International Exposition of Paris 1867

Agriculture, Industry and Fine Arts

April 1, 1867 - November 3, 1867


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Russia - Walk

Russia - Walk at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1867

A walk in Russia? It will no doubt be said that I do not like to limit myself and that I will be very comfortable in a territory of twenty million square kilometres, bounded to the north by America, to the east by Asia, and almost touching Africa by the southern provinces, but I hasten to say that we are not talking here about the great Russia, where the smallest walks of a tourist can be called great journeys, very great journeys.

The Russia which I propose to visit at the moment, from north to south, from east to west, occupies a smaller territory, which can be visited in detail in half an hour without fatigue.

This Russia extends over only a thousand square metres, and if it is very naturally limited on one side by Sweden, on the other it touches Italy, which cannot be such a natural border. So you can see that we are not talking here about the great Russia which, however great it may be, will never, it is to be hoped, absorb the whole of Austria and extend as far as Italy.

It is right to say so; extremes touch each other, and it is precisely by virtue of this axiom that the frontiers of Italy touch the frontiers of the Russia of which I speak, and which, as you will understand, is that of the Champ de Mare, the Russia of the Universal Exhibition.

The extremes! See them in presence in this long nave. On one side a rich portico in the Florentine style, with fluted columns, finely carved composite capitals, brilliant arabesques, white marble statues whose nakedness shines under the sun's rays; on the other side, attached furs which seem to mock the marble and whose mere appearance gives one the shivers! And simple, primitive, artless galleries, imitations of the izba, the cold and poor dwelling of the Russian peasant. These are the extremes!

But thank God Russia does not give us local sounds and does not produce any kind of national music,
like many cafés under the marquee. The harshness of this country may well be displayed before our eyes, impregnating our sense of smell not without attraction; but we would be sorry if it were translated to our ears.

This ruggedness of Russia seizes the walker at the Universal Exhibition. In the large furs, with their long hair; in the caps of skins which are pulled down over the ears, in those big leather boots which brave the snow and the ice; in those thick carpets which cover the walls; in those shining copper kettles; in those piled up irons, the harshness of the climate and the harshness of the customs are imprinted.

Draw a parallel between the products of warm Italy and those of this frozen land. There, luxury and artistic fantasies predominate. Here we see only the objects indispensable to life, the products of necessity; there the raw materials are shaped, chiselled, melted, rendered unrecognisable by the work of the artist; here the raw materials are barely deformed, barely manufactured and roughened.

This, if I am not mistaken, is the character of the Russian exhibition and the impression it leaves on the mind after visiting it in detail.

Let us add that this is what recommends it to the examination of all men who do not peruse the exhibition with a distracted eye, but who seek to penetrate the spirit of a people, to measure the level of a civilisation, by a careful study of its products.

No one is unaware that Russia gathers within its limits the most fertile country of Europe and the most uncultivated regions. Thus, while in the Astrakhan and Arkhangel districts the wasteland occupies 94 per cent of the total area, in the districts bordering on the Don, the fertility of the soil is such that in many places no fertiliser is ever used and the harvest nevertheless yields 15, 20 and even more. If cultivated with care, this region could feed the whole of Europe, and in years of poor harvests it exports to the various western countries all the wheat they lack for consumption.

But in the middle provinces of Russia, the cultivation of cereals is of little importance. Fishing, hunting, forestry, cattle, and bees are the only branches of income, and give to the production of the country a very special character which shows itself to the eyes of all those who visit the Russian section of the World's Fair.

In the showcases of this section, we find numerous fishery products.

And, for example, those of the Elizavetinskaia-Stanitza fisheries company, the land of the Don Cossacks. This fishery, as well as many others in Russia, is a vast enterprise regularly organised in the manner of large factories. As soon as the imperial government has established a certain stretch of coast as a fishery, it rents this stretch to one or more entrepreneurs who build at their own expense the houses necessary for housing the workers, for salting and drying the fish, for making caviar, fish glue, etc. The fishermen are paid by the day, and each slightly important fishery occupies two or three hundred. As we can see, fishing is elevated among the Russians to the rank of an industry, and we must add that it produces no less than 80 million per year.

Hunting, although its income decreases from year to year, produces almost as much as fishing. Apart from the food it gives to the people of the region, it provides costumes for the inhabitants; it supplies an important branch of export and serves as the basis for some small industries. In the northern governments the great fur hunts take place. In Siberia especially, these hunts reach considerable proportions. Some tribes in this country pay taxes in furs. This tax in kind constitutes a private income of His Majesty the Emperor of all the Russias, who takes the finest products; consequently the finest furs do not appear in the trade.

One does not examine without a lively curiosity these remains of ferocious, wild or singular animals, which cover the walls of the Russian section. Thus in the showcase of the Helsingfors committee, we see a picturesque jumble of lynx, wolf, fox, isatis, wolverine, marten, ermine, otter, squirrel, white hare, elk, reindeer and beaver furs... Further on, in the showcases of Mr. Michel Sidoroff from Krasnoyarsk (Siberia), we see polar bear skins from the new Zemble, quilts, swans, foxes from Petchora; in those of Mr. Tezek Sultan Kirghiz from the district of Alator, in Omsk (Siberia), we find tiger, panther and deer skins from Siberia. The ladies especially stop with the greatest pleasure in front of the shop window of Mr. Claude Reschko of Orenburg, which contains a magnificent swanskin mantilla, priced at 50 roubles (200 francs), a trifle, as you can see, and yet the most delicious of mantillas, but of such dazzling whiteness that it would not be suitable, in spite of its title, for the dark complexion of the Andalusian senoras. Next to this graceful fur, one can still admire the products of the Belkine house, founded in Moscow only three years ago; but these magnificent garments, which are the joy of the ladies, are the terror of the husbands. Indeed, a black fox fur coat, made by M. Belkine, is priced at 500 roubles (2000 francs); a pèlerine, with sable muffs, 4000 francs.

The breeding of livestock also forms a part of the income of the Russian people. Goats provide milk, cheese and cloth made from their hair. Various samples of them are shown at the Exhibition. The domestic reindeer provide horn and skins; the calves, leather for shoes; the pigs, horsehair and hair. This last production, highly valued, is exported to Europe and brings in about 16 million each year. The international jury awarded Mr. Mamantof Brothers in Moscow a gold medal for the pig silks and hair they exhibited. Cattle provide tallow, soaps, and this branch of reproduction gives an income of about one hundred million francs each year.

The tallow industry is very widespread, employing about seven thousand workers in 700 factories; the governments of the south and south-east have the largest number of foundries. It is well known that in Russia tallow is used in some provinces for the preparation of food; it is therefore consumed to a considerable extent, and all that the country can produce is barely sufficient for the needs of its population.

The education of bees is also very widespread in the empire.

If tallow is a useful food for the poorer classes, bees are a precious resource for the workers and peasants. The orthodox religion, which is scrupulously observed, prescribes a lean diet in many circumstances, and sugar is very expensive in Russia; the lower classes replace it with honey, which also serves as food on days of abstinence.

The bee also provides wax, of which the Orthodox churches and the wealthy classes use prodigious quantities. The Russian factories work the candles with great care and art. One can see some very fine specimens exhibited by M. Matchikhim, of St. Petersburg; they are very thin, very pure, very diaphanous products. His gilded and delicately festooned church candles are particularly noteworthy, as are his beautiful and artfully worked wedding candles, covered with arabesques and ornaments. The products of Mr. Moschnin, from Pokrov, Moscow government, also seemed to us to deserve the attention of connoisseurs. As everyone knows, Russian leather is very famous and is used as a material for many industries. Not only are shoes and clothes made from these leathers, but also trunks, armchairs, travel kits, cases, wallets, cigar holders, bags, etc. But we will come back to this remarkable branch of Moscow industry in another article.

The manufacture of cloth in Russia is very important. It is sufficient for domestic consumption, and for some years now it has been exported to certain neighbouring countries, and, for example, to China. Several companies in St. Petersburg and Moscow manufacture especially for the Celestial Empire. Let us mention that of Mr. Bakine, in Moscow, which employs no less than 1,800 workers, and produces thirty thousand pieces a year, that is to say, for a value of about 10 million. In general, the cloths manufactured in Russia appear solid, but not very bright, and their prices are not relatively high. The average price can be estimated at 10 or 11 francs per metre. For some years now, Russian industry has been manufacturing fine sheets with some success. Elbeuf and English drapery are well imitated. The international jury has rewarded these efforts by awarding numerous silver and bronze medals to Russian manufacturers.

Let us also mention forestry products. They form very important branches of income. Pine, fir, larch, birch, and even cedar are the most widespread species. The annual income of the forestry industry is estimated at 600 million. The exported part of this wood is used mainly for shipbuilding. Panels and car bodies are still made in Russia for export, but most of the wood is consumed or used domestically.

It is easy to imagine the prodigious quantity of wood needed for heating in Russia, where coal mines are very scarce. In this country, where the winter is so long and so harsh, the peasant never puts out the fire in his hearth; he is even obliged to keep up an intense flame in order to warm his poor hut, and to be able to do his manual work there.

Construction also requires a great deal of wood, since most Russian houses are made of planks, and these houses hardly last; if, indeed, one is to believe the statistics, fire consumes 60,000 houses annually, either in the cities or in the countryside.

Let us say, in concluding this review of the principal productions of Russia, that the trees still furnish various gums, various juices such as resin, tar, potash, turpentine, of which very numerous samples can be seen in the showcases of the forestry school of the government of Vologda, in those of the governments of Linino, Arkangel, and among the products of various individuals.

In this review we have not given all the details on fishing and hunting in Russia that are contained in these two very important branches of production. They deserve to be treated separately, and they will be developed shortly by Mr. H. de la Blanchère, whose competence in these matters is well known.

We know how important the manufacture of leather is in this country; it brings in no less than 450 million per year, a figure that says more than any kind of commentary; let us add that it employs about thirteen thousand workers in two thousand five hundred establishments.
The largest of these establishments are in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kaluga, Tver, Kasan, that is to say, in the north-western governments; there are also a great many in Siberia.

Entire towns live solely on the leather industry, for example, Tyumen in the Tobolsk government (Siberia). Tyumen has more than a hundred tanneries that together produce 4 million per year. In some districts, the production of youfte, a highly renowned waterproof leather, is the main activity. And in almost all the tanneries of the north maroquins, reindeer skins, chamois skins, patent leathers, etc. are prepared. Finally, in all the tanneries a very large number of sheep skins with adherent fleece are prepared; these skins are sold at low prices and are used as pelisses by the common people during the winter.

It can be seen from the Russian exhibition how useful skins and hides can be in the northern parts of that country, where the winter is so long and severe. There are caps made of sheepskin, astrakhan, goat skin; pelisses, trousers made of skins, shoes, boots made of furred leather, furred gloves; leather or skins thus provide in winter all the parts of the Russian costume from head to foot.

In the windows of the exhibitors we see a very large number of shoes of all shapes and sizes, of all values too, from the boyar's boot to that of the most humble craftsman. The former are generally quoted from 80 to 150 francs a pair, the latter sell for 14 or 15 francs; between these two specimens we find all variations in price, just as we see all variations in form. In this case, the boots are lined or not lined, varnished or not, with green, red or yellow shafts; hunting boots, horse boots, walking boots. The shoe itself is shown under all skins, under all appearances, and becomes in turn aristocratic, bourgeois or popular. I saw in a shop window a pair of cute babouches sewn and stitched with gold thread and embellished with sequins; it was oriental and worthy of putting on the charming foot of a beloved, and right next to it was spread out without any manner of speaking a pair of large laptis, a shoe made of lime bark and intended no doubt for the wife of some poor fisherman.

Leather is not only used for shoes, it is also used extensively in many industries, we see leathers used in large quantities by the bodywork and saddlery industries. The numerous articles of saddlery exhibited by the Russians prove that they possess very skilful workmen, and that the work is worthy of the excellence of the raw materials placed by nature at their disposal.

Leather is still used extensively in the manufacture of trunks and travel kits; Mr. Guillaume Nissen, of St. Petersburg, has placed before our eyes a certain number of objects from his factories. These objects are certainly worthy of the award that the jury has given to Guillaume Nissen. His beautiful kits, travel bags, and cases are made with the greatest care, and the red leathers used in their manufacture are of superior quality.

These red leathers, known as Russian leathers, are still used to make bindings, sticks, cigar holders, boxes, glove boxes, purses; for some years they have been very popular in France, but they are not made by us or by the Russians, they come almost all from Austria.

It was from Russia, however, that these types of leather first came to us, differing from the others only in their preparation.

This preparation, which you might be interested to know, consists of the following: the hides are macerated for forty-eight hours in a bath of one kilogram of rye flour for every ten hides, the flour is fermented with leaven, and the whole is mixed with a sufficient quantity of water. The skins are transferred to water vats where they are left to drain, then washed in the river. They are then immersed and worked twice a day for fifteen consecutive days in a decoction of willow bark; finally they are impregnated on the flesh side with oil from the distillation of birch bark; the leather thus obtained is coloured red and highly sought after because it does not mould in the damp and is never attacked by insects, which its strong odour even keeps away from its vicinity.

Let us now examine the products of Russian mines. In the immense territory of the empire one finds almost all the known metals, we will speak here only of the principal ones. - Gold is found on the eastern side of the Ural Mountains and in some southern districts. Production averages 70 million per year. At the Exhibition there are some samples from the gold mines of Miask (Orenburg). These mines produce about 1,800 pounds of gold, and are worked by eight hundred workers.

The platinum yields hardly 2000 pounds a year. In the past the Russian government minted some coins in platinum and the production was much higher, but since the St. Petersburg mint no longer uses this metal, several mines have been completely abandoned.

The silver mines are all owned by the Russian emperor, and it is not known how much silver ore can be mined.
Copper has long been exploited in the mines of the empire, and for many centuries various industries based on these metals have produced remarkable products; suffice it to mention as proof the famous bell of Moscow, which now stands in one of the great squares of the city as a monument, and which has suffered many misfortunes. This bell was cast around 1200; already around 1340, John Danielovich, having arrogated to himself the power over the city of Tver, had this enormous bell sent to Moscow, the capital of his principality, the largest that was ever cast, and which, precipitated in 1813 from the top of a tower, was able to resist this fall, as well as the terrible fire that devoured the city.

The production of copper in Russia reaches the figure of 10 million per year, and eleven thousand workers are occupied in extracting it from the mines. Zinc produces little. Lead produces a little more, but not enough to meet domestic needs.

Iron is, in fact, the Russian metal par excellence; it is the one of all metals which is found in the greatest quantities; however, it cannot suffice for the needs of 80 million inhabitants, and Russia must ask Sweden for the irons which it lacks. Russian irons are excellent and suitable for all purposes, but they are very expensive and therefore inaccessible to the masses of the people. The main causes of the high cost of iron are: the concentration of mines at the extremities of the empire, at a great distance from the main centres of consumption, and the absence of mineral fuel in good conditions of exploitation. Most Russian iron is in fact worked with charcoal, which is used almost exclusively by forges.

In spite of these disadvantages, there are a great many factories in the empire where irons are worked. Almost every government has iron mines and important workshops.

Let us quote, in the first line, the Polish mining department, at Warsaw, which exhibits ores of excellent value, and irons of very good quality; these irons, worked by 5,000 workers, produce about 5 million per year; the factory of SI. Benardaki factory supplies a large quantity of refined irons. Let us mention especially the factory of Prince Paul Demidoff. The millions of this prince are very well known in France, but the factories which bring them to him by their good dispositions are much less famous.

These factories, located in the Perm government, work iron, copper, gold and platinum. Mr. Paul Demidoff's exhibition consists of 182 lots, including iron and copper in all grades, from raw ore to cemented, hammered steel. One of these lots stands out among all, it attracts the envious glances of all visitors, and is worth a whole fortune in itself. It is a precious stone displayed bare, without any mistrust, because, if it tempts all eyes, it could not tempt many forces. This gemstone is, in fact, a block of malachite of the respectable weight of 2130 kilos. This block was discovered in 1840, in the Medno-Roudiansk copper mine, belonging to the Demidoff family.

The Taguil factories belonging to this princely family, one of the most powerful in Russia, were founded in 1725, on a property of 65,000 ares, situated on both sides of the Urals, and employ 54,000 workers of both sexes. In this immense property, there are 24 copper mines all explored; a mountain, a huge heap of magnetic iron; 107 gold deposits and 20 platinum deposits. The manufacturing equipment consists of 24 copper furnaces, 7 blast furnaces, 38 comtois fires, 37 pudding furnaces, 32 soldering furnaces.
Finally, let us mention the products of the Petrozavodsk factory, a military arsenal where enormous machines are manufactured and which has melted an iron obelisk in one piece, as large as the one on the Place de la Concorde in Paris. This obelisk is erected in the city of Petrozavodsk itself.

And now let us sum up in a few words this walk through the productions of Russia, and say what is the impression left by it in our minds.

The Russian exhibition is that of a nation full of strength and astonishing vitality, but devoted much more to the industries of primary necessity than to the luxury industries. Such a state of things is not merely the result of the inclemency of the sky in the greater part of this empire, but a consequence of the morals and nature of the government. We believe that Russia can and must rapidly develop her productive forces, not to pour them on Europe, which does not need them, but to pour them on the Asiatic continent and to initiate these countries into modern progress. If Russia were to direct all her forces towards this goal, she would soon become the link between East and West, instead of separating them like an impassable obstacle.

©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée