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.
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