The tradition gave rise to the Russian word khlebosolny (bready-salty) to express hospitality and the greeting Khleb da sol (bread and salt) that expresses good wishes to the host and their household.
With the visit of the tsar, it became commonplace for the humble foodstuffs to be offered on a specially carved presentation platter.
These bread dishes were displayed in the Winter Palace and the Kremlin, with more than 70 kept in the Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo.
Most of these were dispersed – typically sold to Western dealers in return for hard currency – during the Soviet era and occasionally appear for sale in the US and the UK.
The example pictured here is competently carved with the imperial double-headed eagle and set with silver gilt folkloric roundels and the enamelled coat of arms of the city of Tula on the banks of the Upa river.
The inscription references the presentation of bread and salt to Nicholas II ‘from the loyal peasants of Tula’ in November 21, 1914. At the time, when Russia was at war with Germany, the tsar was undertaking a royal progress to the regions. Tula, a city synonymous with metalworking, was a centre for munitions and armaments manufacture.
The dish came for sale at Moore Allen & Innocent in Cirencester from a local home with a guide of just £30-50. It had little in the way of provenance but had been owned by the vendor’s late husband for many years.
Remarkably, when offered for sale in April it had failed to sell but on May 10 the reaction was rather different. This time, helped by a range of images, it was spotted by a number of knowledgeable buyers. On the rostrum at the time was saleroom manager Lucy Rowe, who was delighted to conduct the best bidding battle of her career as it sold to an online bidder from eastern Europe for £15,000 (plus 21% buyer’s premium).