PRESENTATION SNUFF-BOXES WITH THE IMPERIAL CYPHER
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.
Presentation snuff-boxes with the Imperial cypher were typically awarded to Russians in state service. They were also awarded to foreign dignitaries as an act of diplomacy or as a means of commemorating special occasions connected to the Imperial family.
During the reign of Nicholas II, only 280 Russian subjects and 90 foreign dignitaries received Imperial presentation snuff-boxes with the Emperor's jewelled cypher. These boxes were primarily made by the court suppliers: Fabergé, Hahn, Bolin and Koechli. Of these, only 59 were produced by the firm of Hahn between 1894 and 1917 (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917, Helsinki, 2005, p. 179).
IMPERIAL PRESENTATION AND PERSIAN DIPLOMACY
According to family tradition, the present Imperial snuff-box descended from a Persian religious dignitary during the Qajar Dynasty (1785-1925). Persia played a key geopolitical role at the turn of the twentieth century, as a result of the struggle for influence in Asia between the Russian and British Empires and due to its dependence on foreign credits from both. The emphasis that Russia placed on diplomatic relations with Persia throughout the years preceding World War I led to the presentation of a variety of opulent gifts. The most prestigious of these objects were those bearing a portrait miniature of the Emperor, such as the Imperial presentation frame presented in 1914 to Abol-Ghasem Khan Gharagozlou, Nasser-ol-Mol, Regent of Persia between 1910 and 1913 (sold Christie's, New York, 25 October 2000, lot 510). The next most important Imperial gifts were snuff-boxes adorned with the Emperor's jewelled cypher such as the present lot.
The Shah of Persia, Muzaffar al-Din, paid two state visits to Russia during his reign from 1896-1907. The first visit took place in the summer of 1900, at which time he successfully negotiated financial aid for Persia from Russia. The second visit occurred in 1902, when the Shah was a guest of honour at the great manoeuvres at Kursk (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., p. 518, footnote no. 3). Shah Muzaffar al-Din travelled with a vast entourage and the cabinet prepared a commensurately large quantity of gifts to award during his visits. In advance of the Shah's state visit in 1900, a variety of gifts were commissioned, including jewelled orders and two diamond-set Imperial snuff-boxes by Hahn, which were given by the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty to the Ministry of Finance.
HAHN AND CARL BLANK
The firm of Hahn was established by Karl Hahn in 1873 and eventually became an important supplier to the Imperial Court, receiving the title of purveyor to the Court during the reign of Emperor Alexander III. In 1903, the title of purveyor to the Court was renewed for Karl Hahn's son Dmitrii Karlovich. The production of the firm was handled primarily in the workshops of Carl Blank and Alexander Treiden, who worked exclusively for Hahn. Carl Blank was the son of a Finnish blacksmith and served as the head workmaster of Hahn from 1892 to 1909. The firm's many commissions to the Cabinet included the coronation crown of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, diamond insignia of various orders, and presentation jewellery, cigarette cases and snuff-boxes (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., 1894-1917, Helsinki, 2005, pp. 179-184).
A related Imperial snuff-box with the diamond cypher of Nicholas II, made by Carl Blank for Hahn was sold Christie's, London, 28 November 2008, lot 229A. For a further comparable Imperial presentation snuff-box by Carl Blank for Hahn, please see Geza Von Habsburg, Fabergé: Imperial Craftsman and His World, London, 2000, p. 336, No. 907, illustrated. This snuff-box was sold at Sotheby's, New York, 8 December, 1992, lot 184.
We are thankful to Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm and Valentin Skurlov for their assistance in researching the present Imperial snuff-box by Hahn.