Treasures of the World
© Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)
◦ Mementos of a Doomed Dynasty
◦ Nicholas and Romanov Russia
◦ Nicholas and Alexandra
◦ The tragic events that followed the coronation of Nicholas II
◦ Bloody Sunday
◦ Signs of revolution
◦ The inventive young Faberge
◦ Faberge's growing fame
◦ The Faberge Imperial Easter eggs featured in the Series
◦ The House of Faberge
◦ The workshops and workmasters
◦ Faberge the man
◦ Outrageous opulence
◦ Fragile remembrances
◦ The fate of the eggs ◦
The fate of the eggs
In 1918, after the death of the Romanovs,
the House of Faberge was nationalized and ransacked by the Bolsheviks.
Faberge and members of his family left Russia on what was to be the
last diplomatic train to Riga, not realizing that they would never be
able to return to their beloved Russia again. According to author Geza
von Habsburg: "When Faberge saw that all was lost Ц all of the
members of the Imperial family on Russian soil had been murdered Ц he
decided that was it, his whole world had collapsed, and he fled to Switzerland,
where he died in 1920 of (I would say) a broken heart."
Soon after the revolution, the contents of the Romanov palaces were
confiscated by the Bolsheviks. Most of the Faberge eggs, along with
masses of Imperial gold, silver, jewels and icons were inventoried,
packed in crates and taken to the Kremlin Armoury. Several eggs disappeared
during the looting and pillaging of the palaces. The only egg not found
at the time was the Order of St. George egg, which the Dowager Empress
had managed to save, along with other valuables, when she was evacuated
from Yalta to England aboard the British battleship Marlborough.
"All the other jewelry and the eggs were sent, by order of Lenin,
to Moscow and stayed there," says Von Habsburg. "They were
lost in some dark passage in the Kremlin Armoury storerooms; nobody
knew where they were." There the crates containing the eggs remained,
unopened, guarded by Kremlin staff.
But Lenin's efforts to preserve Russia's cultural heritage were undermined
when Joseph Stalin came to power. Stalin began trading the Russian Imperial
legacy for desperately needed Western currency to support his new regime.
"The treasures were rediscovered somewhere around 1927. For the
communists, there was the idea at the back of their minds that these
things might actually be sold for the good of the new Bolshevik government,
to finance their economic plans. So these things were taken out of safekeeping,
appraised, and offered to the West." (Von Habsburg)
Still so closely associated with the decadence of the Romanovs, Faberge's
eggs were initially undervalued. Before his escape, Faberge's son Agathon
had been imprisoned by the Bolsheviks and released briefly to evaluate
the jewels and gemstones confiscated from the Imperial family. He was
later jailed again when they found it difficult to sell the stones at
the prices he had quoted.
The curators at Moscow's Kremlin Armoury did what they could Ц at the
risk of execution Ц to hide the most valuable pieces. But between 1930
and 1933, fourteen of the Imperial Easter eggs were sold and left the
country. "The first items that were sold were taken out by Russian
Commissars to Paris and to London. The man who managed to get most of
the Faberge eggs was a man who was well known in the United States,
Armand Hammer. A great entrepreneur, president of Occidental Petroleum
and personal friend of Lenin, his father was founder of the Communist
party here in the United States." (von Habsburg)
Recognizing that the treasures of a dynasty were being swept into oblivion,
the eminent businessman and socialist sympathizer brought ten of the
eggs to America in the early 1930's. Hammer set up business and heavily
marketed and promoted the sale of these riches, but during the Depression
years, even the most stable American fortunes had faltered. A friend
of Hammer's ironically observed that while the Faberge eggs were indisputably
beautiful, they were not, in fact, edible.
According to Geza von Habsburg: "Hammer arrived here in New York
in 1931 with thousands of Russian works of art to be sold on behalf
of the Soviets. At the time there was no money... deepest Depression...
nobody was interested... until he struck on the idea of marketing these
things through department stores. And he took them through North America,
from the East coast to the West coast, stopping at department stores
in every major city and touting these things, lecturing about how he
discovered these things. And they caught on."
There were five major collectors in the early days here in the United
States: Matilda Geddings Gray, Lillian Thomas Pratt, Marjorie Merriweather
Post, India Early Minshall and Malcolm S. Forbes. Though some Imperial
eggs originally sold at auction for as little as four or five hundred
dollars, it took several decades for the eggs to gain recognition as
magnificent works of art. Now they are valued in the millions.
There were thousands of Faberge pieces in the palaces of the Romanovs,
most now scattered across far away lands in the many collections around
the world now. Of the fifty Imperial eggs made, only ten remain in the
Kremlin. Eight Imperial eggs are still missing.