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Russian Crown Jewels: A real-life mystery


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Presentation for the Loudoun County Public Library, Cascades Branch, July 15, 2013 detailing the discovery of a 1922 photographic album at the USGS Library in Reston, VA identifying 4 missing pieces of the Russian Crown Jewels.

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Russian Crown Jewels: A real-life mystery

  1. 1. Breaking the News • December 18, 2012 – USGS Press Release “Tracking the Story of the Russian Crown Jewels” – Included a 6:30 minute podcast called “Diamonds and Dusty Pages – • December 30, 2012 – National Public Radio Weekend Edition aired a 4:41 radio story called “The Mysterious Disappearance Of The Russian Crown Jewels” – false&id=168219426&m=168292498
  2. 2. The Romanov Family • The Romanov Family was the second and last imperial dynasty to rule over Russia, reigning from 1613 until 1917 • Their reign ended with the overthrow of the monarchy during the February Revolution of 1917 • In early March, the Provisional Government placed Czar Nicholas and his family under house arrest in the Alexander Palace • In August 1917 the government evacuated the Romanovs to Tobolsk in the Urals, allegedly to protect them from the rising tide of revolution during the Red Terror. Nicholas and Alexandra
  3. 3. • After the Bolsheviks came to power in October 1917, the conditions of their imprisonment grew stricter and talk of putting Nicholas on trial increased. • The Romanovs were moved during April and May 1918 to Yekaterinburg, a militant Bolshevik stronghold. • During the early morning of July 16, at approximately 01:30, Nicholas, Alexandra, their children, their physician, and several servants were taken into the basement and killed. • It is assumed that their jewelry was confiscated when they were taken into custody in March 1917 The Romanov Family Czar Nicholas and his family prior to 1917. Anastasia, his youngest daughter
  4. 4. The Romanov Jewels • The Romanov Family amassed a stunning collection of gems and jewelry during their 300 year reign • Many of the gems were mined in Russia and represented some of the most valuable gemstones known to exist • The artistry of court jewelers was also extraordinary including families like Faberge that made amazing pieces of art for the family • Other pieces, like the Shah diamond were given to the family by foreign rulers to garner political favor The Russian imperial regalia The Shah diamond
  5. 5. • Some of the Romanov Jewels were placed in protective storage at the outbreak of World War 1 and it is that cache of jewelry that comprises today’s Russian Crown Jewels collection • The jewelry was stored first in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) which was the capital but were transferred inland to Moscow after the revolution • The collection we know today as the Russian Crown Jewels were found in a warehouse in 1921 and had been presumed lost • That collection is comprised of the ceremonial regalia as well as some of the largest and most expensive pieces. • There is much speculation about what may have happened to the rest of the Romanov family’s jewelry. There is some speculation that several caskets full of jewelry were buried in the Gobi Desert on a trip to secure the jewels in China. Detail of the Russian Crown jewels from Russia’s Treasures The Russian Crown Jewels
  6. 6. The Russian Crown Jewels • When the jewels were discovered in that Moscow warehouse, the your Russian government struggled with what should be done with them. • The government considered selling the jewels to fund public projects as well as using them as collateral for loans. • It was ultimately decided that the jewels would be inventoried, cataloged and described. A preeminent mineralogist, Alexander Fersman, was hired to conduct the inventory • A member of the Faberge family was taken from prison to assist with the inventory. • The team decided, as part of the inventory, to photograph to jewels. This was the first time the Romanov jewels had been systematically photographed. Painting depicting the Russian imperial regalia
  7. 7. The Photographic Album (1922) • Consists of a hand-colored title page (left) that is signed by an artist and dated “Moscow, 1922” • A simply bound album with maroon papers and tissue covers for each of the photographs • 59 pages on which are pasted 81 original photographs depicting pieces of the Romanov jewelry. • Some oxidation on the photographs but overall in very good shape. • The identification of the Romanov jewelry was evident with the first pictures in the album clearly being the crown, scepter and the orb Binding of the 1922 album Title page of the 1922 album
  8. 8. The Photographic Album (1922) “Russian Diamond Fund” “NKF Governmental Repository of Valuables”“Moscow-1922”Unknown artist’s signature
  9. 9. Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones (1925) • An official publication of the Russian Government, consisting of 100 plates with accompanying text which inventory the Romanov jewels. Published in Russian, French, and English. • In 2007 a copy of this catalog sold on auction for $141,984( ) • Some of these jewels were sold by the Soviet government shortly after this inventory was created. To this day the locations of many of the jewels are still unknown. • The USGS staff “rediscovered” a copy in the Kunz collection. It was complete except for 2 plates: LI and LII* * - Those plates were later scanned and sent to the USGS for analysis by the Gemological Institute of America Library
  10. 10. The Kunz Collection In the rare book room of the U.S. Geological Survey Library in Reston, VA resides the personal library of George Frederick Kunz (1856-1932). Kunz was a preeminent mineralogist and gemologist, an employee of the USGS, and a prolific writer. His library contains numerous rare and valuable books dating back to as early as the beginning of the 16th century. Photos of George Frederick Kunz working with kunzite which was discovered by and named after him. Taken from one of his original scrapbooks titled “Photographs of Kunzite”. G.F. Kunz, inspecting a Kunzite sampleG.F. Kunz
  11. 11. Origins of the Album & Catalog It is unknownhow Kunz came to possess these volumes. No connection has been found between him and the jewels at the time of assessment or sale. However, we do know that he saw them personally at an earlier point: The Winter Palace treasures, the Orlov diamond, the red diamond of Emperor Paul, the great pearls and other magnificent jewels were shown to me by the courtesy of the Imperial Chamberlain, Prince Putjatzin on January 15, 1891, the guard being commanded by Colonel Gernet. Scarcely six months later the Prince was bombed to death. (Kunz, 1919) Kunz’s collection also contains a number of newspaper clippings from the early 1920s regarding the jewels and an auction catalogue from Messrs. Christie, Manson & Woods (1927) detailing the sale of 124 lots of Russian royal jewelry.
  12. 12. • USGS Librarians, upon discovering the photographic album, began a systematic process to understand the importance of this discovery • We started by comparing the images in the two volumes and making notes of what we found – 22 photos (some cut from larger images) appear to have been used for prints in Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones. – 60 of the photos show jewelry depicted in Russia’s Treasures from different angles. – 4 photos show jewelry not included in Russia’s Treasures. • We then pursued documentation about the album and how Mr. Kunz came own the album • We found documentation at the American Museum of Natural History the proved his ownership as early as October 1922 Conducting the Research Photographs showing images from the album and the book
  13. 13. Photograph quality and image cleaning Note the discoloration on the background of the unaltered photograph. After scanning the raw images with a PS7000C MKII scanner at 400 dpi, Adobe Photoshop was used to clean and optimize the images.
  14. 14. Examples of identical images 1922 photo 1925 print 1922 photo 1925 print 1922 photo 1925 print
  15. 15. Examples of differing images 1925 print 1922 photo
  16. 16. Examples of differing images 1922 photo 1925 print
  17. 17. Unique Photo 1 – the brooch 1922 photograph Entry from Selling Russia's Treasures, Nicolas Iljine, Natalya Semyonova, 2000 Appendix II.
  18. 18. Unique Photo 2 – the bracelet 1922 photograph. Appears to be a bracelet. So far no references to it have been identified.
  19. 19. Unique Photo 3 – the necklace 1922 photograph. Possibly a necklace. So far no references to it have been identified.
  20. 20. Unique Photo 4 – the diadem This study done by Nicholas Chevalier possibly represents the same tiara as one of the jewels worn by the Tsarevna at the marriage of Prince Alfred, Duke of Edinburgh, and the Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia in 1874 (Munn, 2001, 287). The design of the central portion appears identical to the photograph, although the sketch shows a pearl frame and solid backing to the tiara. 1922 photograph. This is a sapphire and briolette diamond kokoshnik-style tiara. No record of it being sold has been located, nor does it appear to be in the Russian Diamond Fund.
  21. 21. Russian Royal Jewels Photograph from Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones. Indicated from left to right: Photos 1, 2, and 4.
  22. 22. • We know that the Russian government was interested in selling the crown jewels at one time. Indeed, in 1927, they authorized a sale at Christies in London. • It is possible that Dr. Fersman sent the photo album to his colleague Dr. Kunz as a professional courtesy. • It is also possible that, as a Vice President of Tiffany & Co., Dr. Kunz was asked to seek interest in the purchase of some of the jewelry by Tiffany’s customers. • The 1927 Christie’s sale catalog did not include many photographs and the descriptions of the lots sold were vague. • One piece, the nuptial crown, is on display today at the Hillwood Museum in Washington, DC • The real mystery is what happened between 1922 and 1925 to the 4 pieces in the USGS album? What could all this mean? Nuptial crown, the Hillwood Museum
  23. 23. • Tracking the Story of the Russian Crown Jewels (USGS News Story – jewels/ • The Mysterious Disappearance Of The Russian Crown Jewels – jewels • Request to visit the U.S. Geological Survey Library in Reston, VA – 703-648-4301 or – NOTE: The USGS Library in Reston is currently undergoing a renovation and may have limited ability to host visits through September 2013 • Or contact me: Richard Huffine 202-253-3511 What to know more? 1922 Photo
  24. 24. References Fersman, A. E. (1925). Russia’s Treasure of Diamonds and Precious Stones. Moscow: People’s Commissariat of Finances. Iljine, Nicolas &Semyonova, Natalya. (2000). Selling Russia's Treasures.: The Story of the Sale of Russian National Art Treasures Confiscated from the Tsarist Royal Family, the Church, Private Individuals and Museums in the USSR in 1918 – 1937. Moscow: Trefoil Press. Kunz, George Frederick. (1919). The Crown Jewels of Russia. Lotus Magazine; v. 10, p. 288-292. Munn, Geoffrey C. (2001). Tiaras: A History of Splendor. Woodbridge: Antique Collectors’ Club. We would like to thank ChristelMcCanless and AnnemiekWintraecken for their research on this project. We would also like to thank Jeffrey Post, chief curator of gemstones, and the librarians of the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution for their consultation and support. We would also like to thank: the Hillwood Museum, Washington, DC Gemological Institute of America Library, Carlsbad, CA American Museum of Natural History, Library and Archives, New York, NY Special Thanks