Faberg's Eggs: The Extraordinary Story of the Masterpieces That Outlived an Empire Hardcover – 1700
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When Czar Alexander III came to Fabergé before Easter in 1881, he wanted a present for his wife, the Empress Maria. The first egg of the series was the Hen Egg, based on the design of an egg in the Royal Danish Collection, and since Maria was from Denmark, it would have reminded her of her happy childhood there. The eggs became an annual tradition thereafter, and each year Fabergé had more freedom about how to execute the commission. When Alexander died only aged 49 in 1894, Fabergé might have worried that the new czar Nicholas II would not have the same taste or desires, but Nicholas proved to be unwilling to change anything much (a characteristic that Faber shows played a role in his doom), and continued the tradition, with Easter eggs going not just to Maria his mother but to Alexandra his new wife. The eggs often reflected historical landmarks or anniversaries. The Trans-Siberian Railway Egg of 1900 commemorating the newly completed railway. Fabergé knew that he could please Alexandra with depictions of her children; the famous Lilies of the Valley Egg of 1898 had a surprise of pop-out portraits of her husband and daughters. Faber demonstrates that the eggs could represent the alienation of the royals from the world around them. He contrasts these expensive and beautiful toys with the lot of the Russian people and increases our understanding of the revolution that brought the family down in 1918, and the eggs were available for sale abroad to benefit the new Soviet state. The most famous collector was Malcolm Forbes, who determined that he would buy up so many of the eggs he would have more than were left in the Kremlin vaults. He thought he had succeeded, too, with eleven eggs to the Kremlin's ten in 1985, but increased interest in the eggs (and a Forbes-inspired boom in their prices, which lasted after his death in 1990) meant that scholars went to work on tracking down exact listings of their history. Forbes's cache was entirely Fabergé eggs of the period, but only nine were actual gifts from a czar. In 2004, a Russian tycoon bought Forbes's eggs to go back into the Kremlin Armory Museum.
The eggs now get lent out for displays, and for Russians can symbolize a romanticized, glorious past that the Communists wanted them all to forget. It is a past which still takes hold of people's imaginations, although the past was actually inglorious. As Faber points out, though, there is a symmetry of the eggs ordered by the super-rich czar, now brought back to Russia by the czar's super-rich oligarch successors. This is a fine history that tells a great deal more about characters and events than it does about mere ostentatious and whimsical jewelry.
Diane C. Donovan