The story of industrially produced tea sets from Central Asia begins with the Russian porcelain factory Gardner and the Russian colonial power. When Central Asia was still under Russian control and known as colonial Turkestan, Russian businesses such as Gardner used this new market to sell their products. Due to economic changes, such as industrialisation and increased competition, they were under enormous financial pressure. The emerging Central Asian markets came at an opportune moment, and they flooded it with their goods.
The characteristically striking floral décor of Gardner porcelain is present in so many old photographs that it’s easy to imagine just how commonplace it was. The founder of the company, Francis Gardner, was an Englishman who in the mid-18th century built his empire by copying Meissen porcelain. He accepted the invitation to come to Russia from Peter the Great, who at that time was offering generous incentives to craftsmen and manufactories willing to settle in the country. In 1767, he acquired a porcelain factory in Verbilki, a suburb of Moscow. His first manager came from Saxony, which would explain why he chose to copy Meissen prototypes. A large order placed by Catherine the Great launched the company on the road to success. Having created his own designs, Gardner’s products did eventually enjoy the same level of recognition and desirability as Meissen porcelain, which naturally made it more expensive. Towards the middle of the 19th century the company started to have economic difficulties, which it tried to counter by trying to establish itself on the new colonial markets in Central Asia. Gardner tableware from this period can be identified by the Arabic characters next to the Gardner stamp on the reverse of these items. The vendors in Bukhara like to tell tourists that all items marked this way were presents given to the Emir of Bukhara by the Russians. This is utter nonsense of course, but charming nonsense nonetheless.
Teapots came a long way from Russia and were therefore preferably displayed in wall recesses, where they could be seen and admired by everyone, the only form of domestic decoration in the absence of furniture. A lot of repaired old Gardner porcelain is still around today, as the prohibitive cost of acquiring it saved it from being thrown away.
In 1892 the Gardner factory was sold to the Russian businessman M.C. Kuznetsov, who specialised in producing for the masses. Floral cups and teapots continued to be made, but were of much cruder quality. They tended to be heavier and more opaque and the ornamentation was less refined. The dawn of the Soviet era in the 1920s saw this kind of tableware vanish from everyday life. Central Asia started to produce its own tableware in porcelain factories that were organised in kolkhozhes. During the 1960s, based on the textile heritage of the region, they started to apply ikat patterns manually with the aid of templates for simple porcelain goods. During this period, Uzbekistan’s farming industry was turned into a cotton wool monoculture by the Soviets, and thus the cotton bale motif became especially popular. It was reproduced in countless variations, bales shaped like clouds, bales with tree trunks, bales abstracted into arabesque clouds. This tableware, which was no longer produced once the Soviet Union collapsed and Uzbekistan became independent, has almost completely disappeared from everyday culture. By contrast, the ornamentation and glossy, blue-gold colour scheme used today has a very baroque-oriental feel about it.Read more about Uzbekistan. Pictures from top to bottom: 1. The picture with the title „The oriental coffee house” from Aleksei Isupov you can find at the Igor Savitsky Museum in Nukus, Uzbekistan. It´s a must for every traveller who falled in love with the country like the russian Igor Savitsky did. It´s orginated between 1914-21 und even here you can the the classic gardner flower pots.
2. and 3. A tipical garder bowl with flower decor. On the underside the garder mark. The ariental letters show, that this bowl was made for the export for the central asian market. 4. The every day pottery today is with much more bling bling gold. 5. A typical wall rug from a mercant home in Bukhara, to show all the valuable ceramics. Pictures left, from top to bottom: 1. At home drinking tea. Very modern with electric kettle. And charis with high table. Maybe this is the reason for the titel: „A new life.“ Max Penson, Uzbekistan, around 1940. 2. Chaikana in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Sergei Mikailovich Prokudin-Gorskii, between 1905-1915. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA 3. Tea pot seller at the bazaar in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. 1871-72. You can see a lot of gardner tea pots with flower decor. Today a real big wealth. From the Turkestan Album. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA
4. and 5. The is a bowl from Kusnetsov, the successor of gardner.