarette cases, created by C. Faberge firm, most likely belonged to Tsarevich Aleksey Alexandrovich, General Admiral, who headed the Russian maritime department from 1881 to 1905; his monogram, adorned with rubies and diamonds, complements the anchor in the center.
Another cigarette case is decorated with a relief image of two sailors opening a porthole and a flooding valve. The prototype of this image is the monument to the destroyer “Steregushchy” (Guarding), erected in St. Petersburg in 1911. During the Russo-Japanese War, the destroyer “Steregushchy” joined the unequal battle with the enemy and, in order to avoid capture, its crew made a heroic decision - to sink the ship.
During the years of severe hardship during the First World War, when the demand for precious jewelry decreased, many domestic jewelers began to create various items from available materials to support the army and navy. The museum collection features silver and copper cigarette cases by C. Faberge, decorated with the Russian Empire coat of arms, commemorative inscriptions, as well as silver cigarette case by M. Lombardo with the sign of the Russian Red Cross Society. Nicholas II and his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, personally presented such cigarette cases to soldiers at the front, wounded in hospitals and relatives of military personnel in order to raise the defenders’ morale.
Of particular interest are cigarette cases that belonged to lower-ranking officers and soldiers. As a rule, they were actively decorated with miniature jewelry overlays, considering which one can recreate the biography of the cigarette case owner in detail. It was in the 1910-1940s that a large number of self-made and "modified" cigarette cases appeared. Each such item was created individually - it carried memorable information on the lid, which, unfortunately, is not always possible to “read” in the 21st century. Many cigarette cases in the museum collection are decorated with monograms of their owners, their friends and colleagues, various dates and dedicatory inscriptions associated with anniversaries, weddings, success in service and other personal events. Some overlays reproduce orders, insignia and military uniforms’ elements, coats of arms of cities and banners of different countries, reveal the history of the owner's activity, and others - the images of sports equipment, musical instruments, playing cards - the owners' hobbies. However, those overlays that could bring "good luck" to their owner were much more popular - ancient coins, images of horseshoes, bullets, amulets, elephants, horses, cats and other animals. The soldiers believed that these images would bring them good luck and avoid injury and death in battles.
Similar military cigarette cases can be regarded as examples of Russian jewelry art of the Nicholas II era, as well as unique historical documents. Perhaps they are the only items that preserve the names and memory of many ordinary soldiers who fought in the battles of the Russian-Japanese, World War I and other wars of the early 20th century. Thanks to dedicatory inscriptions, monograms and jewelry overlays, the warriors that owned cigarette cases appear as not only heroes of the distant past, but also as living people with vivid character, their own history, hobbies and friends.
Fairy tales and reality in Russian and Soviet cigarette cases. S.V. Kryukov, M.V. Kryukova, I.S. Nasonova, M.S. Nasonov. 2014, LLC Publishing House “Among Collectors”