Finding Fabergé: The mysterious story of the Preston Manor Fabergé

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A collection of five objects made by Faberge © RPMT

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery
2 November 2021 – June 2022

What links British and Russian Royalty, an Edwardian spy and an English Manor house with some very rare Fabergé works of art?

Curators at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery are trying to solve an international mystery after the chance discovery of forgotten Faberge items.

In 2019, Geoffrey Munn, fine jewellery expert on the BBC1’s Antiques Roadshow was visiting the RPMT Fashion curator, Martin Pel when he spotted just the corner of some Faberge items wrapped up in tissue paper in the museum stores.

Despite the patina from years of tobacco smoke and lamp oil, Geoffrey knew straight away that he was looking at work produced in Russia, under the watchful eye of Carl Fabergé, the famous Imperial Court jeweller to the Tzars.

This cache of Fabergé yielded an important gold-mounted photograph frame in translucent purple enamel; important enough to imply some sort of royal, if not imperial provenance. Next to it was another smaller, but equally beautiful frame in rose pompadour enamel. There were two enamelled gum pots, one with a moonstone finial and the other topped with a garnet and objet de luxe, in the form of a striking blue, stamp damper.

The exquisite five items will now be on show at the museum with a question-mark at the centre of the display. Although both photographs show women of high status, dressed in expensive lace, furs and fine jewellery, there is no record of who they are.

However, Geoffrey Munn has an idea that one of the women might have royal connections.

He said: “The lady in the purple frame looks very like Princess Alice of Battenberg, great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh and mother-in-law of the Queen.”

The Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust are now hoping other people can help identify the two mysterious women looking out from their exquisite Fabergé frames.

In another twist to the story, RPMT curatorial staff have discovered a link to a British spy which may explain how the items ended up in Britain. Dame Ellen Thomas-Stanford who used to own Preston Manor, an Edwardian manor house in Brighton had a stepson Henry Vere Benett, nicknamed Croppy, who was based in St Petersburg during the Russian revolution in 1917.

During this time, he wrote to his stepmother saying he “hunted long and often in jewellers & bric a brac [shops]” to send back to her.

Could Croppy have picked up this Fabergé collection from a Russian émigré fleeing the revolution? In such desperate times, many people sold their riches and art works to fund their escape.

We’re keen to hear from anyone who may be able to shed some light on the mystery women and how the items ended up at Preston Manor.

Curator Martin Pel said; “These are beautiful items which we’d like to know more about. It would be fantastic if anyone could help us uncover more about them.

“If you have information contact info@rpmt.org.uk or call 03000 290906.”

About Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, part of Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust, is one of Britain’s oldest public museums. Located in the Royal Pavilion Estate at the heart of the city’s cultural quarter, the collections showcase arts and crafts from across the world and history from Ancient Egypt to modern Brighton.

Admission fee payable, Brighton & Hove residents free

Royal Pavilion Gardens, Brighton BN1 1EE Tel 03000 290900

Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm, Closed Mon (except Bank Holidays 10am-5pm)

Preston Manor

Preston Manor, part of Royal Pavilion & Museums Trust is a charming historic house, decorated and furnished in Edwardian style. Its elegant reception rooms and functional servants’ quarters reveal the ‘upstairs and downstairs’ of life at the manor before the First World War.

Admission fee payable

Preston Drove, Brighton BN1 6SD Tel 03000 290900

Open Apr-Sep Tue-Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 2-5pm (last admission 4.15pm).

Closed Mon (including Bank Holidays)

Closed Oct-Mar except for pre-booked groups, school visits and

special events

Contact information for press and media

For further information, hi res images or interviews please contact Caroline Sutton on caroline.sutton@rpmt.org.uk or 01273 071296.

For urgent enquiries in my absence please contact marketing@rpmt.org.uk or 03000 290906.