- Fauxbergé – Caveat Emptor!
- Is It Really Fabergé?
- Case Studies
- Tea Glass Holder
- Folkloristic Hardstone Figures of Questionable Character
- ‘Inscribed’ Fabergé Kamer Kazaks at Auction
- Fauxbergé in the McFerrin Collection
- Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington
- Fauxbergé in Auctions | Eggs | Museums | Publications and Searching for “Genuine” Fabergé
with Research Contributions from Fabergé Enthusiasts Worldwide
The Jury of Class 95 (Joaillerie et Bijouterie) analyzed Fabergé’s exhibits as follows:
Finger Bath with Hallmarks by Henrik Wigström
(1862-1930 [sic]), Died in 1923, Offered at a
French Auction. The color combination is not
likely to have been used by the Fabergé
firm for a stamp moistener.
Silver Vermeil Tea
Fauxbergé or Fabergé?
“NOT!” squawks Fabergé Russian Hornbill to the
imposter Goose now thought to be German.
(Curry, Fabergé: Virginia Museum of Fine
Arts, 1995, pp.102-103)
Hornbill later attributed to Cartier.
(von Habsburg, Fabergé Revealed, 2011, p. 352)
- Objects embellished, through re-enameling, re-gilding, re-decoration with precious stones or re-marking with lacking punches.
- Genuine objects made by Russian contemporaries of Fabergé…turned into Fabergé’s by subsequent marking…
- Complete forgeries, almost without exception bearing the Fabergé signature…appeared after the publication of Snowman’s book, from 1953 onwards…
Silver Vermeil Tea Glass Holder – Fabergé?
- Fabergé would never have finished the rim like this.
- Fabergé would have never soldered the handle like this.
- The monogram and engraving are another matter; engraving is not excellent and a piece of enamel was needed to make it ‘Fabergé’. Most probably taken from some lapel badge…and soft soldered (tin) to the body, covering the engraving by the way. Fabergé would probably have it made in champlevé enamel, if the owner had insisted on a monogram…the enamel is of poor quality. If we had it in our hands, we would most probably see more inconsistencies. It was a nice, common piece of silver, I doubt it was completely newly-made – too demanding task – easier to ruin what was at hand.”
Category C. An example of “Complete forgeries, almost without exception bearing the Fabergé signature; some might as well have been produced before the Second World War, the greater part, however, appeared after the publication of Snowman’s book4, from 1953 onwards” was found by dedicated independent researchers DeeAnn Hoff and Kristin Mills at the Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington. The findings are detailed in Case Study V. in the Museums section of this newsletter.
2 Géza von Habsburg, “Fabergé and the Paris 1900 Exposition Universelle” in Habsburg/Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweller, 1993, p. 121; Synopsis for two 1900 journal articles in McCanless, Christel Ludewig, Fabergé and His Works: An Annotated Bibliography of the First Century of His Art, 1994, p. 25.
3 Fabergé, Court Jeweler to the Tsars, 1979, pp. 149-150.
4 Snowman, A. Kenneth. The Art of Carl Fabergé, 1953. Author, chairman of the British jewelry dealer Wartski, arranged the first Fabergé loan exhibition in 1949. In his book he details the history of the firm and provides technical descriptions of the objets de vertu. A revised and enlarged edition with new information was published in 1962. All subsequent editions and impressions are reprints of this edition.
The problem is that the House of Fabergé was a vast conglomerate, even by today’s standards, employing hundreds of people in five different branches (St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kiev, Odessa and a sales only branch in London), acquiring work from external workshops and, on occasion, even retailing the work of opposition houses. While general guidelines are available to the marking of Fabergé items, there are always exceptions to these rules, brought about by a series of situations, and occasionally by simple, human failings.
Fabergé had to balance two conflicting forces: the standard of workmanship and the pressure to produce. The demand for Fabergé objects was such that overtime was almost constantly worked, and the pressure for completed items seldom waned. But Fabergé would not compromise on quality and one employee, Andrei Plotnitski, has left a graphic account of what happened to objects which were not up to the master’s exacting standards: a hammer literally came down on an item that failed to please and the worker was told to start again. There is some evidence that Plotnitski may have embroidered these recollections and while these memories are interesting, they should be treated with some skepticism.
Nevertheless, with such pressures in place, some items made it through to the front counters for sale without marks of any kind. Workmasters simply failed to stamp these items. There are at least three Tsar Imperial Easter eggs in this category. The very first Hen Egg of 1885, the 1901 Flower Basket Egg, and the 1910 Alexander III Equestrian Egg appear to have no marks at all, yet they are unquestionably Fabergé’s work. Some items simply could not be marked: the animal and bird figures fashioned from hardstone, for example. If gold feet were added by the Fabergé firm, they were marked. Evidence suggests that efforts were made most of the time to stamp the flower studies from Henrik Wigström’s workshop but again, examples have been identified where this did not happen. Platinum items (including the 1910 Alexander III Equestrian Egg) were not marked for one simple reason: Russia had no mark for the metal at that time.
External political considerations interfered, such as when artisans were called to arms in wartime. This first became a problem for Fabergé in the Russo-Japanese War which broke out in 1904, and then in the internal political problems which afflicted Russia in 1905. But the House of Fabergé suffered its heaviest depletion of artisans during World War I and documents exist in which Fabergé pleaded with the authorities to let him retain valuable craftsmen so work could continue.
Rückert Silver-gilt and Cloisonné Pictorial Boxes in the Russian Style,
Workmaster Feodor Rückert, K. Fabergé beneath the Imperial Warrant,
88 Standard, Moscow, ca. 19102
(Courtesy McFerrin Collection)
Encyclopedic Publication of 611 pages for the
Revyakin Collection of Old-Russian Style Objects3
Regrettably, most of Fabergé’s account books, design stock books4 and other records disappeared after the October Revolution of 1917. What became of many of these records remains a mystery. It is known the new Bolshevik authorities made unsuccessful efforts to find them because they wanted the names of Fabergé employees. Vladimir Averkiev, one of Fabergé’s close financial advisers, possibly hid the records. He disappeared after being tracked down and arrested in 1927. Averkiev had successfully hidden a trove of Fabergé jewellery, which only came to light in 1990. To survive the dangerous times following the October Revolution of 1917, former Fabergé employees were forced to maintain a discreet silence about their employer and their colleagues. Because of this wall of silence and the absence of official records, it has been a long and often difficult journey to discover answers to such simple questions as who were the Fabergé workmasters5. Some are still unidentified today.
So, when considering legitimate Fabergé items, particular questions need to be asked and answered, and this is best done by those who have worked in the field for many, many years. It is imperative to know well the Fabergé workmasters and their marks, as well as the house marks and the Russian hallmarks of the time. For example, any item with St. Petersburg marks for the years 1908-17 and stamped with Mikhail Perkhin’s mark would need very close inspection, since Perkhin died in 1903. Similar considerations led to the exposure of the so-called Nicholas II Equestrian Egg, purportedly given to the Tsar by his wife to celebrate the Romanov Tercentenary in 1913. But the egg carried the mark of Viktor Aarne, who had sold his workshop in 1904.
Potential Fabergé buyers should also note that Carl Fabergé himself was in reality, the general manager of a vast business enterprise, organized along very progressive lines. He is not known to have personally produced any object. He designed items and he approved nearly all other designs (sometimes his sons would do this, if Fabergé himself was unavailable), and he checked the finished objects, but he did not make them himself. His various marks represent the House of Fabergé, and its standards.
Physical clues are available to confirm genuine Fabergé pieces: the way hinges are so perfectly fashioned as to be all but invisible, the way a cigarette case closes, the way hardstone is carved, the methods of enameling, the chasing and engine-turning techniques, and above all, the meticulous attention to detail. But again, a practiced eye is needed if doubts arise. Provenance details also mean a great deal, and it is a huge bonus if the item retains its original case, or bill of sale. These testaments to an item’s origins automatically enhance its monetary value. The same remarks apply particularly to unmarked items, such as hardstone figures.
The lack of official Fabergé records caused problems for auction houses staging the first sales of Fabergé material between the two world wars. When Christie’s held the first major sale in London on March 15, 1934, there was little information to provide for prospective clients. It would be another 15 years before the first monograph on Fabergé, Peter Carl Fabergé (London, 1949), would be written by Henry C. Bainbridge, the joint manager of Fabergé’s London branch.
Gradually, a more complete picture of the output from the House of Fabergé has emerged. Occasional pieces of the jigsaw are still falling into place as more and more archival information emerges from Russia. This is just as well: the ever-increasing prices paid for Fabergé have given forgers the incentive to continue their illegal practices, some of them with a diligence that even Carl Fabergé may have grudgingly admired.
Catalogs provided by the major auction houses have, in general, become increasingly more sophisticated over the years. By the 1980s, Christie’s was able to provide the following guidelines for prospective buyers:
- Marked Fabergé, workmaster – in our opinion a work of the master’s workshop inscribed with his name or initials.
- By Fabergé – in our opinion, a work of the master’s workshop, but not with his mark.
- Marked with the Imperial warrant of – in our opinion a work of the master with his Imperial Warrant mark.
- Bearing…marks – in our qualified opinion, probably not a work of the master and bearing a later mark.
This is an excellent starting point for prospective buyers. Contemporary lot descriptions no longer contain these guidelines, however, they are nevertheless useful in tracing previous sales for a given lot.
So, is it really Fabergé?
With tongue firmly in cheek, this writer suggests: If the item carries the appropriate marks, meets the stringent stylistic and technical considerations of international experts, has a long provenance dating back to a wealthy original purchaser in St. Petersburg, Moscow or London, has its original fitted Fabergé case, and is listed in the London stock books or one of the known Fabergé design books, then it’s likely to have been made by the world renowned House of Fabergé!
2 Atzbach, John, “Workmaster Feodor Rückert” in McFerrin, Dorothy, From a Snowflake to an Iceberg, 2013, pp. 274-281.
3 Muntian, Tatiana, Feodor Rückert & Carl Fabergé, 2016.
4 Extant design records have been published in Christie’s (London), Designs from the House of Fabergé, April 27, 1989; Snowman, A. Kenneth, Fabergé Lost and Found: The Recently Discovered Jewelry Designs from the St. Petersburg Archives, 1993; Tillander-Godenhielm, Ulla, et al. Golden Years of Fabergé: Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop, 2000.
5 Over 500 individuals are listed with biographical details in Lowes, Will, and Christel Ludewig McCanless, Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, 2001, pp. 175-245; Fabergé, Tatiana F., Kohler, Eric-Alain, and Valentin V. Skurlov. Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book, 2012, pp. 119-293. See also summary of books about Fabergé’s workmasters written by Finnish authority, Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, in Searching for “Genuine” Fabergé section in this edition of the newsletter.
The owner of the merchant (A.), Dr. E. Lionel Pavlo died in 19897, and so did the stone carver Konovalenko, who was known to make more than one copy of a theme he liked. Most of his life he lived in Russia, but in 1981 he immigrated to New York and worked with his brother-in-law, the stone carver Naum Nikolyavesky. According to a 1994 article8 written by Géza von Habsburg, Nikolyavesky was arrested in 1969 and “condemned to years of hard labor in Siberia” for his criminal activity of selling Fabergé forgeries to foreign diplomates in Moscow. von Habsburg states that Nikolyavesky lived in Brooklyn, New York, where he created Fabergé forgeries with his group of Russian artisans. In a 2014 video recorded at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on the topic of Fauxbergé9 von Habsburg calls them the “Brooklyn Forgers”, whose work shows up everywhere, from eBay to auction houses. In the video von Habsburg relates the story of a man who came to him in Geneva with a genuine Fabergé cigarette case and a stone carving of a woman dressed as a Russian match-maker (further details unknown at this time). As an auctioneer for many years, he knew this piece from seeing it at auction, and had been told by colleagues it was not Fabergé, but by Nikolyavesky. He conveyed this information to the man, who simply walked away “without batting an eye.” The man turned out to be Nikolyavesky himself, hoping to sell his work at another auction.
The book by Yuri Brokhin, Hustling on Gorky Street: Sex and Crime in Russia Today10 published in 1975 contains a chapter devoted to Naum Nikolyavesky, and his criminal exploits. The chapter title is ‘The “Successor” to Fabergé’ and in it the author recounts the story of a police sting in which stone carvings of a coachman, troika, two hippos, a cat, and a golden samovar with ebony handles were confiscated11. At the end of the chapter Brokhin talks about a 1974 exhibition of Vasily Konovalenko’s work in Leningrad, and he mentions stone carvings of Old-Russian Types, “a dustman, Cossacks on agate horses, a matchmaker, guitarist, shepherds, accordion players.”12 Fabergé’s workshops carved the same subjects.
During the course of research undertaken years ago another series of hardstone figures surfaced which may have a connection to Konovalenko and his brother-in-law, Nikolyavesky.
- Which of the match makers (D.-H.) was presented in person to Géza von Habsburg by Nikolyavesky16, and which match maker has the Konovalenko/Nikolayvesky connection mentioned by Brokhin in his book?
- Which figure is the genuine Fabergé hardstone match maker – the marriage broker (G.) carved in a satirical manner which also fetched the largest amount of money in one of two successful auctions? Or the one with the missing eyes (H.)?
In Konovalenko’s 2016 catalog published by the Denver Museum of Nature & Science there is another piece that gives one pause. A cane handle (I.)17 in nephrite with a silver dog head and a Fabergé-like guilloché enamel hilt with gold swags and bows. These aesthetically disjointed pastiches are commonly seen for sale on the internet (J.), and even in some auction houses as original Fabergé pieces. Dogs, hippos, rabbits, and birds are all mixed with imperial cyphers, swags on guilloché enamel, and precious stones.
I. Cane Handle
by Vasily Konovalenko
J. Fauxbergé Offered on the Internet
(Courtesy Steve Kirsch’s Fauxbergé Website)
The moral of this story? Buyer beware! Do your homework, before investing in art. Forgers have made a fortune from these hardstone carvings, and continue to do so.
2 Marina Lopato (Head Curator of the Dept. of Western European Silver, Hermitage Museum St. Petersburg) in von Habsburg, Géza, et al. Fabergé: Imperial Craftsman and His World, 2000, enumerates the story of Mikhail Monastyrsky, a well-known forger of “figures à la Fabergé”, pp. 386-388.
3 Synopsis of “Windows into Russian Life: Fabergé’s Hardstone Figures” presented by Timothy Adams, Christel McCanless, and Annemiek Wintraecken at The World of Fabergé in St. Petersburg 100 Years Ago, 2014 Fabergé Museum Symposium, St. Petersburg, Russia.
4 Fabergé, T., Kohler, and Skurlov in Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book, 2012, p. 578, suggest other reasons about this forgery in their essay, “A Fatal Error in Hallmarking” about this forgery.
5 Nash, Stephen E., Stories in Stone: The Enchanted Gem Carvings of Vasily Konovalenko, Denver Museum of Nature & Science, 2016.
6 Nash, pp. 200-201.
7 Pavlo was a highly successful civil engineer and suspension bridge builder, born in the Ukraine, arrived in the USA in 1929, earned his civil engineering Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute in Technology in 1932. (Wiki)
8 von Habsburg, Géza, “Fauxbergé” with the subtitle, “The Plague of Forgeries Besetting the World of Fabergé Has Developed into a Multi-million–dollar International Industry. Even Organized Crime Is Involved”, Art & Auction, vol. 16, no. 7, February 1994, pp. 76-79.
9 von Habsburg, Géza, Fauxbergés: The Master Forgers, 2014; see also footnote 4 above.
10 Book review published by The New York Times on October 19, 1975, entitled “Three-kopeck Opera” by Susan Jacoby; “Faking It In Moscow.” Art News, vol. 74, October 1975, pp. 20–22.
11 Brokhin, p. 183.
12 Ibid, p. 184.
13 von Habsburg, Géza and Marina Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler, 1993, p.388, the modus operandi of Nikolyavesky and Konovalenko in making forgeries is discussed on pp. 166-167.
14 Forecast Chart.
15 Fabergé, T., Kohler, and Skurlov, 2012, p. 390, suggest this figure was made by the Fabergé firm.
16 von Habsburg, Géza, Fauxbergés: The Master Forgers, 2014.
17 Nash, p. 165.
Left and right: The Fabergé hardstone figure of Chamber Cossacks A.A. Kudinov, who guarded Empress Maria Feodorovna
from 1878 to 1915, and N.N. Pustynnikov, who served Empress Alexandra Feodorovna from 1894 until 1917.
Photographs Courtesy of Pavlovsk State Museum and Gafifullin1 (left) and Wartski, London (right).
1. The major auction houses in this case study (Sotheby’s, pair #1 and Doyle, pair #7) presented the kamer kazaks in their elegant hardcopy catalogs mailed in advance to potential bidders and catalog subscribers, and also on the internet. The smaller auction houses in three countries relied mainly on the internet to present their wares. Free-lance arts journalist, Daniel Grant in a 2014 Huff Post Blog3 states it succinctly, “Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Heritage Auctions all have created their own in-house online bidding platforms, but most every other auctioneer relies on an outside company, the largest being the Manhattan-based LiveAuctioneers. …” The Benko study found two more internet umbrella agencies active in selling the chamber cossacks – The Saleroom, the home of art & antiques auctions affiliated with the Antiques Trade Gazette, and UKauctioneers. More or less identical auction lot descriptions with the terms ‘inscribed Fabergé’, and ‘cast cold painted bronze figures, dated 1912’ appear over and over again on the aforementioned websites. It also became quickly apparent that most lot descriptions included a reference to Sotheby’s London December 2015 financial success of selling the first pair (#1)4 of two cast and cold painted figures to come on the market for £25,000 (including the premium).
2. The authors then attempted to learn about the descriptive terms of cast and cold painted figures. Being aware that Fabergé’s original Chamber Cossacks (A. and B.) were carved from Russian gemstones, the question arose – why would there suddenly be multiple copies in another medium, not known to have been used by Fabergé except possibly in the production process? The specific Russian gemstones as identified by Adams and McCanless in their essay without the use of instruments to test gemological properties for Pustynnikov are shown in the next illustration.
Russian gemstones used by Fabergé in 1912 to create the 7.5 in. (19 cm) portrait figure of Chamber Cossack Pustynnikov (B).
(Photograph Courtesy Wartski, London, Chart Credit GIA, p. 140)
Cast iron toys, also used with bronze: The way new and old iron is painted is another indication of age. Old iron usually was decorated with fairly heavy paint, most frequently some type of oil based enamel. New pieces are typically decorated with a much thinner paint which is usually a water based acrylic. Old and new paints were also applied differently. Many old pieces were dipped in paint, not painted with a brush (although small details may have been added by a brush). Many new pieces are painted with air-powered spray guns to speed production. The use of thicker paint and the heavier coatings of paint produced by dipping produces a distinctive wear pattern in original painted cast iron toys.
Cold painting: The term is used online to describe colorful bronze or spelter figures, but almost no one explains what it means. Cold-painting was a technique popular during the art-deco period, which started in the 1920s. Bronze figures, most of them made in Vienna, were covered with enamel paint.
The authors of this essay noted two minor discrepancies in relation to the art-deco time period and dates suggested in the definition and in the auction lots:
- Sotheby’s auction (pair #1) suggests “their creation almost surely pre-dates the mid-1920s” (Ed. note: The Fabergé firm closed in 1917/18).
- Jackson’s International Auctioneers (pair #9) suggests “probably after 1920 and perhaps even later”.
Adams also wondered if the multiple objects under the hammer from 2015-2017 could have been licensed by Fabergé and outsourced to a toy manufacturer during Fabergé’s time?
Soles: Inscriptions by Fabergé are hand-carved into the Russian gemstone material. The inscriptions in the multiple kamer kazaks are the same from figure to figure since they are cast into the metal rather than engraved.
Fabergé’s Hand-carved Inscriptions for Kudinov (A.) and Pustynnikov (B.) on Russian Gemstones
(Courtesy GIA, p.135)
Cast-metal Inscriptions for Kamer Kazaks, Pair #3
(Courtesy Rowley’s Fine Art Auctioneers and Valuers)
4. Provenances of the kamer kazaks in the online auctions are scarce, while the prices realized detailed in the chart below appear to reflect the wisdom of the buyers at auction.
|PAIR||AUCTION HOUSE||PRICE REALIZED||ADDITIONAL INFORMATION|
|#1 England||Sotheby's London||£25,000||... their creation almost surely pre-dates the mid-1920s ...|
|#2 England||Fryer & Brown||£7,800 plus 23% premium||Auction house only in business for one year, liquidated January 2017.|
|#3 England||Rowley's||DNS (Did Not Sell)|
|#4 England||Hutchinson & Scott||Withdrawn|
|#5 England||Adam Partridge||DNS|
|#6 England||Piers Motley||DNS||Consigned to Piers and Motley by a gentleman from Devon. Previous provenance cited as “bought from Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood”. Email dated August 24, 2017, from Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood advises “they have not had any Fabergé figures for sale”.|
|#7 USA||Doyle||$15,000||This auction lot is not listed as part of the Fabergé section in the hard copy catalog.|
|#8 Scotland||Callan||£4,500||From the auction house website, the figures “were discovered wrapped up in a towel in a drawer of underwear, during a house clearing in Largs”, Ayr, Scotland.
Ayshire Post, May 12, 2017: “Fabergé at Flog It £25K Figures under Hammer” announces the BBC production being filmed at Culzean Castle on the coast of Scotland.
|#9 USA||Jackson's International||$2,500||Probably after 1920 and perhaps even later.|
5. Arts Journalist Daniel Grant in a recent Wall Street Journal article7 cautions that “online auctions open the world to art buyers. But it also opens those buyers to a world of risks.” The author concludes with these words of wisdom from a New York-based art adviser Todd Levin: ‘I don’t allow my clients to buy just from a JPEG, sight–unseen, no eyes laid on it, no condition report. …But some, do anyway.’
Other unanswered questions:
- Tatiana Fabergé et al. in K. Fabergé I ego prodolzhateli, St Petersburg, 2009, p. 96, state: “In 1927, a metal figure of Kudinov was found in the Armoury among objects which had belonged to the Imperial Family.”8 Is there archival documentation which can be studied in more detail? Contact: Christel McCanless
- Did the ca. $6 million price realized in 2013 for the genuine Fabergé Pustynnikov Kamer Kazak (B.) set the stage, and then did the sale of the first pair (#1) for £25,000 in December 2015 cause this flood of multiples to appear on the market?
- Five (5) pairs sold and four (4) did not – would sellers flood the market with so many objects at once, or did the same pair sell more than once in a period of 19 months? The UK map shows a somewhat orderly process of exposing the objects to the public both in the England and Scotland, and later in the USA, i.e., first at a major auction house, and then systematically, at least in the UK, in the second tier market?
- Are the pairs in #1 – #9 authentic Fabergé?
2 von Habsburg, Géza, “The Hammer Years, 1930’s-1950s” in Fabergé in America, 1996, pp. 56-61.
3 Huffington Post Blog.
4 Sotheby’s, London, December 1, 2015, Lot 446 (The catalog note on Sotheby’s website is quite long and very informative.)
5 McCanless, Christel Ludewig, Fabergé and His Works: An Annotated Bibliography of the First Century of His Art, 1994, Entry #1331.
6 von Habsburg, Géza, Fauxbergés: The Master Forgers, 2014.
7 Grant, Daniel, “The Art of the Online Deal”, Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2016, R4.
8 Sotheby’s, London, December 1, 2015, Lot 446.
1917 Unfinished Blue Tsesarevich Constellation Egg
in the Fersman Mineralogical Museum, Moscow
The Resurrection Egg in the Link of Times Collection is housed in the Fabergé Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia. The concluding statement in the link above states, “A reliquary of similar shape by Fedor Afanassiev with silver-gilt figures of the risen Christ flanked by two angels is in the Maryhill Art Museum, Goldendale, Washington”. In 2001, Lowes and McCanless (p. 147) first suggested the foregoing statement – it is an error! Thanks to research by DeeAnn Hoff and Kris Mills the mystery has been unraveled, and is now corrected in this issue of the Fabergé Research Newsletter (see Case Study V. in the Museums section)
A. 1885-1889 Resurrection Egg and 1894 Imperial Renaissance Egg with the Resurrection Egg
(Fabergé Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia)
B. 1890 Spring Flowers Egg
(Fabergé Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia)
C. 1892 Dr. Metzger Egg Clock
D. 1902 Empire Nephrite, Also Known as Alexander III Medallion Egg, Closed and Open
(Skurlov, François Birbaum, Headmaster at Fabergé Firm, 2016)
- April 14 (OS), 1902. Would have been presented to Marie Feodorovna, a gift from Nicholas II; cost 6,000 rubles. Probably housed in the Anichkov Palace.
- September 16-20 (OS), 1917. One of forty or so eggs sent to the Armoury Palace of the Kremlin in Moscow by the Kerensky Provisional Government for safekeeping.
- February-March 1922. Probably transferred to the Sovnarkom, the Council of People’s Commissars.
- Whereabouts unknown.
E. 1913 Nicholas II Equestrian Egg
[*Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm in her 1980 publication, Carl Fabergé and His Contemporaries, p. 40, states Aarne (active workmaster 1891-1904) had returned to Finland in 1904 after selling his St. Petersburg workshop. (Ed. note: Therefore, the Nicholas II Equestrian with a 1913 date could not be Aarne’s work.)]
F. 1917 Twilight Egg/Night Egg
(Christie’s Geneva and Wikipedia)
G. 1917 Karelian Birch Egg Design Sketch
(Tatiana Fabergé Archives)
“Finished” Karelian Birch Egg (Exhibition:
The Art of Fabergé at the Kostroma State
Historical, Architectural & Arts
Museum Reserve, 2010, p. 22-23)
Citations for a series of publications, each of them including a variety of details:
H. 1917 “Finished” Blue Tsesarevich Constellation Egg
(Fabergé Museum in Baden-Baden, Germany)
[*Ed. note: Cupids are missing.]
‘One thing I remember for certain is the order of an egg for the Tsar by Ivashev (Editor’s note: A designer in Fabergé’s St. Petersburg headquarters ca. 1898-1918) and Carl Gustavovich [Fabergé]. This, you may remember, is an egg of dark blue glass incrusted with the constellation of the day of the Tsarevich’s birth. The egg is supported by silver cherubs and clouds of opaque rock crystal. Unless I am mistaken, the egg contained a clock with a revolving face. The execution of this egg was interrupted by the war. The cherubs and the clouds were finished, but the egg itself with its incrustation and the pedestal were not finished. Where all this has disappeared to I have no idea, and when I visited the House after the raid, I found no trace of this article.’ (Fabergé, Proler, & Skurlov, Fabergé Imperial Easter Eggs, London, 1997)
1917. In production for presentation to Alexandra Feodorovna on April 2 (OS), Easter Sunday. Never presented; the unfinished egg apparently remained at Fabergé’s premises until removed by Agathon Fabergé.
1925. Elements of the egg presented to Alexander F. Fersman of the Moscow Mineralogical Museum by Agathon Fabergé (1876-1951, second son of Carl Fabergé, gemstone expert/administrator).
2002. Discovered unfinished in the Fersman Moscow Mineralogical Museum and authenticated with an original design sketch.
At press time the website of the Fersman Mineralogical Museum, Moscow, is not online. However, an article by Mikhail Generalov in Our Heritage, No. 83-84, 2007, “Last Imperial Easter Egg Fabergé: What the Stars Told” includes the selected bibliography from the Fersman Museum:
Will Lowes and Christel McCanless in their Imperial Egg Chronology on the Fabergé Research Site have lengthy entries about seven missing Imperial Fabergé eggs, designated with the symbol , and in some instances known black and white illustrations.
The hunt is still on for missing genuine Imperial Fabergé eggs, their surprises or stands. In the meantime, caveat emptor!
Steve Kirsch, Kristin Mills, Peter Schaffer, Museums and Scholars Who Have Had the Courage to Expose Fauxbergé
Fauxbergé: Perfume Bottle, Inkwell, Brush Pot
(New Brunswick Museum, St. John, Canada)
(Courtesy McFerrin Collection)
- The UPI (United Press International) wire service in connection with the Richmond venue carried an article with the title Fabergé Show Exposes Market in Fakes by Frederick M. Winship, UPI Senior Editor, February 13, 1996. During 16 months the traveling blockbuster exhibition was seen at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, New Orleans Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.
- Steve Kirsch, a newsletter contributor, agreed to share the story of his Fauxbergé website:
My interest in Fabergé began in 1997 with a visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. I recall standing in front of the 1896 Egg with Revolving Miniatures for a good 15 minutes, studying the composition and reading about the egg’s presentation. I then began to look at the other Fabergé objects and was just fascinated. I am a collector by nature, so I thought it might be fun to buy a few pieces. Upon my return to New York I began to investigate, but I was quickly deterred by the astronomical prices at auction. For Christmas 1998, my wife surprised me with a nephrite bowl with gold mounts and enamel handles.
During those early years, I was constantly checking to see if there were Fabergé pieces for sale on eBay. Everything looked good to me, but my mentor always shot down anything I showed him by dismissing them outright as fakes. I would argue that they had Fabergé marks, and ask why he thought they were fake. “You just know!” is what he told me. Eventually as I began to see more and more genuine Fabergé objects at auctions and exhibitions, I also began to recognize that nearly all of the eBay pieces were fakes. In 2000, I began my Fake Fabergé Photos website partly to open up discussions about the fakes, but also to learn about website design. Ninety-five percent of my fake photos were downloaded from eBay ads. Initially, I had intended to post a lot of photographs of genuine objects as well, but it seemed more productive to just post links to the better collections. I am still surprised to this day how many people are familiar with my site. Eventually, it became obvious to post more new fake material does not really provide any further education. In my essay entitled, “How Can You Tell the Real Thing from the Fakes?” I have written down the lessons I learned from my journey with Fabergé objects, and it is my hope they are a guide for future collectors to avoid the obvious pitfalls.
- Peter Schaffer, proprietor of A La Vieille Russie in New York City, shared “a few tips on making sure that if Fabergé is what you want, Fabergé is what you get” in a PBS (Public Broadcasting Service), Antiques Roadshow program broadcast by Television WGBH in Boston on January 17, 2000. One of the things I learned from watching Schaffer’s program is that “marks are now made with lasers that can trace a real Fabergé mark unto a fake piece.” Reflecting on my Fabergé fascination history while writing this article, I realized I had met WGBH before – on Sunday, October 22, 1978, WGBH-TV began a 14-program mini-series with each segment lasting from four to six minutes featuring objects from the Forbes Magazine Collection. I was a new Fabergé enthusiast then and saw them all!
In 2001, after Dorothy and Artie McFerrin acquired the first two “Fabergé” objects for their collection now numbering in the hundreds, they presented them to an appraiser at the popular British and American Antiques Roadshow2. The verdict – fakes! The McFerrin’s learned from this experience and sixteen years later in April 2017 the beautiful Dorothy and Artie McFerrin Gallery housing their collection of more than 600 Fabergé and Russian decorative art objects described in two books3 was unveiled at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas (Ed. note: Hurricane Harvey did not damage the collection).
One display case in the gallery challenges the visitor to distinguish between genuine Fabergé objects and Fauxbergé.
Fabergé and Fauxbergé Display Case in the McFerrin Gallery, Houston, Texas
(All Photographs by Pat Hazlett Except the Pencil Holder Close Up, Christie’s New York)
118 and 385
588 and 556
- 65 Paperknife, Gabriel Nykänen, workmaster mark GN – active 1889-1917
- 117 Fauxbergé Egg, first McFerrin acquisition
- 118 Bonbonnière Egg on Stand, Mikhail Perkhin, workmaster mark М.П – active 1886-1903
- 385 Pill Box, Fabergé, no workmaster
- 557 Fauxbergé Letter Opener
- 5554 Pencil Holder, Henrik Wigström, workmaster mark H.W. – active 1903-1917, provenance: Nancy Reagan
- 588 Rhodonite Etui, possibly a calling card case (research incomplete), Henrik Wigström, workmaster mark H.W. – active 1903-1917
- 556 Fauxbergé Box
Rich Hutting, a docent at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, using the Fauxbergé egg for museum tours for children, writes:
Over the years the Antiques Roadshow experts and Fabergé Research Newsletter readers have uncovered other Fabergé fakes. It appears even auction houses have fallen into the trap.
(Christie’s New York,
April 19, 2002, Lot 179.
Lot descriptions on
p. 91 have been
- Timothy Adams, a newsletter contributor shares his story:
Almost ten years ago it came to my attention that a Fabergé Imperial Egg was to be the center of a Russian art exhibition at a museum in Southern California. The flier advertising the show featured the “Imperial Egg” on the cover. It was obvious to me at first glance the egg was a fake, and not even a good one. The flat and muddy enamel and the application of excessive imperial insignia with truly bad detail-work gave it away to anyone who knows Fabergé’s work. My phone call to the museum’s curator was awkward, but was necessary to keep this piece from being vetted via a museum exhibition. I introduced myself to the curator and suggested perhaps a second and third opinion by just sending the photographs to two world-renown Fabergé dealers, A La Vieille Russie in New York City, and Wartski in London, would help. She did just that, and sure enough the egg was pulled from the show.
I attended the opening and introduced myself to the curator, who thanked me for saving their reputation, and told me after looking at some genuine Fabergé pieces and comparing them to the fake the quality difference was now obvious. Later I learned the lender was upset and stood by the fact that the egg was real, since it came with a long history, and was fully researched with photographs of Nicholas II and his mistress to whom it was given. When I asked where the lender had bought it, the answer was – last week on eBay for $6,000. Well, upon hearing that I knew who sold it to the unsuspecting lender. A man in Sophia, Bulgaria, whom I had been following for years on the Internet produces Fauxbergé out of old and new pieces, stamps them, and adds long detailed descriptions of their provenance complete with archival photos of the original owners, usually from the Imperial family. The egg in question was dark-red enamel. I checked on eBay the following day, and sure enough, the exact same egg, but now in green enamel was for sale at $6,000. So, beware, provenance stories are just stories until they are verified with archival documents. The more exposure one has to real Fabergé, the more one is be able to spot Fauxbergé.
- The next word of caution – caveat emptor – for my newsletter readers and me came in a phone interview with Peter Schaffer, “Will the Real Fabergé Stand! A Dealer’s Perspective” (Fabergé Research Newsletter, Fall 2009). He shared a technique used to authenticate pieces from his Power Point program: “I show my audience Fabergé objects with increased magnification from one view to the next. If the larger images continue to hold up to this detailed scrutiny, then it tells me it is a real Fabergé. Fakes cannot take this kind of close examination – the quality dissipates quickly.”
- 2011/2012 were banner years for Fabergé enthusiasts. For two years guest curator Dr. Géza von Habsburg had “studied and authenticated Fabergé objects in the Pratt Collection at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, identified those made by other makers, and added editorial notes to forgeries and objects with uncertain origins.” The New York Times (June 30, 2011) headlined the article about the venue, A Fabergé Exhibition Without Fauxbergés by Eve M. Kahn. The article mentions the shameless way Armand Hammer used “Fabergé hallmarking tools to reattribute early 1900’s pieces made by other Russian goldsmiths or their French archrival Cartier.”5 Romanov portraits clipped from postcards and newspapers were inserted into frames sold by Hammer, and most objects were advertised with an imperial provenance. The Virginia exhibition, Fabergé Revealed, was shown with supplemental loans from the Matilda Geddings Gray Collection, the Hodges Family Collection, and the Dorothy and Artie McFerrin Collection. It later traveled from 2012-2016 without the supplemental loans to six cities in the USA, Canada, and the Palace Museum in Beijing, China.
- Anthony Brandt’s article “Fab or Faux?” in Town & Country, November 2012, 126-29, 152-3, examines the million-dollar, buyer-beware realm of Fauxbergé. Beginning with a hands-on session at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the author learned about fakes and forgeries by interviewing authorities in the field of Fabergé.
2 ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is a trademark of the BBC and is produced for PBS by WGBH under license from BBC, Worldwide.
3 McFerrin, Dorothy, From a Snowflake to an Iceberg: The McFerrin Collection, 2013, and Fabergé: The McFerrin Collection – The Opulence Continues… 2016.
4 New object for this McFerrin #, not in 2016 Opulence book.
5 Blumay with Edwards, The Dark Side of Power: The Real Armand Hammer, 1992, (pp. 95-108).
Maryhill Museum of Art
Queen Marie & Sam Hill, 1926
(Queen Marie of Romania’s
1926 Visit to Oregon)
Partially-Restored Portrait of
Emperor Nicholas II
(Photograph by Kristin Mills)
Our visit was planned to enjoy the Columbia River Gorge and the Maryhill Museum, but more specifically to examine the ‘Resurrection Egg’ (also known as the Transformation Egg) and other objects in their collection identified on the display case text as being from the workshops of Carl Fabergé.
Maryhill Display Case with Objects Labeled Fabergé
(Photographs by Kristin Mills and DeeAnn Hoff)
On August 5, 2016, with the kind assistance of Curator Steve Grafe, the authors were able to study the egg donated by Seattle engineer, Alexander H. Hargis. Our case study report is divided into three parts –
- Chronological highlights from a literature search in preparation for the study visit.
- Review of the paper trail of the Maryhill Museum archival documents.
- Observations after examining the egg out of its display case.
A. 1885-1889 Resurrection Egg
(Courtesy Fabergé Museum,
St. Petersburg, Russia)
B. Snowman, A. Kenneth,
The Art of Carl Fabergé,
Second Edition, 1962,
C. Maryhill Museum ‘Resurrection Egg’ with Its Base Enlarged
(Photographs by Kristin Mills)
March 16, 1934 Christie’s (London) auction.1 Reporter for The Times (London) suggests ‘A century hence the work of Carl Fabergé…will probably be realizing high prices in the auction room, but yesterday a collection of objects d’art made by him failed to realize more than £1,367. Only one lot, the reliquary of rock crystal and enamel enriched with pearls and diamonds (Ed. note: 1885-1889, or also cited as a pre-1899 Resurrection Egg, shown in A. above), attained three figures, or £110. The First Imperial Egg sold for £85.’2
1962 A. Kenneth Snowman3, chairman of the British jewelry dealer Wartski, who arranged the first Fabergé loan exhibition in 1949, published a black and white photo (B.) of the Resurrection Egg.
2001 Lowes and McCanless published the following in their retrospective egg encyclopedia4, “Feodor Afanasiev is known to have made an Easter egg for Fabergé based on the Perkhin Resurrection Egg presented to Marie Feodorovna in the 1880s (sic). Afanasiev’s example was made at least a decade later and is now in the Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington.”
2004 Géza von Habsburg5 in the catalogue raisonné of the Vekselberg Collection (now housed in the Fabergé Museum in St. Petersburg, and formerly in The Forbes Magazine Collection), concludes the discussion of the Resurrection Egg with this statement, “A reliquary of similar shape by Fedor Afanasiev with silver-gilt figures of the risen Christ flanked by two angels is in the Maryhill Art Museum, Goldendale, Washington.”
2017 Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm after a thorough archival study of the Fabergé workmasters confirms the dates Afanasiev qualified as a master goldsmith are unknown. In 1903, he was still a journeyman. Most trained goldsmiths remained journeymen all their active lives as they chose to work for someone else. Therefore, if he had crafted the Maryhill ‘copy’ in the time period suggested, it would have been marked with the master’s mark of his employer.
Objects attributed to Fabergé were donated to the museum by Seattle engineer, Alexander Hargis (born ca. 1925).6 In his letter to the museum dated October 25, 1967, he offers:
Both the miniature eggs and the box (to be addressed by the authors later in this article) were received by the museum, and further objects from Mr. Hargis, notably the ‘Imperial Russian Easter Egg’ (C.) and the ‘Lily of the Valley’ flower study included in our study, are documented in his letter of delivery and museum accession documents dated 1976. In a document provided by the donor, and preserved in the museum files, the ‘Imperial Easter Egg’ is thus described: Fabergé Egg / Russian / Gold; Sapphire; Rock crystal. 5 3/8 inches high & 1 1/8 inches base diameter. Readers are advised the purple text below is lifted directly from Snowman, A. Kenneth, The Art of Carl Fabergé, Second Edition, 1962, p. 79.
Accession # 1976.04.001 ~ Egg. Artist – Fabergé. Received 1976. Gift of Alexander H. Hargis. Description: “Fabergé Imperial Russian Easter egg in the form of a monstrance, this Resurrection Egg is made in the manner of the Italian Renaissance. The three gold figures in the group stand on and beside the Sepulcher. The whole resurrection scene is contained within a superbly carved rock crystal egg, the two hemispheres held together by a line of sapphires mounted in a band of gold. (Ed. note: Only the word ‘diamonds’ in Snowman, p. 79, here in the description is replaced with ‘sapphires’.) The plinth supporting the egg is carved rock crystal with separating bands and beubaches [trim] of gold and sapphires.
A similar egg was given by Czar Alexander III to Marie Feodorovna (Illustration B. above, text copied from Snowman, 1962, plate 317). Maryhill’s egg is marked on the base with mark of workmaster Fedor Afanasiev. Also visible are gold marks 72 (18k) and “koloshnik” (kokoshnik).
In 2003, Maryhill Museum notes the donor is quoted:
- Existing tarnish is inconsistent with gold used as a material. Marks of gold stated in museum documents are ‘72 (18k) and koloshnik (kokoshnik)’. The assay mark is not clearly distinguishable even when examined with a jeweler’s visor by Kristin Mills.
- Hallmarks: Workmaster mark ФA for Feodor Alekseievich Afanasiev (b. 1870-after 1927).
- If the egg dates to 1885-89, or pre-1899 as suggested by a 2004 Fabergé Museum publication, and Afanasiev was still a journeyman in 1903, then he would not be using a master’s marks. Therefore, more recent research findings negate the statement made in error by Lowes and McCanless in 2001 (see endnote 4), and subsequently repeated in other publications.
- Snowman in his 1962 publication on page 124 suggests Afanasiev made “small objects of fantasy usually enameled.” There is no enameling on the Maryhill egg.
- The ФA maker’s mark appears to be an ‘overstrike’ where another oval mark has been removed. von Habsburg and von Solodkoff7 in discussing Fauxbergé objects mention, “…adding Fabergé’s punch and thus doubling their value.”
- Technical details:
- While stated as ‘rock crystal’, this egg had more the look and feel of glass/lead crystal. The rim on the base was unevenly ‘finished’. (C.)
- When compared with the Fabergé Museum Resurrection Egg (A.), the Maryhill egg (C.) displayed poor proportions between the height of the figures to the globe of the egg, as well as the shape of the egg itself. The vertical hash-marks surrounding the half/round ground on which the scene sits appear to be drawn from the Perkhin creation, or at least an image of it.
- Did the Snowman black and white illustration (B.) suggest the ‘two-tone’ Maryhill egg copy and the other objects discussed below? For example, a cigarette case and a flower study labeled Fabergé appear to mirror photographs published in the 1962 Snowman book.
(Snowman, 1962, plate 130)
Maryhill Cigarette Case
Wooden Base with a Metal Rim
of the Maryhill Cigarette Case
(Photographs 2 & 4 by Kristin Mills)
- We cannot cite an extant presentation box on which Fabergé used pearls, diamonds would have been the preferred accent.
- The identification of the portrait is incorrect. The photograph is Prince Felix Youssoupov (Sr.), Count Sumarkov-Elston as shown in the well-known Youssoupoff 25th Anniversary Egg.
- The use of wood with a metal rim is not known in objects from the Fabergé workshops.
Flower Study in the Royal Collection
(Snowman, 1962, plate 303)
(Photograph Kristin Mills)
Still illusive is the series of 12 miniature eggs of semi-precious stones mentioned in Maryhill Museum documents. In a letter from Mr. Hargis to Mr. Clifford Dolph of Maryhill Museum, dated Oct. 25, 1967:
In conclusion, the specific objects studied in this essay suggest a common source of inspiration, namely, the second edition in 1962 of The Art of Carl Fabergé by A. Kenneth Snowman. In 1979, von Habsburg and von Solodkoff active as authors, dealers and in the auction world summarize this unfortunate trend of Fauxbergé by stating, ”Complete forgeries, almost without exception bearing the Fabergé signature; …the greater part, however, appeared after publication of Snowman’s book, from 1953 onwards.” The Maryhill gift unfortunately appears to be a case in point based on the comparisons in this case study.
The authors wish to thank Mr. Grafe and the staff of the Maryhill Museum for granting permission to study objects in their collection.
2 The First Imperial Egg presented in 1885 cost 4151 rubles/$3193, and by 2014 its value was $82,857. No values are available for the Resurrection Egg, since it was not an Imperial Fabergé Egg. Source: Benko, Riana, “Statistical Cost Analysis of Fabergé’s 50 Imperial Easter Eggs”, Fabergé Research Newsletter, Fall 2015.
3 Snowman, A. Kenneth, The Art of Carl Fabergé, Second Edition, 1962, p. 79, and plate 317.
4 Lowes, Will, and Christel Ludewig McCanless, Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, 2001, pp. 146-47, 179.
5 von Habsburg, Géza, Fabergé: Treasures of Imperial Russia, 2004, p. 124.
6 The authors attempted to reach Mr. Hargis through his office.
7 von Habsburg, Géza, and Alexander von Solodkoff, Fabergé: Court Jeweler to the Tsars, 1979, pp. 149-150.
8 Hoff, DeeAnn, “Monogrammed Beauty: Queen Marie’s Brooch”, Fabergé Research Newsletter, Fall 2015.
The selected chronology below contains journal citations (cited as McC# from the McCanless Annotated Bibliography), chapters/essays from monographs about Fabergé, and case studies contributed by newsletter readers on the subject of Fauxbergé.
1949 Bainbridge, Henry C., manager of the London Fabergé branch, cautions about forgers and forgeries for flowers and animals in his book, Peter Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith and Jeweller to the Russian Imperial Court and the Principal Crowned Heads of Europe, the first monograph with black/white and color illustrations which brought the art of Fabergé to the attention of the western world.
1953 Snowman, A. Kenneth, The Art of Carl Fabergé. After the publication of this English monograph about Fabergé, forgeries began appearing. (McC #1014). See Case Study V: Maryhill Museum of Art, Goldendale, Washington by DeeAnn Hoff and Kristin Mills in the Museums section.
1966 Staff Reporter. “Forgeries of Fabergé on Offer in Britain. New Weapons in War against Art Faking.” The Times (London), May 23, 1966, p. 12, Issue 56638, Col. A. (McC #553) The lead paragraph states the fakes include cigarette cases and clocks, and suggests “they are brought in ones and twos from Germany, where they are made.” Sotheby auction house and the dealer Wartski are actively involved in differentiating between real Fabergé and “Fabergé-style” objects in the mid-1960’s. Approximately 40-50 fakes appear annually.
1975 “Faking It In Moscow.” Art News, vol. 74, October 1975, pp. 20–22. (McC #787) The story of Naum Nikolayevsky, a mineralogist from the Soviet Union, who produced fakes and added hallmarks to non-Fabergé pieces and how the objects entered the auction market is told. See Case Study II. Folkloristic Hardstone Figures of Questionable Character by Timothy Adams and Christel Ludewig McCanless.
From 1979 on Fabergé dealers, authors and exhibition curators, A. Kenneth Snowman, and Géza von Habsburg in their books about Fabergé and the firm’s Russian competitors, begin cautioning readers about Fabergé fakes.
1979 Snowman, A. Kenneth. Carl Fabergé, Goldsmith to the Imperial Court of Russia. In the essay, “Wrong Attributions, Pastiches & Forgeries” (pp. 146-149), Snowman reflects on his personal experience and lessons learned as the proprietor of Wartski. His blockbuster Fabergé exhibition to coincide with the 1977 Queen’s Jubilee at the Victoria & Albert Museum from June – October 1977 was seen by over 104,000 visitors.
1979 von Habsburg, Géza, and Alexander von Solodkoff. Fabergé, Court Jeweler to the Tsars. The authors affiliated with Christie’s, a leading auction house dealing in Fabergé objects, identified in the late 1970’s three categories of fakes in “Fabergé and Fake Fabergé”, pp. 149-150.
1979 von Habsburg in a German journal article (McC #984) with the translated title “Not Everything, Which Is Marked, Is Genuine: A Discussion of Fabergé Fakes” discusses the same three types of Fabergé fakes. The specifics the authors address are listed in the introductory section of this newsletter and presented as Case Study I. done by members of the Silver Forum Hallmarks Database and Silver Research.
1982 Robin Duthy, author of Alternative Investment Reports in his Connoisseur article (McC #1111) cautions the reader to study and understand auction catalog descriptions. Will Lowes in this 2017 Fall and Winter edition of the Fabergé Research Newsletter essay asks “Is It Really Fabergé”? He gives the potential collector or Fabergé enthusiast an overview of the Fabergé firm at the turn of the 20th century within the vast corpus of objects we now simply call Fabergé. Lowes ends his insights by listing Christie’s guidelines for prospective buyers at auction.
1983 And can anyone forget the United Artists Corporation film, Octopussy, in which the major part of the plot is the theft of state jewelry from the Kremlin Art Depository (fictional) replaced with forgeries, and then smuggled into Western Europe to be sold? (McC #1130)
1985 Alexander von Solodkoff in a German journal interview about the price explosion for Fabergé objects suggests that fakes are made in New York, go to Russia, and then through diplomatic channels appear again in the West. (McC #1309)
1986 von Solodkoff discusses the conundrum of animals carved from semi-precious stones which are not always marked, and a large number of copies and forgeries have come on the market. He postulates Fabergé never made anything in a series but produced some of them several times with variations due to the high demand by his clients. In German. (McC #1331)
1986 von Habsburg, Géza, Fabergé, Juwelier der Zaren. In German. An English edition was published in 1987 with an essay “Fake Fabergé Objects”, pp.343-346.
1988 An Indiana (US) Superior Court ruled that 54 Russian works of art, 19 of them represented to be Fabergé, were only worth $36,523 – a widow had paid $324,700 to a couple she met at the Indiana State Fair Grounds. Constance Lowenthal, Executive Director of the International Foundation for Art Research discusses the Fabergé fake market. (McC #1502)
1993/1994 von Habsburg, Géza, and Marina Lopato, Fabergé: Imperial Jeweler. Monograph accompanied an exhibition sponsored by the Fabergé Arts Foundation, Washington (DC), and the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia, which traveled during 1993-94 from the State Hermitage Museum to the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris, and then to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Separate Russian, French, and English editions of the catalog were published with an essay entitled, ”Fauxbergé” (pp. 165-167 in the English edition) by Géza von Habsburg in which he summarizes his observations about animals, flowers, some hardstone figures and jewelry after many years of handling them:
1994 In the article “Fauxbergé” (Art & Auction, February 1994, Vol. XVI, pp. 76-79) which reads like a detective novel, von Habsburg tells of his many encounters with forgers. Of particular interest are the collecting and counterfeit activities using original hallmarking tools in the 1920-30’s of the American brothers Armand and Victor Hammer (see also Blumay, Carl with Henry Edwards, The Dark Side of Power: The Real Armand Hammer, 1992, 95-108), and the chapter entitled, ‘The “Successor” to Fabergé’, in the book by Yuri Brokhin, Hustling on Gorky Street: Sex and Crime in Russia Today, 1975, pp. 163-185. Naum Nikolayesky and his brother-in-law Vasily Konovalenko “headed a gang of con-men who sold ‘Fabergé’ to unsuspecting Moscow diplomats …”, etc. Case Study II. relates to the 1975 publication, see Auctions section.
1995 A similar essay to the one above appeared in a German language publication authored by von Habsburg in Alexander von Solodkoff, et al., Fabergé, Juwelier des Zarenhofes, pp. 42-45, with specific production techniques used by the original Fabergé firm in St. Petersburg compared to those used by the forgers which obtain less refined results. Book is the exhibition catalog for the German Fabergé exhibition in which the Chevalier Meurice Mizzi Collection was shown at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe in Bremen.
1996/1997 von Habsburg, Géza, et al. Fabergé in America. Monograph to accompany a traveling exhibition (New York City, San Francisco, Richmond, Virginia, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Cleveland, Ohio, in 1996-97.) In a two page summary entitled “Fauxbergé” (pp. 329-330) the author states Armand Hammer used hallmarking tools to sell Russian treasure on behalf of the Bolsheviks in the 1930’s. The following quote by Victor Hammer comes from an Armand Hammer biography by Carl Blumay with Henry Edwards, 1992, p. 106: “Side by side with the Soviet–owned Fabergé we sold our own perfectly hallmarked Fabergé pieces and kicked back commissions on both to Mikoyan [Stalin’s trade commissioner]. In 1938, we had a very big Fabergé sale and sold so many real pieces and so many counterfeits we grossed millions.” Appendix I (pp. 331-338) shows forged pieces to make future collectors aware of the many pitfalls which await them.
2000 von Habsburg, Géza, et al. Fabergé: Imperial Craftsman and His World. For the exhibition catalog, Dr. Marina Lopato of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg wrote an insightful essay about the forgery market in 1977 and beyond from the Russian viewpoint. She tells the story of Mikhail Monastyrsky, a well-known forger of “figures à la Fabergé.” (pp. 386-388) See also Case Study II. in the Auctions section.
2000 Steve Kirsch began his Fauxbergé website.
2011 von Habsburg, Géza, et al., Fabergé Revealed: At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Two sections in this very thorough review of the Lilian Thomas Pratt Collection pertain to forgeries – both are the work of Géza von Habsburg who first began his interest in fakes in 1979. They are: “Fauxbergé” (chapter 9, pp. 126-133) and a “Catalogue: Forgeries” (pp. 391-403) which illustrates Pratt objects no longer attributed to Fabergé. The study of the flowers is of particular interest.
2014 von Habsburg, Géza presented two lectures, available on Youtube, in conjunction with the traveling venue from the Pratt Collection in Richmond, Virginia, shown in Montreal, Canada, Fabulous Fabergé, June 14-October 12, 2014. Fauxbergés: The Master Forgers (in English) and Fauxbergés: Les maîtres faussaires (in French).
- Russian art specialist Helen Culver Smith, has gathered for Christie’s (London) Collecting Guide series information about historic truths and authentic provenances. Auction lots with prices realized are illustrated in the May 2017 Collecting Guide: 15 Things You Need to Know about Fabergé.
For more than a decade, newsletter contributors have explored Fabergé topics in depth. A few of the fifty subjects selected from the Index of the Fabergé Research Newsletter for specific Fabergé (Objects) are listed below and supplemented from books and articles with web links. A big THANK YOU to all the contributors, who have shared their research insights. Welcome aboard, if you have a research topic to share.
- Bell Pushes (Fabergé Elephant Bell Pushes with Russian Imperial Provenance by James Hurtt)
- Brooches (“Alix and Pollie” – A Lifelong Friendship by Pat Hazlett)
- Bulldogs Fall 09 | Spring 10 | Summer 10 | Fall 11
- Cufflinks (Fabergé Cufflinks by Galina Korneva and Tatiana Cheboksarova)
- Fabergé Design Sketches | Snowman, A. Kenneth, Fabergé: Lost and Found: The Recently Discovered Jewelry Designs from the St. Petersburg Archives, 1993 | Tillander-Godenhielm, Ulla, et al. Golden Years of Fabergé: Drawings and Objects from the Wigström Workshop, 2000. Documentation of Fabergé techniques was scarce until the recent discovery of an album with more than 1,000 drawings from the workshop of Henrik Wigström, Fabergé’s chief work master from 1903-1917. Objects, which have been identified, are reproduced next to the original drawings. The first chapter, “Henrik Wigström: Portrait of a Master Craftsman”, gives the reader an insight into one of the major studios and its production.
- Gum Pots (Every Acquisition Has a Story by Steve Kirsch)
- Imperial Egg Chronology
- Kovshs Winter 10-11 | Summer 11 | Summer 12 | Winter 13-14 | Spring 15 | Winter 15 | Summer and Fall 16 | Winter 16
- Mieks Fabergé Eggs
- Pendant Eggs (Pendant Eggs and Marks)
A reader intrigued by the inconsistencies of marks stamped on miniature Fabergé pendant eggs asked for a clarification. Peter Schaffer of A La Vieille Russie shared these general guidelines based on years of experience as a Fabergé dealer in New York City: “Marks cannot be added or changed on the main ring, the one actually attached to the egg. The jump ring may not be original to the piece, and a trained eye can tell if the jump ring has been added, altered, or both. Loose rings are not always correct – just because there is plenty of room and they move easily. That is NOT to say that a mark on a loose ring is wrong – but the probability for problems IS greater.”
Pendant Egg Marks
(Courtesy Steve Kirsch)
A Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Fabergé Pendant Eggs by Karen Kettering, December 2016. Fabergé’s miniature pendant eggs are an exceedingly enjoyable area to collect. In what other area can you purchase a Fabergé egg that you can also wear every day?
- Fabergé Smoking Accessories: Materials and Techniques of an Art Form by Christel McCanless and Timothy Adams presented at the 2016 Fabergé Symposium in Houston, Texas (Power Point Presentation and Handout)
- Table lighters (Fabergé Silver Table Lighters with a Personality by Riana Benko)
- Thimbles (Fabergé Thimbles by Magdalena and William Isbister)
- Tiaras (Fascinating Fabergé Tiaras by Christel Ludewig McCanless)
- Workmasters and marks from the Fabergé firm in all its branches have been included since 1949 in most major publication about Carl Fabergé, Russian court jeweler (1846-1920). Three reference tools are:
- Over 500 individuals are listed with biographical details in Lowes, Will, and Christel Ludewig McCanless, Fabergé Eggs: A Retrospective Encyclopedia, 2001, pp. 175-245.
- Fabergé, Tatiana F., Kohler, Eric-Alain, and Valentin V. Skurlov. Fabergé: A Comprehensive Reference Book, 2012, pp. 119-293.
- Quick reference guide for workmasters and their marks.
There are still mysteries and inconsistencies which have alluded researchers. Dr. Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, a jeweler by trade and Fabergé scholar, has published a series of books with stunning photographs of objects made by Finnish goldsmiths and silversmiths employed as workmasters and journeymen by the Fabergé firm in St. Petersburg before 1918. With a bit of persuasion she agreed to reveal some details about her unique opportunity from 1980 to the present to have a closer look than most authors to resources and individuals with generational connections to the trade as well as the art of Fabergé.
It took 28 years for a publishing house in Finland to understand they should commission a richly illustrated book on the Finnish Fabergé workmasters. The publisher, who finally understood such a book would be a success was Tammi, Finland’s third largest publishing company, a part of the Swedish family-owned Bonnier Corporation. I was given more or less a free hand to do the book. The picture material was generously provided by all the major collectors, museums as well as the auction houses both in the east and the west.
The 2008 book, Fabergé ja hänen suomalaiset mestarinsa (Fabergé and His Finnish Workmasters) provides an in-depth and expert look into the lives and production of Fabergé’s foremost Finnish workmasters, beginning with Pöntinen (Pendin), Holmström, Väkevä, Mickelsson, and Kollin, who began their tenure under Gustav Fabergé. They were followed by Wigström, Pihl, Hollming, Nevalainen, Nykänen (whose name has been erroneously spelled Niukkanen for the past century), Aarne, and Armfelt.
A numbered volume edition of 1,800 sold out in a few months. The publisher therefore decided in 2011 to publish a smaller version of the book, Fabergén suomalaiset mestarit (Fabergé’s Finnish Workmasters) in an edition over 3,500 copies. It also sold out, and is out of print. I am in the final stages of publishing an English language version which will contain the principle 2011 edition content, as well as new archival information on my fellow countrymen associated with Fabergé, and also on the workmasters of other nationalities.
A user of the research tool, Russian Antique Silver – Hallmarks of Silversmiths – Russian Maker’s Marks by Giorgio B., suggests that errors are sometimes created between Cyrillic and Latin transcriptions, and other oddities appear in dealing with hallmarks and makers marks. The reviewer’s advice is to appreciate the large volume accumulated in this reference tool, but to continue learning more and more, and to read with a “critical eye”.
Peter L. Schaffer of A La Vieille Russie, a New York City family business specializing in Fabergé and antique jewelry, shared two excellent bits of advice:
Step back and allow the mind to see the Fabergé objet d’art and don’t just look at the marks and the written words before you make a decision to buy Fabergé. Hopefully, you will avoid the thousands of fakes on the market.
Grant, Daniel, “The Art of the Online Deal”, Wall Street Journal, October 24, 2016, B4.
Passing the Baton! Teaching Second Grade Slovenian Children about Fabergé’s Imperial Easter Eggs.
Thanks to the efforts of newsletter contributor Riana Benko (left)
each child took home a special Fabergé Easter egg.