Newsletter 2012 Summer

Summer 2012
 
In this edition of the Fabergé Research Newsletter we celebrate and applaud research contributions from readers far and near.
 
Feature Stories: Fabergé Jettons and Commemorative Medals
 
Regular Columns: Auctions | Exhibitions | General News | Museum News | Publications | Searching for Fabergé
 
New Livadia Palace Jettons
by Galina Korneva and Tatiana Cheboksarova
 
New Livadia Palace (Courtesy of the Authors)
New Livadia Palace
(Courtesy of the Authors)
 
Old Livadia Palace from an Early 20th Century Postcard, Construction of the New Palace (Courtesy Liki Rossii)
Old Livadia Palace from an Early 20th Century Postcard, Construction of the New Palace (Courtesy Liki Rossii)

Old Livadia Palace from an Early 20th Century Postcard, Construction of the New Palace
(Courtesy Liki Rossii)

 

Completed in record speed of 17 months, the magnificent Livadia Palace in the Italian Renaissance-style was erected under the direction of architect Nikolai Krasnov (1864-1939), and was consecrated on September, 14, 1911, by order of the Emperor without any solemn ceremony for several days before Their majesties would come to Livadia (RGIA [Russian State Historical Archive] F. 472. Inv. 45. File 24, Page 12).

Events after the consecration:

September 20, 1911 The Imperial family arrived in Livadia.

September 27, 1911  Baron Vladimir Freedericksz, Minister of the Imperial Court, sent a document entitled, Proposals on Awards for Productive Work on Building of the Livadia Palace, to Emperor Nicholas II suggesting different types of rewards – official ranks, State orders, valuable presents recognizing everyone who took part in the project. The Baron proposed three different classes of jettons (gold with enamel, gold, and silver) commemorating the event.

September 30, 1911  Approval by Nicholas II of the jettons and the recommendation to depict the profiles of the Emporer and Alexandra Feodorovna cited in a letter which was sent by Alexander Mosolov, Head of the Chancellery of the Minister of the Imperial Court in St. Petersburg. Mosolov was with the Emperor in Livadia and wrote to his assistant Prince Sergei Gagarin – The Emperor wished, besides all other awards for building the Livadia Palace being given on October 5, to grant jettons to participants in building the Palace … Handwritten note was added by Mosolov on behalf of Nicholas II (RGIA F. 472. Inv. 45. File. 45, p. 76 Opposite).

October 5, 1911 Name day of Tsesarevich Alexis, the celebration and awarding of gifts (except the jettons) took place. Three well-known jewelers, Bolin, Fabergé and Edward Kortman, were invited to take part in a competition. On October 20, 1911, eleven different drawings were submitted. The Emperor chose the drawing #4 suggested by Carl Fabergé. The order was placed for the jettons by Baron Freedericksz with a caveat – the price fixed by Fabergé was too high in his opinion. The first class jettons were priced at 90 rubles, and the other two classes at 65 rubles and 25 rubles, respectively. (The authors’ grandmother told us she lived with her husband and a child for 3 rubles per month before the 1917 Revolution.)

1896 Coronation Medal of Nicholas II (Courtesy Liki Rossii)
1896 Coronation Medal of Nicholas II
(Courtesy Liki Rossii)
Plaster Cast of the Livadia Palace Jetton (Courtesy of Livadia Palace Museum)
Plaster Cast of the Livadia Palace Jetton
(Courtesy of Livadia Palace Museum)
 

From a letter by Fabergé the high price of the jettons is explained based on the request to use the image of the Imperial pair from 1896 coronation medal made by the famous medalist Anton Vasyutinsky (1858-1935), well-known to the Imperial family – … taking into account hard labour-intensiveness of work to reduce the image of Their Imperial Majesties profiles from Vasyutinsky medal, which should be depicted on the obverse of Livadia jetton, this order of high artistic portrait work is a difficult one and also from a point of view of the urgency to finish it quickly. The final number of jettons – eight of the first class, 104 of the second one, and 151 of the third class – was established November 18, 1911, on the basis of lists made by architect N. Krasnov, manager of the Massandra and Livadia estates Vladimir Kachalov, and Prince Victor Kochubey, Chief of the Ministry of the Household of His Majesty the Emperor (RGIA. F. 472. Inv. 45. File. 24, Page 5).

Unfortunately, the authors were not able to find an extant copy of the 263 jettons issued, but found a plaster cast of the jetton (above) on display in the Livadia Palace Museum.

On March 5, 1912, the completed jettons were sent to the Head of the Chancellory of the Minister of the Imperial Court, Alexander Mosolov, with a bill for 9,980 rubles.

Fabergé Bill for 263 Commissioned Jettons (Courtesy of the Authors)
Fabergé Bill for 263 Commissioned Jettons
(Courtesy of the Authors)
Architect Nikolay Krasnov with Jetton in His Upper Buttonhole (Courtesy Livadia Palace Museum)
Architect Nikolay Krasnov with Jetton in His Upper
Buttonhole (Courtesy Livadia Palace Museum)
 

The list of the recipients of all awards found in the RGIA files is important, for it gives historians a list of persons who worked on the building of the Palace and their awards. Thanks to our discovery, the names are known of persons, some of whom emigrated after the 1917 Revolution, and this may lead to finding jettons surviving in families of descendants.

Eight individuals receiving the highest rank of first class jettons and their residences at the time of their death are:

1. Minister of the Imperial Court Count Freedericksz (1838-1927) – died in Grankulla, Finland in 1927 (He was a Count after 1913.)

2. Chief of the Ministry of the Household of His Majesty the Emperor, aide-de-champ-general, Prince Victor Kochubey (1860-1923) – died in Wiesbaden, Germany

3. Assistant of the Chief of the Ministry of the Household of His Majesty the Emperor, Count Mikhail Nirod (1852-1930) – died in Paris, France

4. Assistant of the Chief of the Ministry of the Household of His Majesty the Emperor, Nil Likharev (1856-1913) – died in Russia

5. Chief of the Cabinet of His Majesty Emperor Nicholas II, Major-General Evgeny Volkov (1864-1933) – died in Nice, France

6. Chief Manager of Livadia and Massandra Estates Vladimir, Kachalov (1864-1942) – died in St. Petersburg, Russia

7. Chief of the Palace in Livadia Major-General, Pyetr Yanov (1853-1921) – died in the Crimea

8. Architect Nikolay Krasnov (1864-1939) – died in Belgrade, Serbia

Newsletter readers with additional information are encouraged to contact the editors.

 
Imperial Yacht Standart Jetton
by Christel McCanless
 

Korneva and Cheboksarova, authors of the essay “Fabergé Jetton Puzzle” (Fabergé Research Newsletter, Winter 10-11) using archival evidence are searching for a jetton made to honor service on the Imperial Yacht Standart (Штандартъ), after she went aground off the Finnish Coast on September 11, 1907. A brief summary of the known facts: The Standart commemorative medal (jetton) described in the Russian State Historical Archive (RGIA Fond 525, op. 2, File 233) was commissioned from Fabergé by Empress Alexandra in September 1907, delivered on October 9, 1907, and was made by Alfred Thielemann, a Fabergé workmaster from 1880-1910, and after that time his son, Rudolf Thielemann, continued the business. Frida Palackén (Fabergé Research Newsletter, Fall 2011) related a personal story of a jetton (not by Fabergé) awarded after the rescue of the Impeiral yacht.

The Standart, the most luxurious yacht of the time was built by order of Emperor Alexander III of Russia, and constructed by the Danish shipyard of Burmeister & Wain in Copenhagen, beginning in 1893. The vessel, 420 feet in length, was launched on March 21, 1895, and came into service early September 1896. Boinovich, A. and Yu. Sibirtsev in Istoria Russkogo Flota v Znakakh I Zhetonakh (History of Russian Fleet in Tokens and Badges), 2009, p. 66, describe special jettons for service on the Standart: (1) Approved in 1906 for 10 years of service with an X and the dates 1896-1906 on the verso, and (2) Approved in 1911 for 5 years of service with the dates of service on its verso, for example, 1907-1912, or any other 5-year time period.

A gold jetton with an enameled Imperial eagle fitting the description for (2) and the Putyatin’s drawing from Korneva and Cheboksarova (below left) plus an engraving on the medal sold at auction (Sotheby London, June 7, 2007, Lot 541 with an error in the workmaster attribution – “Alexander Thielman”) brings to light more historical information. Alexander Tillander, an independent retail jeweler with a workshop, and Alfred Thielemann, a workmaster in the House of Fabergé, both used the AT mark on the jettons they made.

Double-headed Eagle Jetton Sketch Based on Putyatin's Drawing (Courtesy Korneva and Cheboksarova)
Double-headed Eagle Jetton Sketch
Based on Putyatin’s Drawing
(Courtesy Korneva and Cheboksarova)
Standart Jetton (Courtesy McFerrin Collection © C&M Photographers)
Standart Jetton
(Courtesy McFerrin Collection
© C&M Photographers)
 

A recent examination of a jetton (above right) on view at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California, verified an AT mark. Since is it known a similar jetton was ordered from Fabergé, one might conclude – as yet not completely verified – the jetton now in the McFerrin Collection is from the Alfred Thielemann’s workshop.

Biographical information discovered about the jetton recipient is based on the Cyrillic engraving, Captain / S.R. Nevyarovsky / 1907-1912, on the verso of the 1½ in. (3.5 cm) jetton. Stanislaw R. Nevyarovsky (1879-1934, Paris), mechanical engineer, Catholic, married, speaks French, English, and German, in naval service since 1898, and received a gold medal for five years of service on the Imperial yacht Standart in 1912, also in the same year he received the commemorative medal to mark the 100th anniversary of the War of 1812, Captain – 2nd rank in 1913 …

Another source states: In 1917, he did not return from a trip to England. In exile, he lived in France. Since 1924, member of the Company’s former students of the Naval Engineering School in Paris. The Secretary of the Union Guards officers. The author of an essay, ‘Death Svetlana [a ship]’ published in the book, From the Fleet of Admiral Rozhdestvensky, Prague, 1930.

Greg King in his book, The Court of the Last Tsar (p. 280), writes, “the yacht had a permanent assignment of seventeen officers, led first by Captain Neverovsky (sic) who, on his retirement in 1912, was replaced … “

Imperial Family at a Picnic in 1910 with Captain Nevyarovsky (Courtesy Alexander Palace Time Machine Discussion Forum)
Imperial Family at a Picnic in 1910 with Captain Nevyarovsky
(Courtesy Alexander Palace Time Machine Discussion Forum)
 

So can one assume the jetton in the McFerrin Collection survived because some time after his retirement from the Standart Captain Nevyarovsky fled to Paris, and carried his award with him? We do know he contributed an essay to a book not related to his service on the Standart, and his extant 5-year service pin is 100 years old this year.

My thanks to contributors – Tim Adams (USA), Tatiana Cheboksarova, Galina Korneva, Valentin Skurlov (all of St. Petersburg, Russia), Annemiek Wintraecken (Netherlands), Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm (Finland), and Joanna Wrangham (Canada).

 
Year of the Pig Medals
by Annemiek Wintraecken and Christel McCanless
 
Beginning in 1782 with the accession of King Rama I to the throne, the Siamese solar calendar year began with the fifth lunar month (May) and ended in April (the fourth month the next year). This dating of time during the Rattanakosin Era (RE) was later changed under King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, 1853-1910), and again under King Vajiravudh (Rama VI, 1881-1925). Queen Saovabha, wife of King Chulalongkorn and mother of King Vajiravudh, was born on January 1st during the solar year 1863-1864. According to the 12-year zodiac calendar used in Siam and other Buddhist countries, January 1, 1864 (BE 2406), was in the Year of the Pig (Pi Kun). King Vajiravudh selected the pig/boar, his mother’s zodiac symbol, to honor her during her 50th year of life in 1913-14. A cast-iron Boar Monument, officially named ‘Saha Chat’ (born in the same year), still stands proudly today as a shrine and tourist attraction on the bank of the Lot Canal in Bangkok.
 
Bangkok Saha Chat Monument (Courtesy Qi-unity Report)
Bangkok Saha Chat Monument
(Courtesy Qi-unity Report)
 

Based on the recollections of Fabergé’s designer Franiois Birbaum, 1913 has been assumed to be the Year of the Pig, however, the closest Pi Kun to the Queen’s birthday anniversary is 1911. Henry C. Bainbridge in his 1949 book, Peter Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith and Jeweller to the Russian Imperial Court and the Principal Crowned Heads of Europe, states ‘large numbers of medals’ with the pig were made by Fabergé. In 1913, Siam had a population of slightly more than 12 million, and persons eligible for commemorative medallions in descending order were the royal family, princes and princesses, government officials, and high ranking military officials.

With the generous assistance of art collector and connoisseur Douglas A. Latchford, a resident of Bangkok, three types of commissioned medallions have been identified with a 1913 date. Silver medallions with one enameled pig were presented to persons of a lower position, gold ones with one pig to a more elevated position than the previous category, and gold ones with two pigs also required the recipient to have been born in a Year of the Pig.

Silver, One Pig with Leather Strap (Courtesy Douglas Latchford)
Silver, One Pig with
Leather Strap
(Courtesy Douglas
Latchford)
Gold, One Pig, Gold Brooch Bar (Courtesy Spink)
Gold, One Pig, Gold Brooch Bar
(Courtesy Spink)
Gold, Two Pigs, Born in Pi Kun (Illus. in Snowman, Carl Fabergé, 1979, 124; Colored Photographs Courtesy of the Collector)
Gold, Two Pigs, Born in Pi Kun (Illus. in Snowman, Carl Fabergé, 1979, 124; Colored Photographs Courtesy of the Collector)

Gold, Two Pigs, Born in Pi Kun
(Illus. in Snowman, Carl Fabergé, 1979, 124;
Colored Photographs Courtesy of the Collector)

 
The text on the horizontal bar across the leather and gold straps, and brooch bar, identifies the year BE 2456 (which is 1913). The inscription on the front of each medal reads Year of the Pig, BE ’56, 50th Anniversary Commemorative Gift, on the reverse is shown a Maha Chakri (emblem of the House of Chakri) surrounded by a two line inscription, Please remember the Image of the Pig which signifies Saovabha, the True Friend whose heart is always filled with hope for you. The brooch bar sold for $24,000. (Spink in association with Christie’s, Singapore. Coins, Medals, and Banknote, June 22, 1996, lot 188.)
 
Medallion Converted to an Amulet (Courtesy Douglas Latchford)
Medallion Converted to an Amulet (Courtesy Douglas Latchford)

Medallion Converted to an Amulet
(Courtesy Douglas Latchford)

 
Auctions
 
Objects in the spring sales on the market for the first time:
 
Lapis Lazuli and Gold Box by Henrik Wigström (Courtesy Webb's Auctions, June 20, 2012)
Lapis Lazuli and Gold Box by Henrik Wigström
(Courtesy Webb’s Auctions, June 20, 2012)
Ceramic Kovsh with Fabergé Mounts (Courtesy Christie's London, May 28, 2012)
Ceramic Kovsh with Fabergé Mounts
(Courtesy Christie’s London,
May 28, 2012)
 
A set of 48 Autochrome color photograph plates made in 1914 have been returned to the Alexander Palace Museum.
 
Exhibitions
 

July 27 – November 9, 2012  Reggia Palace, Turin, Italy
Fabergé at the Venaria. The Jewellery of the Last Tsars
More than 150 Fabergé objects including 13 Easter eggs from The Link of Times Foundation of Moscow will be on view. The exhibition commemorates the relationship between the courts of the Romanovs and the Savoys of Italy. (Courtesy Alessia Sturli)

Extended till August 19, 2012  Stark Museum in the Memorial Student Center, Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas
The Allure of Fabergé: Selections from the Dorothy & Artie McFerrin Collection

 
General News
 

Fabergé Symposium in Houston (Texas) in 2013
A tradition begun in 2007 when nine Fabergé enthusiasts met in London to attend the Rothschild Egg auction was continued four years later when 55 admirers of Fabergé’s art traveled from Europe, Canada, and the United States to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond for a gathering during the opening events of the Fabergé exhibition. Through the generosity of Artie and Dorothy McFerrin and the Houston Museum of Natural Science the third gathering of enthusiasts will take place January 30 – Feburary 1, 2013, in Houston, Texas.

Carl Fabergé’s 166th birthday was celebrated with a Google Doodle.

Elsebeth Welander-Berggren of Stockholm was recently awarded The King’s Medal (HM Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden) for Important Achievements as a Museum Director. In 1997, she was the exhibition director and editor of Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith to the Tsar (1997) for the Nationalmuseum, and today, she is still active in museum work and an admirer of Fabergé.

Congratulations! Dr. Valentin Skurlov, author and independent Fabergé researcher in St. Petersburg (Russia), successfully defended his dissertation, History and Traditions of Fabergé in the Stone-cutting Art of Russia (End of the 19th and the Beginning of the 21st Century).

The Robb Report, December 2011, p. 172, features a gold and quartz Fabergé snakehead cane handle. Similar handles are illustrated in Carl Fabergé: A Private Collection, p. 139 (2012).

Cane Handles (left, Courtesy A La Vieille Russie and Wartski)
Cane Handles (left, Courtesy A La Vieille Russie and Wartski)
Cane Handles (left, Courtesy A La Vieille Russie and Wartski)

Cane Handles
(left, Courtesy A La Vieille Russie and Wartski)

 
Wartski: The Royal Jeweler, an interview with Geoffrey Munn jeweler and antique dealer, London.
 
Museum News
 

An online guide to assist museum docents features photographs and text from Tatiana Muntian, Fabergé Easter Gifts, first published in 2003. (Courtesy Joanna Wrangham)

Cannot travel but you want to admire Fabergé? Several museums have digitized their Fabergé collections so enthusiasts can enjoy them on their personal computers:

Baden-Baden, Germany  Fabergé Museum
Baltimore, Maryland  The Walters Art Museum
Cleveland, Ohio  Cleveland Museum of Art
London  The Royal Collection (search by workmaster’s last name)
Moscow  “The Link of Times” Foundation
Moscow  Moscow Kremlin
St. Petersburg, Russia  The State Hermitage Museum
Washington (DC)   Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

 
Publications
 

Romanovs News, a monthly compilation of the latest happenings in Russia for Romanov dynasty enthusiasts is now available for download on Facebook (group “Romanov News”). Originally a Romanov family newsletter, with mainly Russian news translated into English, it is now a monthly journal. Edited by Paul Kulikovsky, a resident of Russia, he is inviting interested readers to contact him directly with news or to be added to the email subscription list at paulkulikovsky@aol.com.

Wartski, London. Carl Fabergé: A Private Collection, 2012. Beautifully illustrated exhibition catalog for the Harry Woolf Family Collection of over 150 objects carefully selected by the owner, who in the foreword elegantly explains his passion. The introductory text by Geoffrey Munn of Wartski reflects further on 40 years of collecting by the owner.

A copy of the Schaffer Collection of Authentic Imperial Russian Art Treasures catalog dated 1936 is mounted online.

Fabergé, Tatiana F., Kohler, Eric-Alain, and Valentin V. Skurlov. Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book, 2012. US Distributor: traveltom@aol.com

Although over 3,000 books and articles on Carl Fabergé and his works have been published so far, most of their authors were content to repeat systematically the same things and to give credit to legends and gross errors. Most of these publications are based on information provided by Eugène Carlovich Fabergé [1874-1960, eldest son of Fabergé] in the 1930s and used by H.C. Bainbridge, the first biographer of Carl Fabergé in 1949.

The inability to access essential archival material meant that Fabergé scholars were previously unable to authenticate their work. Letters written by the Tsars [Alexander III and Nicholas II], Fabergé’s invoices, Cabinet documents and Bolshevik inventories had all been hidden away within Russia since the Revolution.

Furthermore, another important and valuable source of information had never been exploited by any Fabergé specialist: namely, the Fabergé family papers which comprise documents handed over through four generations. They include rare literature, the London Sales Ledgers, lists of goods confiscated during the Soviet period in Saint Petersburg and extremely interesting photographs, such as the pictures of the amazing silver table service made by Fabergé Moscow for the gold magnate Alexander Kelkh.

For over ten years the authors researched the forbidden Russian archives and studied the additional unpublished material to make this remarkable book, supported by a wealth of documentary evidence much of which has never been published before. This is the first complete and definitive work to disclose the fascinating history of the House of Fabergé. (Press Release and book cover, courtesy of Tatiana Fabergé)

Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book
Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book
Selling Russia's Treasures (Courtesy Natalya Semyonova)
Selling Russia’s Treasures
(Courtesy Natalya Semyonova)
 
The authors of Fersman Portfolio – Fabergé Jewels Reviewed have learned an updated/revised edition of Selling Russia’s Treasures will be published later this year by the M.T Abraham Center for the Visual Arts. Appendix II in the out-of-print 2000 edition in English has been a major source for research on this topic.
 
Searching for Fabergé
 
Tim Richman Gadoffre from London, one of our newest newsletter subscribers from London, writes, “my own particular fascination with pre-1918 Fabergé pieces is for those containing guilloché enamel work … I have been trying to understand the subtleties of the fabrication process employed in the workmaster’s studios of the Fabergé firm in St. Petersburg.” A statement in the François Birbaum memoirs (von Habsburg and Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler, 1993, 446) – Ten or more variations on one theme can often be found – appears to apply to the three examples he is comparing. The author is interested in learning about other similar frames, and any which may have scratched inventory numbers close to these. Contact the editors.
 
mpFrames1
 
DeeAnn Hoff, Oregon (USA) in her observations on a Christmas 1875 cigarette case reveals the true meaning of the word research – a systematic investigation in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions. She suggests how verified historical facts, now available to scholars in profusion, can make a utilitarian object like a cigarette case with a dated engraving come alive.
 
Christmas 1875 Cigarette Case (Courtesy von Habsburg and Traina)
Christmas 1875 Cigarette Case (Courtesy von Habsburg and Traina)

Christmas 1875 Cigarette Case
(Courtesy von Habsburg and Traina)

 

A description of the object reads: Gold Mounted Burnished-Silver Cigarette Case with match compartment and tinder-cord, the cover inlaid in gold with a facsimile inscription “Christmas 1875”, the reverse similarly inscribed Minny – signed with initials S.A. for Samuel Arndt, assay mark of St. Petersburg before 1899, length 4 1/8 inches (10.5 cm). (Ed. Note: Arndt, a master goldsmith from 1845-1890, considered by some to be a forerunner of Fabergé.)

Provenance: Given by Empress Maria Feodorovna (‘Minny’) to her future son-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich (1866-1933) in 1875; Prince Theodor of Russia, his son; Prince Michael Romanov, his son. (von Habsburg, Fabergé: Imperial Craftsman and His World, 2000, p. 329 – #869B)

In the listing of provenance, the progression of ‘his son’ assumes the box was originally given to Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich. The dates given (1866-1933) are for the life of Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich. There seems to be some confusion here between the ‘Alexanders’ Alexandrovich and Mikhailovich. If the case in question was given by ‘Minny’ at Christmas 1875 to Grand Duke Alexander Alexandrovich (1845-1894), it was to her husband then Tsarevich during the reign of Tsar Alexander II (not her ‘future son-in-law’).

Stepping back to a previous caption accompanying the Christmas 1875 Case (Traina, John, The Fabergé Case, 1998, 156), the provenance reads: Gift from Empress Marie Feodorovna to her future son-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich on Christmas 1875. Inherited by Prince Michel Romanoff de Russie from his father, Prince Theodor of Russia, son of the Grand Duke Alexander and Grand Duchess Xenia, sister to Czar Nicholas II.

While this case was inherited through the children of Alexander Mikhailovich and Xenia Alexandrovna, I would respectfully suggest it surely could not have been given as a gift from ‘Minny’ to Alexander Mikhailovich at Christmas 1875. For it was in 1875 that Xenia was born, and Alexander Mikhailovich (her future son-in-law) was only 9 years old, having been born in 1866. Indeed the subject of a marriage between Alexander and Xenia was not broached until 1890, and Alexander did not become Minny’s son-in-law until his marriage to Xenia in 1894. Actually it was in 1881, indeed the year of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, that Alexander (‘Sandro’) actually met the seven-year-old Grand Duchess Xenia. On this occasion, the children of Tsarevich Alexander Alexandrovich and Marie Feodorovna (Minny) were invited to a party at the Winter Palace, as Alexander II was eager for them to meet the three children of his second marriage to former mistress, Catherine Dolgorouky/Princess Yourievsky. Included in this event were the Tsar’s brother Grand Duke Michael Nikolayevich (Viceroy of the Caucuses) and his children (including Alexander Mikhailovich), who were dubbed the ‘Wild Caucasians.’

As Fabergé remains the focus of this discussion, there is a Fabergé element in the historical digression presented here. Through the early 1880’s, the companions, who first met at Alexander II’s party, including a group of Russian friends, began taking the 9:30 train to Gatchina Palace (home of Alexander III, Minny, and their children) for luncheon every Sunday. There followed games on the palace lawn, “rides on the miniature railway in the park with its tunnels, stations, bridges and its engines, replicas of real locomotives, which could reach speeds of 4 or 5 mph.” The Potato Society, a secret society, was formed by the young people, as was common at that time. It took its name from: “… an incident on a paper chase when the pursuers were told the ‘fox’ had ‘shot into the potatoes’.” (van der Kiste & Hall, Once a Grand Duchess: Xenia, Sister of Nicholas II, 2002, 17) Denoting membership, each person was given a gold charm in the form of a potato fashioned by Fabergé.

A two volume set of The Personal Illustrated Inventories of Jewellery and Bibelots from 24th June 1880 to 1905, and of Jewellery from 12 January 1894 to 25 March 1912 of Ksenia (Xenia) Alexandrovna, Grand Duchess of Russia (1875-1960) recently sold at auction. (Bonhams, London, The Russian Sale, November 30, 2011, Lot 155) The charm is described as: “A curiously shaped object presented by ‘Georgi’ resembling a potato may well serve as a sort of visual shorthand for the secret society which counted Ksenia and her brother among its members.” (Ed. Note: The brothers are George Alexandrovich, 1871-1899, and Tsar Nicholas, 1868-1918.)

The charm’s design sketch in the Xenia jewelry album is not available due to copyright restrictions. The kind assistance of Sophie Hamilton Law at Bonhams is most sincerely appreciated. Is anyone aware of a potato charm by Fabergé? Contact the Editors.

 
A Fabergé design sketch for two champagne flutes sold at Christie’s London, April 27, 1989, lot 416. Could the object’s provenance attributed to Queen Louise of Denmark perhaps be a 50th anniversary present in that a royal crown is not present?
 
Champagne Flutes (Courtesy Christie's and Fabergé Revealed, 2011, 162-3)
Champagne Flutes (Courtesy Christie's and Fabergé Revealed, 2011, 162-3)

Champagne Flutes
(Courtesy Christie’s and Fabergé Revealed, 2011, 162-3)