The Imperial Russian court was renowned for presenting lavish gifts to Russian and foreign dignitaries, a tradition that flourished especially during the reign of Emperor Nicholas II. A jewelled presentation snuff-box (tabakerka, from the French tabatière) was the favored portrait gift during the reign of Nicholas II. Given to Charles Robert Carrington in 1894 to commemorate his attendance at the funeral of Alexander III and the wedding of Nicholas II, this Imperial presentation snuff-box was one of the only two snuff-boxes awarded by Emperor Nicholas II at the beginning of his reign in 1894.
The responsibility of purchasing and allocating these gifts, under the strict supervision of the Emperor, was given to the Imperial Cabinet, which maintained detailed ledgers. These ledgers contain the description of each item, its cost, the name of the Court supplier and the name of the recipient.
The firm of Fabergé was awarded the title of Court Jeweller in 1884 and became one of the main suppliers to the Imperial Cabinet alongside other prominent jewellery firms, such as Bolin and Koechli. Imperial presentation snuff-boxes were purchased by the Imperial Cabinet unfinished. The diamond cartouche on the cover was left vacant and could be mounted with either the diamond cypher or a miniature portrait of the Emperor. The present snuff-box is a rare example of the earliest Fabergé snuff-boxes presented by the Emperor at the beginning of his reign.
During the reign of the Emperor Nicholas II, 424 boxes were supplied in total, costing anywhere between 400 and 4,110 roubles. Only fifty-four presentation snuff-boxes set with a portrait miniature of the Emperor were ever presented. Of these, only nineteen were executed by Fabergé, making these snuff-boxes even rarer than the fifty known Fabergé Imperial eggs.
Fifteen of the nineteen presentation snuff-boxes supplied by Fabergé during the reign of Nicholas II have either appeared on the market or are accounted for in important collections. The discovery of a documented, but previously unknown, snuff-box is therefore particularly significant. The present Imperial presentation snuff-box is one such piece.
Imperial presentation snuff-boxes were not gifts in the traditional sense, rather they were exchanged to inspire loyalty, as compensation for service or to further Imperial aspirations. Foreign dignitaries were primarily awarded snuff-boxes as an act of diplomacy or as a means of commemorating special occasions and significant events connected to the Imperial family. The intrinsic value of a snuff-box was directly related to the importance of both the occasion and of diplomatic relations between Russia and the foreign dignitary's country. The present Imperial snuff-box would have been one of the most costly commissioned by the Emperor. Its price reflects the importance of the occasions connected to its presentation, as well as the significance of Russia's diplomatic ties to the realm of the recipient, Charles Robert Carrington, Queen Victoria's Lord Chamberlain (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917, Helsinki, 2005, p. 167).
The significance of the present Fabergé presentation snuff-box is further emphasized by the fact that Lord Carrington was one of only thirty-four foreign dignitaries to receive a snuff-box with the Emperor's portrait during the reign of Nicholas II (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., Helsinki, 2005, p. 171 and p. 174).
The present enamelled gold snuff-box by Fabergé was originally entered into the Imperial Cabinet's ledgers at the cost of 2,975 roubles, it was later re-set and re-entered in the ledgers on 28 December 1894, with an increased cost of 3,060 roubles.
On 28 December 1894, the snuff-box was presented to Charles Robert Carrington, Lord Chamberlain to Queen Victoria.
The present Imperial snuff-box is one of the first presented by Emperor Nicholas II and one of only two snuff-boxes set with his portrait presented in 1894. As Queen Victoria's personal representative in St Petersburg, Lord Carrington attended the funeral of Emperor Alexander III and the wedding of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna in November of 1894. The following month, he received the present costly jewelled snuff-box set with the new Emperor's portrait (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., p. 174).
The cost of the snuff-box would have been in the Imperial Cabinet's highest price bracket, which was reserved for snuff-boxes with a blank central cartouche, in which a portrait miniature or diamond cypher could be set (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., p. 166). This Imperial presentation snuff-box by Fabergé, costing 3,060 roubles, would have been amongst the most expensive supplied to the Imperial Cabinet. To put this price in context, the average cost per year of a seven room flat in St Petersburg on the fashionable Bolshaia Morskaia between 1894-1914 would have been 2,000 roubles (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., p. 491). By comparison, a jewelled two-colour gold and blue guilloché enamelled Fabergé Imperial presentation snuff-box that sold Christie's, London, 29 November 2010, lot 219 for £937,250 was presented to Turkhan Pasha at a cost of 2,550 roubles.
Comparable Imperial Presentation Snuff-Boxes
The cost of the present Imperial snuff-box reflects the importance placed on ties between the Russian Imperial court and the British monarchy. It is interesting to note that snuff-boxes were also presented to the respresentatives of Germany and France at the funeral of Alexander III and marriage of Nicholas II. The aide-de-camp-general to Emperor Wilhelm II, Bernhard Franz Wilhelm von Werder (1823-1907), was presented a snuff-box with the portrait of Nicholas II for his participation in the events and Admiral Alfred-Albert Gervais (1837-1921), France's representative, was presented a snuff-box with the portrait of Alexander III. The later box is held in the collection of the Musée de la Marine (inv. no. 7 SO 32). According to the research of Wilfried Zeisler, it is recorded in the Imperial Cabinet ledgers as costing 1,875 roubles.
Like the present work, the snuff-box presented to Admiral Gervais was supplied by Fabergé and designed by Michael Perchin. Though the example given to Gervais is less sumptuous and un-enamelled, the ornament provides a notable stylistic corollary to the present snuff-box. Both the simple form of the presentation snuff-boxes, un-enamelled sides and the use of interlocking garland and arrow motifs on their covers suggest continuity in Perchin's early work for the Imperial Cabinet.
The scratched inventory number of 999 on the present Fabergé snuff-box is closely related to another Imperial presentation snuff-box set with a miniature of Alexandra Feodorovna held in the collection of the Musée de la Marine (inv. no. 7 SO 33). The Example in the Musée de la Marine is scratched in the same location as the present snuff-box with the number 1001. According to the research of Wilfried Zeisler, the Musée de la Marine snuff-box was presented in 1896 to Admiral Gervais. The snuff-box with Alexandra Feodorovna's portrait also exhibits stylistic similarities to the present work, including the construction of the cover, matte gold sides, thumb-piece and rose gold interior.
Charles Robert Carrington
Charles Robert Carrington (later Wynn-Carington), marquess of Lincolnshire, was a prominent Liberal politician and landowner. Throughout his illustrious political career, Carrington held numerous influential posts in not only the political but also the Royal and Imperial spheres. He served as aide-de-camp to the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), accompanying him on his Indian tour from 1875-1876. Carrington again held court office between 1892 and 1895, as Lord Chamberlain to Queen Victoria. It was this appointment that brought Lord Carrington to St Petersburg in 1894 and ultimately led to the presentation of this enamelled snuff-box by Nicholas II. In the following year, he was created Earl Carrington. On the accession of George V in 1910, Carrington held the office of Lord Great Chamberlain. In 1911 he moved to the post of Lord Privy Seal and retired from government in 1912 as marquess of Lincolnshire (A. Adonis, 'Carington, Charles Robert Wynn-, marquess of Lincolnshire (1843-1928)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn., May 2010, accessed 11 Jan 2011).
Presented from Generation to Generation
As the second inscription in the interior of this Imperial presentation snuff-box indicates, Carrington presented the snuff-box to his third daughter's husband, Lieutenant-Colonel William Legge, 7th Earl of Dartmouth (1881-1958), known from 1891-1936 as Viscount Lewisham, when he was a Major leaving for the front in November of 1915. It is probable that the death of Carrington's only son in the same year, while serving in the army, made the gift to his daughter's husband a particularly symbolic one. This Imperial presentation snuff-box has remained in the family as a keepsake ever since. As it passed from one member of the family to the next, the snuff-box gained its inscriptions and the diamonds were removed to be used for one of the family's peer's robes, which had to be set with diamonds for the coronation of either Edward VIII or George VI. Similarly the sumptuous diamonds added to the famous Bismarck Box, also designed by Michael Perchin and presented by Alexander III to Germany's Reichs-Chancellor Prince Otto von Bismarck in 1889, were later replaced with paste stones by the family to make a necklace (J.Keefe, Fabergé: The Hodges Family Collection, 2009, p. 173). The size and number of diamonds added to Imperial presentation snuff-boxes appear to have made them not only more significant at the time of presentation, but also of intrinsic value to the descendants of their recipients.
For further examples of Fabergé Imperial presentation snuff-boxes set with the portrait of Emperor Nicholas II, see Christie's, New York, 20 October 1999, lot 96; Christie's, New York, 20 April 2001, lot 136; Christie's, New York, 19 April 2002, lot 128; Christie's, New York, 21 October 2003, lot 154; Christie's, London, 29 November 2010, lot 219.
We are thankful to Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm and Valentin Skurlov for their assistance in researching the Imperial Cabinet ledgers and history related to the present Fabergé Imperial presentation snuff-box.
We are thankful to Wilfried Zeisler for his assistance in researching the Imperial presentaion snuff-boxes by Fabergé in the collection of the Museé de la Marine.
We are thankful to Gerard Gorokhoff for his assistance in identifying the uniform depicted in the portrait miniature.