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October 15th

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Name The Karelian Birch Egg

Date 1917

Provenance Ordered by Nicholas II for Maria Fyodorovna; egg never presented to her

Made in St. Petersburg

Work-master Henrik Wigström or Kollin?

Marks N/A

Media Karelian birch, gold

Size N/A

Techniques N/A

Kept in Faberge's museum, Baden-Baden, Germany
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eggIn 1999, the publication of drawings from the Wigström workshops alerted scholars to the fact that two eggs were designed for delivery in 1917. One, the "Constellation Egg" in the form of a celestial globe bearing the constellations present on the birth of the Tsarevitch Alexei, and the other, "The Birch Egg" crafted of Karelian Birch panels set in gold. Tatiana Fabergé released images of the drawings for these pieces, but, it was believed, the pieces were never finished.

Soon, it was revealed, unfinished pieces of the "Constellation Egg" were in the collections of the Fersman Mineralogical Institute in Moscow, to which the leftover pieces in the Fabergé workshops had been removed after the Revolution. The fate of the other egg remained a mystery for years.

In November 2001, it was announced by the Russian National Museum (a for-profit museum based in Moscow), that the last Imperial Egg had been purchased by the museum out of a private collection in London, where the egg had resided since leaving Russian soil in 1927. Ivanov declined to name the egg's previous owner - who he said lives in London and is descended from a family of Russian emigres.

The egg is made of Karelian birch rather than the usual gold and precious gems that made Faberge famous.

Ivanov said it is the egg's history, rather than its physical composition, that makes it so valuable. Its purchase included the transfer of all of the egg's original documentation - including the invoice from its sale and a letter from Faberge to transitional government head Alexander Kerensky. "The letter alone could cost $100,000 because it is an original historical document," Ivanov said. In the letter, Faberge complains about having not been paid and asks Kerensky to send the egg to Nicholas II.

The egg was delivered to Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovitch for presentation to the Empress, but he fled his palace before it arrived. It sat in the palace, abandoned, until it turned up in an inventory taken five days after the October revolution.

The February Revolution occurred just 32 days before Easter on April 1, 1917, and Nicholas II obtained the egg after paying 12,500 rubles ($6,000 at the time) - despite having already abdicated.

The Rumyantsevsky Museum (now the Lenin Library) acquired the egg after the October Revolution. In January 1927, the museum closed and 450 items - including the egg - were sold by the Soviet government to foreign buyers. Experts can only speculate about the egg's whereabouts before it surfaced in London.

inThe egg does not even contain Faberge's trademark surprise hidden inside - anymore, and was likely stolen by soldiers during the October Revolution. Its surprise was a miniature mechanical elephant decorated with gold and silver, covered with 8 big and 61 small rose-cut diamonds, wound with a small jewel-encrusted key. The key still exists.

Because the downturn of Russian fortunes during World War I and the increasingly revolutionary mood in the country made it impolitic for the czar to commission bejeweled Easter eggs after 1916, the egg was fashioned from birch and gold bands. Inside, though, Faberge crafted an expensive surprise: a mechanical elephant with eight large diamonds, 61 small diamonds and a diamond-studded key engraved "MF" - for Maria Fyodorevna. The elephant has since been lost - it was likely stolen by soldiers during the October Revolution.

The Birch Egg carries with it a postscript, in the form of its invoice. Nicholas abdicated on March 15, 1917. Fabergé's invoice, dated April 25, is made out not to the "Czar of all the Russias", but simply to "Mr. Romanov Nikolai Aleksandrovich"...

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