IMPERIAL PRESENTATION SNUFF BOXES
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 (1894-1917). Presentation snuff boxes were typically awarded to Russians in state service, however 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. These snuff boxes were primarily made by the court suppliers Hahn, Fabergé, Bolin and Koechli. Between 1894 and 1917, only 59 were produced by the firm of Hahn (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, The Russian Imperial Award System 1894-1917, Helsinki, 2005, p. 179).
These snuff boxes were usually applied with the cypher of the emperor; those applied with the imperial double-headed eagle, such as the present lot, are quite rare. During the reign of Nicholas II, 280 Russian subjects and 90 foreign dignitaries received imperial presentation snuff boxes with the emperor's jeweled cypher. According to the research of U. Tillander-Godenhielm, only five presentation snuff boxes with the imperial double-headed eagle have survived, and the present lot is the only box with a provenance. Another snuff box with the imperial double-headed eagle, by Fabergé, was sold as part of The Kazan Collection of Fabergé, Christie's, New York, April 15, 1997, lot 180. For a further discussion of the topic, see U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op cit, pp. 218-219.
HAHN AND CARL BLANK
The firm of Hahn was established by Karl Hahn in 1873 and eventually became an important supplier to the Russian Imperial Court, receiving the title of purveyor to the court during the reign of Emperor Alexander III (1881-1894). 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. Blank was the son of a Finnish blacksmith and served as head workmaster for Hahn from 1892 to 1909. The firm's many commissions to the Imperial Cabinet included the coronation crown of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), diamond insignia of various orders, presentation jewelry, cigarette cases and snuff boxes (U. Tillander-Godenhielm, op. cit., pp. 179-184). Related imperial snuff boxes made by Carl Blank for Hahn, applied with the diamond cypher of Nicholas II, were sold Christie's, London, May 28, 2012, lot 218 and Christie's, London, November 28, 2008, lot 229A. For a further comparable imperial presentation snuff box by Carl Blank for Hahn, please see G. von Habsburg, Fabergé: Imperial Craftsman and His World, London, 2000, p. 336, no. 907, illustrated. This snuff box was sold Sotheby's, New York, December 8, 1992, lot 184.
The present enameled gold snuff box by Hahn was originally entered into the Imperial Cabinet's ledgers on August 3, 1899 at the cost of 1,000 roubles under the number 33. The box was discharged on the same day and presented to Dimitri Stancioff, the Bulgarian minister in St. Petersburg.
Dimitri Stancioff (1863-1940) came from a prominent Bulgarian merchant family, which was closely associated with support for Bulgaria as an independent state. In 1896, as relations between Bulgaria and the Russian Empire began to warm, Stancioff became the first Bulgarian named as diplomatic agent to the court of the Russian Emperor. A posting to St. Petersburg was a tremendous honor, as governments trusted only their most skilled diplomats as representatives to Russia, one of the Great Powers of Europe. Stancioff and his family served in Russia for ten years, and while the Bulgarian mission to Russian was not an embassy, Stancioff’s duties nevertheless increased as the relationship between the two countries grew closer. By 1898, the relationship had grown so close that the Bulgarian royal couple, Prince Ferdinand (1861-1948) and Princess Marie Louise (1870-1899), was invited to St. Petersburg for a state visit. The Stancioffs were integral to organizing the visit and ensuring that it was a success.
In 1899, Stancioff represented Bulgaria at the first Hague Peace Conference, which was convened at the initiative of Emperor Nicholas II (1868-1918). The main accomplishment of the conference was the establishment of the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the first global mechanism for the settlement of disputes between states. In recognition of Bulgaria’s close relationship with Russia and his personal role in the peace conference, Stancioff was awarded the present enameled gold snuff box by Nicholas II. An inscription on the inside cover of the box marks the occasion. Stancioff was eventually promoted to the rank of minister plenipotentiary and envoy extraordinary to the court of the Russian Emperor, an honor that reflected the two countries’ relationship and Stancioff’s own accomplishments. For a further discussion of Dimitri Stancioff’s life and career, see Dr. Mari A. Firkatian, Diplomats and Dreamers: The Stancioff Family in Bulgarian History (New York, 2008).
We are thankful to Ulla Tillander-Godenhielm, Valentin Skurlov and Dr. Mari A. Firkatian for their assistance in researching the present imperial snuff box by Hahn.