Flea Market Fabergé: The Third Imperial Egg

One of the lost Imperial Eggs was purchased at a flea market nearly two decades ago, but it took years before its true identity was revealed.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: The Third Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg is displayed at Royal Jeweler Wartski on April 16, 2014 in London, England. This rare Imperial Fabergé Easter egg, made for the Russian Imperial family in 1887 and said to be worth tens of millions of dollars, was confiscated by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. In 1964 it was auctioned in New York as a “Goldwatch in Egg Form Case” for $2,450 – its origin was unknown at the time. Later, a buyer in the US Midwest bought it for what was believed to be scrap metal value until he discovered its true value. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) (detail)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: The Third Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg is displayed at Royal Jeweler Wartski on April 16, 2014 in London, England. This rare Imperial Fabergé Easter egg, made for the Russian Imperial family in 1887 and said to be worth tens of millions of dollars, was confiscated by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. In 1964 it was auctioned in New York as a “Goldwatch in Egg Form Case” for $2,450 – its origin was unknown at the time. Later, a buyer in the US Midwest bought it for what was believed to be scrap metal value until he discovered its true value. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) (detail)

In 2004 at a flea market stall, a Midwestern scrap metal dealer came across a gold jewelled egg with a tripod stand and clock. The dealer paid $13,302, a high sum for a flea market, and took the 8.2 cm-high egg home with him.

See also: 8 Sensational Flea Market Finds

The resale turned out to be difficult, since the interested parties thought that the price was set too high. The golden egg, which no one wanted, remained in the kitchen cupboard of the scrap metal dealer, who only decided to find out more about his seemingly unfortunate purchase in 2012.

Charity Exhibition, Saint Petersburg 1902, the Third Imperial Egg in enlarged detail. Public domain photo
Charity Exhibition, Saint Petersburg 1902, the Third Imperial Egg in enlarged detail. Public domain photo

During his research, he came across a 2007 photograph of a charity exhibition held in Saint Petersburg in 1902, which featured several of the Imperial Fabergé Eggs. Dimly visible in the photo was the Third Imperial Egg, which had been thought to be lost since 1922.

See also: Fabergé's Eternal Easter

Tsar Alexander III with his wife Maria Fyodorovna and their children Nicholas (II), Georgi, Xenija, Mikhail and Olga, 1888. Public domain photo
Tsar Alexander III with his wife Maria Fyodorovna and their children Nicholas (II), Georgi, Xenija, Mikhail and Olga, 1888. Public domain photo

The Third Imperial Egg was the third precious ornamental egg that the Russian Tsar Alexander III gave to his wife Maria Fyodorovna for Easter. In 1885, the Tsar first approached the exceptional jeweller and goldsmith Peter Carl Fabergé with the order. The tsarina's eggs were to be true works of art and contain a surprise inside. The Third Imperial Egg of 1887, designed by the Finnish goldsmith August Holmström, enclosed a Vacheron-Constantin watch. The engraving of the watch manufacturer helped the scrap metal dealer in 2012 figure out the true identity of his egg.

See also: Fabergé Eggs: 8 Little Known Facts

More information about the egg emerged in 2011, when two Fabergé experts came across an image of the egg from the 1902 photograph in a 1964 catalogue from the New York auction house Parke-Bernet. Even then, the auction house did not know they were dealing with an Imperial masterpiece. The egg was as such sold for $2,450 to an unknown buyer, and eventually turned up at a Midwest flea market, by a route as obscure as the one that previously brought it to the United States.

See also: The 9 Most Popular Jewelry Brands

The lucky scrap metal dealer approached the London jeweller Wartski, who confirmed the authenticity of the golden egg, and finally sold it to an equally unknown private collector in 2014 for an undisclosed sum. Still, the value of the egg was estimated to be in the region of $33 million. In 2021 and 2022, the Third Imperial Egg was on display as part of the Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum.

Tsar Nicholas II with his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna and their five children: Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei, 1913. Public domain photo
Tsar Nicholas II with his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna and their five children: Olga, Tatyana, Maria, Anastasia and Alexei, 1913. Public domain photo

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A total of 52 Imperial Eggs were commissioned from Fabergé. After the death of Alexander III, his son and successor Nicholas II took over the tradition, and gave his mother Maria Fyodorovna and his wife Alexandra Fyodorovna each an egg every Easter. The two eggs ordered in 1917 did not reach the Tsar's family due to the revolution.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: The Third Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg is displayed at Royal Jeweler Wartski on April 16, 2014 in London, England. This rare Imperial Fabergé Easter egg, made for the Russian Imperial family in 1887 and said to be worth tens of millions of dollars, was confiscated by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. In 1964 it was auctioned in New York as a “Goldwatch in Egg Form Case” for $2,450 – its origin was unknown at the time. Later, a buyer in the US Midwest bought it for what was believed to be scrap metal value until he discovered its true value. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 16: The Third Imperial Fabergé Easter Egg is displayed at Royal Jeweler Wartski on April 16, 2014 in London, England. This rare Imperial Fabergé Easter egg, made for the Russian Imperial family in 1887 and said to be worth tens of millions of dollars, was confiscated by the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution. In 1964 it was auctioned in New York as a “Goldwatch in Egg Form Case” for $2,450 – its origin was unknown at the time. Later, a buyer in the US Midwest bought it for what was believed to be scrap metal value until he discovered its true value. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

One of the eggs left Russia with Maria Fyodorovna in 1918, and others were forgotten or stolen in the years following the revolution. In 1930, Josef Stalin had 14 Fabergé eggs auctioned off at bargain prices to improve the state budget. Ten of the imperial eggs are now in the armoury of the Moscow Kremlin, and nine more are part of the collection of Russian oligarch Viktor Wekselberg and on display in the Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg. Most of the others are in museums or in private collections. 

See also: Possible Fabergé Egg Found on Russian Oligarch's Megayacht

Six of the Imperial Fabergé eggs have not been found to this day. As this story proves, you never know where those other eggs may be: it is the ultimate Easter egg hunt!

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