Saturday, October 16, 2004

Imperial Faberge Eggs

I was surfing on the net for no other reason than I was quite bored. For some reason I looked up the French crown jewels and quickly migrated to the British crown jewels. After glancing through pages of garish jewelry and humongous rocks, I decided to look up the Russian crown jewels just for the heck of it.

Of course, in my ignorance I assumed that during the Russian Revolution that all or most of the crown jewels had been stolen and melted down or destroyed. Of course I was wrong and one of the things I stumbled across was the Imperial Faberge eggs created by Carl Faberge.

Let's just set the stage first before I go into my mad rush to find out about these great pieces. Easter was a very important time in Russia because of the Orthodox faith and from what I can find Faberge approached Emperor Aleksandr III in 1884 and told him that next Easter he would make a gift for the Empress Maria. All he would say that it was going to be an egg with a surprise in it.

The result was an ordinary looking hen's egg that became the first of the Imperial Faberge eggs. Inside was a golden yolk. Inside the golden yolk was a golden hen and inside the hen was a miniature of the royal crown and a ruby egg, both of which have been lost.

The Tsar was so pleased with the gift that he gave Faberge an order to produce an egg every Easter for the Empress provided that each was an original and contained some sort of surprise. During Aleksandr's life only one egg was made per year but when his son Nikolas II ascended the throne two eggs were to be made each year. One was for his wife Empress Aleksandra Feodorovna and one for his mother the Dowager Empress.

During the Russian Revolution the Russian crown jewels, Faberge eggs and other important Imperial Treasures were packed away in crates at the Kremlin Armoury. Some of the eggs of course disappeared during the looting of the palaces and one egg the Order of St. George which Nikolas' mother took with her when she fled to France.

Most of the treasures stayed packed away and forgotten until 1927. They were rediscovered and the Bolshevik government decided to sell them. The curators at the Kremlin Armoury tried to hide the most valuable pieces, risking certain death by defying the government. From 1930-33, fourteen of the eggs were sold and brought to places like London and Paris.

One man, an American physician by the name of Armand Hammer would have a direct influence on where a large collection of the eggs would reside for almost eighty years. He had gone to Russia in 1921 to offer help as a relief worker during the famine. When he saw the treasures of Russia being sold off he bought ten of them and brought them to the US.

He took them on tours of the US, from East to West but of course, this was during the depression and nobody seemed to care. In the US there were five major collectors of the eggs. Matilda Geddings Gray, Lillian Thomas Pratt, Marjorie Merriweather Post, India Early Minshall and Malcolm S. Forbes. Most of the eggs collected now reside in museums while others are spread across the globe owned by different countries and even royalty.

Here's where things start to get fuzzy. There are also conflicting reports about certain eggs.

1) The Hen egg with Sapphire Pendant is supposedly one of the eight missing eggs but I found one site that claimed it was part of the India Early Minshall Collection in Cleveland, Ohio.

2) The Ressurection egg is classified by some as an Imperial egg but there are no records suggesting that it is so it might be one, it might not.

Every website I looked at had different numbers for exactly how many Imperial eggs were created. The numbers range from around 50-58. Apparently 44 have been located and another two are known to have been photographed. Some are still missing and may be sitting in Russia in storage boxes or in someone's private collection. But wherever they are, they deserve to be in Russia.

Personally I don't think that anyone should be keeping these historical treasures from the place of their creation. They belong to the people of Russia and so belong in Russia. Right now 10 of the Faberge eggs reside in the Kremlin Armoury Museum in Moscow, and apparently the last two eggs to be made (Karelian Birch Egg and Constellation Egg) which were not even known to exist a few years ago, are in the Russian National Museum in Moscow.

Forbes Magazine Collection in New York had 9-12 of the eggs but this spring were put up for auction at Sotheby's. They were purchared directly from the Forbes family by Russian businessman Viktor Vekselberg who supposedly paid $90-100 million for all of them. Of course, I was overjoyed by this as that meant more Faberge eggs would be heading home when they belonged. But 13 are still held by Americans, Prince Rainier of Monaco has one, Queen Elizabeth has three, the Swiss have two and four are in private collections.

What is a national treasure worth? If Vekselberg had approached the other owners would they have sold the eggs to him? I think it would have been interesting if he'd tried. Imagine something missing from your country for almost eighty years. It's an important piece of your country's history and it's been split into pieces and spread around the world. Wouldn't you want someone to just return your history? I know that if I was Russian I would want that history back and somehow it wouldn't feel right paying for it.

Quote: "Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken."
~M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hard to feel sorry for a nation that slaughtered their royal family and sold their own national treasure to the highest bidder. Also I believe I'm right in saying that Russia is still in posession of 46,000 items of art stolen during the second world war which it refuses to hand back. Sorry for the sense of perspective. 7 years later and you got a comment, yeah.