The "Russian Table"

RussTable.jpg (26K)

This little table is made of rosewood in a style that can be definitely identified as English, William IV, which dates it to the 1830's. The hinged top contains a grid of polished stones; opening the lid reveals a set of labels hand-written in an old-fashioned Cyrillic script. The labels show the names of the stones and the approximate locations in which they were found, all on the eastern side of the Ural mountains. There is also some sort of catalogue number, which makes it seem that the stones were originally part of a larger collection. The puzzle is to explain how stones from a Russian collection came to be displayed in a piece of furniture made in England.

The table originally belonged to A. B. Granville, a successful doctor who practiced in London 1840-70. He had some Russian patients and even spent several months in St. Petersburg in 1827 as family physician in the service of Count Woronzov. (At the time Britain and Russia enjoyed very close relations, having recently been allies in the wars against Napoleon.) It could easily be that the table was a souvenir of this visit. Maybe the stones were brought back to London, complete with labels, and then used to make the table. Alternatively, the stones could have been mounted in a display panel in Russia and this panel subsequently used as a table top with the base made to fit, in London. This idea is supported by the fact that on many of the labels can be seen ruled pencil margins, matching the wooden frame holding the stones. This would be expected if the labels were intended to be seen in the frame, which has to cover up the edges. The pencil lines would be ruled on the blank labels to show the part which would still be visible in the frame. (Of course, lines could have been drawn in later but then they would all be exactly parallel to the wood and at the same distance, which is not the case.)

The picture shows the arrangement of the stones in the table top and the names on the labels are translated below.

RusTableTop.jpg (31K)
Porphyry Jasper Jasper Jasper Hornstone Jasper Mountain Flint Jasper
Jasper Porphyry Flint Jasper Flint Jasper Jasper Jasper
Porphyry Agate Granite Jasper Jasper Jasper Jasper Porphyry
Jasper Jasper Jasper Hornstone Spar Porphyry Porphyry Jasper
Hornstone Granite Jasper Chalcedony Jasper Flint Quartz Agate
Jasper no label Jasper Jasper Jasper Jasper Porphyry Jasper

Of these, Agate, Chalcedony, Flint, Hornstone and Jasper are closely related minerals, all being microcrystalline quartz with small proportions of other materials which give the characteristic colours. Being microcrystalline they are porous and so capable of taking up water-soluble dyes, though all these specimens have their natural colours. Chalcedony is faintly bluish; Jasper, with the highest proportion of other materials, often red. Banded structures are formed by periodic crystallization.

Quartz has large crystals; in this specimen they are clear and uncoloured. The specimen looks white in the picture because of the reflections from internal interfaces between the crystals. "Spar" is a general term for any mineral which shows easy cleavage (splitting along crystalline planes); the internal fractures reflect light and so again this specimen looks white in the photograph.

Granite is quite different - an igneous rock in which on cooling crystals of mica and quartz have separated out from the feldspar matrix. The name "porphyry" derives from the Greek word for purple and was originally applied to a type of igneous rock found in Egypt, though the name is no longer used by geologists.

It is curious that there is no sample of malachite, the green copper ore which was highly valued for decorative stonework and which mainly came from the Urals. (Indeed, one of the locations is described as near a copper mine.) Possibly these specimens were part of a larger collection.

My thanks go to Paul Pollak for his enthusiastic help translating the labels. This example is fairly typical.

RusTabB4.jpg (25K) Яшма. Оренбургскй губернїи отъ крљпости уклы каргайской въ 10т вестуах отъ озера уклы въ 3иъ верст Jasper. Of Orenburg province, 10 verst from the Ukli Kargaiska fortress, 3 verst from lake Ukla.
Note the use of the characters ї and љ, dropped from the Russian alphabet after the revolution. (All distances are given in verst, roughly one kilometre.)

The locations described run from Orsk up the eastern edge of the Ural mountains to Yekaterinburg (Sverdlovsk) and on to Verkhotur'ye. Orenburg province was on the frontier of the Russian empire (hence the many fortresses) and there would have been few roads and no railways. The map below shows the locations that I have been able to identify. The order follows the "catalogue" numbering, which clearly starts with rocks from the most southerly locations and works northwards.

The map below covers a large area, about 400 by 600 miles, enough to show the whole of the United Kingdom. It does not seem likely that the stones were collected during a single expedition; more likely they were part of a collection.

RussiaMap3.gif (108K)

Orenburg province:

Perm province, Ekaterinburg district:

Perm province, Verkhotursk district: