I laid hands on this cigarette case for the first time in February, and its story was, at first glance, straightforward: Fabergé, unmistakably; gold, enamel, rubies, diamonds; Moscow, obviously, with the Kremlin front and centre on the lid; made in 1913 to commemorate the Romanov Tercentenary, the celebrations of 300 years of Romanov rule, which began with the unanimous election of Michael Romanov, a boy of sixteen, as Tsar in 1613.
A RARE AND MAGNIFICENT IMPERIAL PRESENTATION FABERGÉ JEWELLED GOLD AND ENAMEL CIGARETTE CASE MADE FOR THE ROMANOV TERCENTENARY, MOSCOW, 1913, ESTIMATE £180,000–250,000.
That’s already an interesting story but there’s more. The presence of the crowned double-headed eagle placed the object into the category of Imperial Presentation, meaning that Fabergé produced it on the orders of the Imperial Cabinet of Emperor Nicholas II for the purpose of giving it as a gift. The question is, of course, to whom did the Emperor give the case? The answer is part of what makes Fabergé so much fun: inside, just under the hinge and barely visible without magnification is the number 4389.
Objects sold by the firm were inscribed by engravers with a four- or-five-digit inventory number. This is how the firm kept track of its stock, a system still used in some form by many jewellers today. The numbers are rather rudimentary and not finely drawn – hence we say scratched instead of engraved.
Over time, after looking at thousands of Fabergé objects, one can begin to recognise the handwriting (“Ah yes, that guy always does his twos like that”), and this can help authenticate an object. The numbers are sometimes difficult to locate, sometimes they’re worn away, and on very few occasions the object may not have been given one, for example if it was a bespoke commission and never entered into stock.
Fabergé’s own records do not survive. Fortunately, when a piece was purchased by a member of the Imperial Family, the firm recorded the inventory number on the invoice it sent to the cabinet. Before every auction, I send a list of scratched numbers to our archivist and hope for an Imperial match. In this instance, the owner of the case had already had the number traced and forwarded me the Imperial ledgers, which led us to the recipient: Lieutenant-General Miliy Milievich Anichkov.
DETAIL OF THE INVENTORY NUMBER FROM A RARE AND MAGNIFICENT IMPERIAL PRESENTATION FABERGÉ JEWELLED GOLD AND ENAMEL CIGARETTE CASE
The cabinet’s ledgers record that Emperor Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra took the case with them “on the occasion of Their Imperial Majesties’ travels around Russia” on 14 May 1913. This was the famous Tercentenary tour which concluded with enormous celebrations in Moscow, at which point it is likely that the Emperor gave it to his faithful aide Anichkov.
Anichkov was the head of Gofmarshalskoy, the department charged with looking after the Imperial palaces, having previously been in charge of the Tsarskoye Selo and Gatchina palaces. He was described by a colleague as “small, puny, smart, has undeniable comic talent and a large Russian shrewdness.” I’m not quite sure what a “large Russian shrewdness” is, but I like the sound of it, and I like the sound of Anichkov. Organised, frugal, energetic and loyal, he remained with the Imperial Family until the fall of the dynasty just four years later.
The Fabergé Jewelled Gold Cigarette Case features in the Russian Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons sale in London on 7 June.