Easter Egg Hunt 2017

It’s time to talk about eggs.  No, not the ones the bunny’s going to leave or the ones that show up in your McMuffins, but real, honest-to-God Easter eggs that retail for 8 to 10 million dollars.  These are the Romanov Eggs, incredible treasures left over from the days of Imperial Russia.


Just a quick review.  The Romanovs were the boys (no girls allowed — except Catherine the Great) who ran the show in Imperial Russia a hundred years ago.  At the peak of their power, in the 19th century, their writ ran from the North Pole to the Himalayas and from the Vistula River to the Pacific Ocean.  It’s hard to understand these days, but as absolute autocrats, they literally owned everything within those borders — down to the last babushka, and, more importantly, the grandma who was wearing it.  When a Romanov said jump, you didn’t waste his time asking how high; you got your ass into the air.  It’s no accident that the Russian word czar is derived from the Latin Caesar and that’s how the Romanovs thought of themselves.  Unfortunately, that’s what eventually got them into trouble, but that story’s for a different time.

It was Czar Alexander III who came up with the idea of an Imperial Easter Egg.  Somewhere in the mid 1880s, he decided to give his wife, the Czarina Maria, a present for Easter.  (BTW, Easter is the highest holiday on the Russian Orthodox religious calendar.)  However, if you’re Czar of all the Russias, you can’t very well cruise down to Walmart and check out the sales; you have to come up with something special.  The Czar settled on an understated single egg, but one so elaborate it would thrill a woman who literally had everything.  He called on Pierre Faberge to make it so, and the result was beyond everybody’s wildest expectations.  The Hen, made of gold and enamel, looked like a real egg.  However, it opened up to reveal a yolk ,which, in turn, opened to reveal a chicken which also opened to reveal a diamond miniature of the Imperial crown and a ruby pendant that the Czarina could wear.  Everyone was so delighted with Faberge’s efforts that an Easter tradition was born.  From that Easter in 1885 — until Lenin and his pals put a stop to it in 1917 — Faberge made a number of Easter Eggs for the Imperial House of Romanov.

The Imperial Easter Eggs were exquisite examples of Romanov opulence; intricate toys encrusted with jewels.  For example, the Trans Siberian Egg had a small train inside that could be wound with a key so that it ran on a tiny track.  The Peter the Great Egg held a replica of his St. Petersburg statue which rose out of the egg when you turned a dial.  The Tercentenary Egg had hand-painted miniature portraits of all the Romanov czars and a globe made of coloured gold that showed Russian expansion.  Each of these “eggs” was flawless (the Trans Siberian train had windows made of crystal!) and cost millions of rubles.  Remember that the Faberge name was not always attached to the glitz we see today.  In the beginning, Faberge dealt exclusively in jewelry, objets d’art and unequaled elegant craftsmanship.  They were the greatest jewellers of the 19th century — no contest — by appointment to the Imperial House of the Romanovs and some of their wealthier friends.  Translation: Faberge made trinkets for the wealthy which were so expensive, even normal rich people couldn’t afford them. Only high-end nobility and their uber-wealthy compadres could meet the tariff.  The objets d’art Faberge made for the Russian aristocrats were practically obscene, especially when the average Russian of the time lived his entire life on black bread and cabbage — and not very much of that.  One Romanov egg could have set a Russian village up for life.  And by the time the Soviets confiscated them during the revolution in 1917, there were 50 or so of these baubles kicking around the Imperial palaces.

This is where it gets interesting because, like so many things that went through the Russian Revolution, there are strange circumstances surrounding the Romanov “Easter eggs.”

First, nobody is 100% certain how many were actually made.  Most sources have settled on 50, but some say 52, and some as high as 54.  Oddly enough, even though there are records, nobody seems to have kept track.  Granted, the Romanovs had been collecting art for three centuries; they had a bunch.  (Even today, The Hermitage in St. Petersburg has the largest single collection of art in the world, and most of it used to belong to the Romanovs.)  One piece here or there could go unnoticed.  However, when the ornaments are worth millions, somebody somewhere is supposed to know how many there are.  It’s pretty darn strange that even today, after 100 years of research, scholars can’t agree on what was there in the first place.

Secondly, some of the “Eggs” have been lost.  Again, nobody seems to know how many.  The general figure is eight, but that’s open to discussion.  Regardless, how does one lose even one table-sized Easter egg that’s gold, heavy and sparkling with jewels?  It’s not like you could forget it with your umbrella on the bus. Somebody would notice.  Certainly, in all the confusion of 1917, the Imperial household may have misplaced a few things.  Also, it’s entirely possible that, during the Revolution, some of the People’s Commissars may have helped themselves to an item or two — just in case the whole communist gig didn’t work out.  These are possible scenarios, but the real problem is that when the Soviets confiscated everything Romanov, they treated in all with cavalier disdain.  This was capitalist decadence at the high end, and no self respecting Bolshevik was going to sully his ideology with it.  For example, when the “eggs” were finally inventoried (over several years in the 20s) because Stalin had bankrupted the country, the records were woefully incomplete — plus no photographs were taken.  To make matters worse, when Stalin gave businessman Armand Hammer (nobody knows how many) “eggs” to sell in America for the hard currency he needed, he didn’t bother to get a receipt.  So there are no records of what Hammer had, sold, or gave to Value Village.  The Soviets didn’t care, as long as they got the cash, and Hammer conveniently burnt his books just in case the American Federales looked too closely at his communist connections.  Thus, somewhere between 1917 and now, at least eight — or maybe more — pieces of priceless Russian art have been lost.

As we all know, aside from socks in the dryer, “lost” is a relative term.  These “Easter Eggs” have to be somewhere.  Yet, one would think that after all these years, their enormous value would bring them back into the public eye.  It hasn’t.  Obviously, some connoisseurs are content to enjoy their collection in secret — and keep their mouths shut.  However, most experts believe that, in some cases, whoever has one of the “lost” eggs may not be aware of what they own.  For example, we now know that, back in the 60s, a genuine Faberge egg, not identified as such, sold at a New York auction, for less than $10,000. (Sotheby’s is still trying to track down both the buyer and the seller.)  To put things into perspective, in 2007, the Rothschild Egg (which is not a Romanov egg) sold for 13.5 million dollars.  (Big difference, huh?)

The bottom line is that somewhere out there, there’s a czar’s ransom in “lost” Romanov treasure.  So, if you’re going to Great Aunt Olga’s house for Easter dinner you might want to take a browse through her china cabinet.  Who knows?

Easter Trivia

Just a few Easter tidbits.  Throw them into the conversation while you’re gorging yourself on chocolate.  They’ll amaze your family and friends, and you’ll look like the smartest person in the room.

The most expensive Easter Eggs in the world were made by Faberge for the Russian royal family.  In 1885, Tsar Alexander III decided he wanted to give the tsarina something nice for Easter.  Of course, when you’re Alexander Romanov, by the Grace of God, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland etc. etc., you can’t just cruise on down to Walmart Saturday afternoon for some chocolate bunnies.  Alexander commissioned jeweller Peter Carl Faberge to make a special “egg” for his wife that wasn’t just a jewel-encrusted bauble.  (Apparently, she had plenty of those.)  He requested that the “egg” contain something unexpected, a kind of obscenely expensive Kinder Surprise.  Faberge created The Hen, an egg that cleverly opened up to reveal a chicken, which also opened to reveal a miniature imperial crown and a tiny ruby pendant.  Empress Maria Fedorovna was delighted, and Carl Faberge never had to worry about lunch money again.

In all, Faberge made 50 Imperial Eggs for the Romanovs.  During the Russian Revolution in 1917, most of them were confiscated by Lenin and the communists.  In the 1920s, when the Soviet Union was slipping into bankruptcy, Lenin’s successor, Stalin, sold many of the eggs abroad to obtain hard foreign currency.  Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, enormously rich guy, Victor Vekselberg, has been buying the eggs back and returning them to Mother Russia.  Incidentally, of the original 50 Faberge Eggs only 42 are accounted for, so you might want to sneak in and check great-aunt Olga’s jewellery box — just in case.

Of all the holidays in the calendar, only Hallowe’en comes with a bigger sugar shock than Easter.  Somewhere around 90 million chocolate rabbits will be consumed in North America this year, and over a billion jellybeans.  I’m not sure if these figures include the treats bought by the cheap buggers who wait ‘til next Wednesday — when the bunnies go on sale.

In keeping with the tradition of spring and renewal, in many parts of Europe and eastern North America, it’s considered back luck if you don’t wear a new article of clothing on Easter.  The old practice of buying a new Easter bonnet is part of this tradition.

The first Easter baskets were made to look like nests.

Real eggs, not the chocolate variety, contain every single nutrient essential to human survival – and a whole pile of cholesterol that’ll kill ya.

It is a well-known fact that the tastiest parts of a chocolate rabbit are the ears, and now it’s been statistically proven.  A recent survey showed that approximately 75% of us eat the bunny’s ears first, 5% eat the feet first, and another 5% the tail. (ugh!)  The other 15% of us probably do something unnatural like dip him in our coffee or chop him into bits to share.  Sharing chocolate?  What an odd idea!

Pretzels, the proverbial beer snack, started out in the medieval church where monks used flour and water (two of the ingredients allowed during Lent) to create a treat for children who had learned their prayers.  They were called brezel in Germany and pretiola in Italy and were often given to babies to suck on during the long Easter church services.  The particular folded arms of the dough are reminiscent of the folded arms of devotion.

And finally, just so the anti-Christian louts don’t show their ignorance again this year, here’s a quick-and-dirty history of how we got from Jesus and the crucifiction to Easter bunnies and chocolate eggs.  The early Christians were not as stupid as some people seem to think.  Actually, they had a very clever Sales and Marketing department.  They realized that the heathen hordes already had some pretty healthy spring festivals that celebrated the end of winter.  What they did was attach Christ’s resurrection and the renewal of the spirit to the established idea of the renewal of the earth.  From there, it was mere baby steps to preaching the gospel in terms that the local peasantry could understand.  In fact, the name “Easter” probably comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess Eastre.  She was the goddess of the dawn and fertility, and her symbols were the egg and the rabbit or hare.  The Christians just cashed in on her success and slowly squeezed her out of the picture.  By the time The Venerable Bede was writing about her in the 8th century, she was already ancient history.

Happy Easter, everybody!