Peter Rabbit and Friends
The Tales and Collectibles of Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit and Friends
The Tales and Collectibles of Beatrix Potter


By Anne Gilbert

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, March, 2004    

The ultimate Easter eggs, designed and executed by Carl Faberg’e, jeweler to   the Russian Czars , are known not only for the mystique surrounding them, but  the surprises contained  inside. Little did the collecting world realize that his January’s announcement by Sotheby’s of the sale of nine Faberg’e eggs from the late Malcolm Forbes collection scheduled to hit the block in April,  would mean more surprises than contained  inside the eggs themselves. The announcement of any Faberg’e egg coming to market is always a cause for excitement...along with the discovery of a new egg. Only 42 of the 50 eggs Faberg’e designed for the Czars have been accounted for. The same holds true for the presentation eggs he made for a limited number of his wealthiest patrons. Among them, American-born, Consuelo Vanderbilt, Duchess of Marlborough. That egg, incidentally, was the first purchased by Forbes. The big surprise, and disappointment for collectors,  came with the February 5 Sotheby’s press release that the eggs would all be in one Russian basket. They had been purchased directly from the Forbes family by Russian oil tycoon, Viktor Vekselberg. Sum not disclosed.

Of the nine eggs the “Coronation Egg, was the most expensive. It was estimated by Sotheby’s to be valued at $18 million to $24 million. It was made in 1897 to commemorate Nicholas II’s ascension to the throne. It is covered with gold and diamond trellises.

Aside from rarity, the Russian connection and use of precious gems and metals, here are more important reasons for the astronomical prices. The workmanship alone would warrant them. But, add the mechanical skill of the interior “surprises” that faberg’e invented for most of his eggs, and it is easy to understand. For instance, consider the “orange tree egg”. When one of the jeweled oranges is pressed, a tiny, feathered-gold nightingale appears from the top of the tree, to sing and flap its wings.

Though Carl Faberg’e was born in Russia, his heritage is French...as are his decorative influences. His grandfather fled Huguenot persecution in France and became a Russian subject. His father, Gustav Faberg’e began the family jewelry business as a goldsmith and jeweler in St. Petersburg, in 1842. Young Carl began his training in his father’s workshop, but was also apprenticed to a noted German goldsmith, in Frankfurt. However, it was a subsequent tour of Italy and France, and the techniques of enamellers and goldsmiths that were to influence his work. At the age of 24 he took over his father’s firm, in 1870. By 1882 his unique, new style jewelry won him the gold medal at Moscow’s Pan-Russian Exhibition, and the eye of Czar Alexander III.

The 1900 Exposition International Universelle in Paris, brought Faberg’e International recognition, as well as the Legion d’Honneur. Working with enamels, considered one of the most difficult
processes, Faberg’e combined it with the Guilloch'eprocess (a decorative band or border that resembles a line of interlocking circles). Today, it is rarely used, not only because of the cost, but the technical problems involved. Faberg’e is still the acknowledged master of enameling. A process where even a tiny mistake working with the enamels at high temperatures could ruin a fine piece.

His eggs often combined materials that were equally difficult to work with.  Among them various precious and semi-precious stones, matte and translucent enamels and various shade of gold.

Many of the Imperial eggs were personalized. One, the “Lillies of the Valley Egg” contained portraits of Nicholas, Grand Duchess Olga and Tatiana. Another was the “Coronation Egg”, that contained its own royal coach. The egg tradition began when he began creating decorative Easter gifts, such as pendants and various objects d’art, in the form of tiny eggs, popular in the 1880s. In 1884 Czar Alexander 111 asked him to create an unusual Easter gift for his wife, the Empress Maria Feodorovna.

The design of the first of the Imperial eggs was relatively simple. It contained golden yoke, which in turn, held a tiny gold hen figurine. The Czarina was so  pleased that the Czar commissioned Faberg’e to begin the tradition, as long as each egg contained a hidden surprise. Some of the eggs were so complicated they took years to complete.

In 1896 when Nicholas 11 came to the throne he continued the tradition, adding one for his mother, the Dowager Empress as well as his czarina, Alexandra Fedorovna.

The end of the Faberg’e tradition came with the outbreak of the Bolshevik revolution in 1917. His work, done for the aristocrat and the wealthy became unpopular. He fled to Switzerland and died there in 1920. Sadly, it was not  until the last decade that his work once again became popular, and his genius newly appreciated...even in Russia.

Prices have come a long way since the czar paid Faberg’e the equivalent of $250,00 in dollars for the Winter Egg. When it was last sold at auction in 2002 the price was more than $9.5 million. The egg of rock crystal was commissioned by the nephew of Alfred Nobel. It was a jeweled silver-mounted enamel Easter Egg containing a jeweled platinum and rock crystal "surprise"...a jeweled, platinum and rock crystal pendant watch.

According to Faberge's original account book, one of the most expensive eggs he ever produced was the "Winter Egg”. Made of finely carved, transparent rock crystal, the egg contained a “surprise” rose-diamond basket of spring flowers. The exterior of the egg was embellished with over 3,000 diamonds.

STARTING YOUR OWN AFFORDABLE EGG COLLECTION

They may not have been made by Faberg’e, but there are many types of old, decorated eggs that are interesting and collectible. Decorative eggs were made in a wide range of materials from the late 19th to mid-19th centuries. Victorian eggs made of milk glass had painted and gilded decorations. Tin and cardboard eggs and bunny figures, first made in the early 20th century , once held candy. Glass hen and egg dishes, originally made in the late 19th century came in  colors as well as white and colorless glasses. Painted wood eggs were a tradition in Russia and Ukrania and are still being made. There are also hollowed out, decorated eggs that were a popular craft beginning in the 1950s.

Wait! You can have an affordable Faberg’e egg after all. Theo Faberg’e , a descendent, made decorative eggs of wood in the 1980s. When they come to auction prices range from $200 up.


 

 


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