Absolutely Fabergé!

Discover the Mystery of the newly revealed Fabergé items found by Antiques Roadshow expert Geoffrey Munn…

Recently, antiques expert Geoffrey Munn (man-on-telly and all-round good egg) came to visit curator Martin Pel and I, at Brighton Museum.

Antiques expert Geoffrey Munn examining the disassembled lilac Fabergé photograph frame
Antiques expert Geoffrey Munn examining the disassembled lilac Fabergé photograph frame

Previously, on an unrelated visit, he spotted the corner of just one of the pieces (the square lilac photograph frame) poking out of archival tissue paper in the stores. Such is his skill, he recognised it immediately as Fabergé, and quite rare too! It is thanks to Geoffrey that we are showing our five exquisite Fabergé items.

Geoffrey is as charming in real life as he is on the Antiques Roadshow. He is extremely knowledgeable, self-effacing, and very funny. Despite the joviality, we managed to pack in a full day and did some serious work too.

First on the agenda was to meet conservator Andy Thackray, who has been prepping the objects for display. The two photo frames were in a rarely seen state: i.e. open. We examined the photographs and debated who the two women could be.

Martin and Geoffrey examine the frames
Martin and Geoffrey examine the frames

Geoffrey and Martin think one of them could be Princess Alice, mother of the Late Prince Philip. (Apparently, Geoffrey once asked Prince Philip to take a look at the photo. He said he couldn’t be sure who it was, as it was a very long time ago!).

Our mystery lady in her frame
Our mystery lady in her frame

As Mr Munn examined the frame closely, he explained that it was enameled Guilloche on silver. Guilloche is a tricky technique, used to make the visible lines under the coloured enamel. The frame was made in Moscow, and he knew this because it had the Russian Imperial warrant (double-headed eagle) stamped on it. This is the endorsement of the Tzar himself and was only used above the Fabergé signature for objects made in Moscow.

The Imperial Warrant, above the Fabergé signature
The Imperial Warrant, above the Fabergé signature

The other thing that really stood out for me, was that Geoffrey managed to find and decipher the smallest inventory number I have ever seen. All Fabergé pieces were stamped with the appropriate marks and then given a unique number, which was unobtrusively scratched on. In theory, these numbers can be matched to the Fabergé sales registers. In practice, it’s not quite that straightforward. This particular number on the lilac frame looked like a tiny scuff mark. It was barely visible to the naked eye! Geoffrey has promised to follow that number up with his extensive contacts in the Fabergé world, so we hope he can reveal some details about the provenance of this stunning, but curious item soon. We will keep you updated of course.

Andy searching for the inventory number
Andy searching for the inventory number

Being able to see the photos without the glass was really helpful. The lilac frame contained a small round, silver-gelatin photograph, cut from a larger image. Embossed on the back were partial details of photographic studio in Paris. It turned out to be the mark of the Swedish-born, High Society photographer Otto Wegener. Sadly though, there were no other clues to the identity of the woman.

The reverse of the photo: “Otto… …Place de la Madeleine”
The reverse of the photo: “Otto… …Place de la Madeleine”

We will be running a campaign to find out who both women in our two photograph frames are. Keep your eye out for details of how you can get involved on our website and on the display.

Our 5 Fabergé items will be on display at Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, from 2 November 2021 until June 2022.

Fiona Story, Creative Programme Coordinator

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