A Faberge egg worth millions was purchased at a flea market
in the US for just $14000. REUTERS/Prudence Cuming
When a scrap metal dealer from US Midwest bought a golden
ornament at a junk market, it never crossed his mind that he
was the owner of a Faberge egg hailing from the court of
In a mystery fit for the tumultuous history of Russia's
ostentatious elite, the 8-cm (3-inch) golden egg was spirited
out of St Petersburg after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and
then disappeared for decades in the United States.
An unidentified man in the United States spotted the egg
while searching for scrap gold and purchased it for $14,000,
hoping to make a fast buck by selling it to the melting pot.
But there were no takers because he had overestimated the
value of the watch and gems tucked inside the egg.
In desperation, the man searched the Internet and then
realised he might have the egg that Russian Tsar Alexander
III had given to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, for Easter in
When the scrap metal man approached London's Wartski antiques
dealer, he was in shock.
"His mouth was dry with fear - he just couldn't talk. A man
in jeans, trainers and a plaid shirt handed me pictures of
the lost Imperial egg. I knew it was genuine," Kieran
McCarthy, director of the Wartski antique dealer, told
"He was completely beside himself - he just couldn't believe
the treasure that he had," said McCarthy, who then travelled
to a small town in the US Midwest to inspect the reeded
yellow golden egg in the man's kitchen.
Wartski acquired the egg for an unidentified private
collector. McCarthy said he could not reveal the identity of
the man who found the egg, its sale price or the collector,
though he did say that the collector was not Russian.
Some estimates put the egg's value around $US20 million.
Reuters was unable to verify the story without the identities
of those involved and when questioned whether the story was
perhaps too fantastic to be true, McCarthy said:
"We are antique dealers so we doubt everything but this story
is so wonderful you couldn't really make it up - it is beyond
fiction and in the legends of antique dealing, there is
nothing quite like this."
Rich Russians, who before the revolution once dazzled
European aristocracy with their extravagance, have since the
1991 fall of the Soviet Union returned to stun the West by
snapping up treasures, real estate and even football clubs.
Metals tycoon Viktor Vekselberg bought a collection of
Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs for $90 million from the Forbes
family in 2004. The eggs were brought back to Moscow and put
on exhibition in the Kremlin.
A Russian businessman with a passion for Tsarist treasures,
Alexander Ivanov, said he was behind the $18.5 million
purchase of a Faberge egg in London in 2007.
Peter Carl Faberge's lavish eggs have graced myths ever since
they were created for the Russian Tsars: Only royalty and
billionaires can ever hope to collect them. Current owners
include Queen Elizabeth and the Kremlin.
Tsar Alexander III asked Faberge to make one egg a year until
his son, the next Tsar Nicholas II, ordered him to make two a
year - one for his wife and one for his mother. The tradition
ended in 1917 when Nicholas was forced to abdicate and he and
his family were executed by the Bolsheviks.
As Russia's rich rushed to the exits, treasures were sold off
under Vladimir Lenin and his successor Josef Stalin as part
of a policy known as "Treasures into Tractors".
The mystery golden egg, which opens to reveal a Vacheron
Constantin watch set with diamond set gold hands, was last
recorded in Russia in 1922, two years before Lenin's death.
It will go on display in London next month.
"It is nothing but wonderment and miracle - a miracle that
the egg survived," said McCarthy. "The treasure had sailed
through various American owners and dangerously close to the
Peter Carl Faberge made some 50 imperial eggs for the Russian
Tsars from 1885 to 1916. Forty-two have survived, according
to Faberge. Some others were made for merchants.