Royal exhibition reveals hidden past of Fabergé collection

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The Royal Household's collection of Tupperware cereal containers, transistor radios and cuddly toys was revealed in all its mundane glory this week. But yesterday Buckingham Palace was putting on the style.

The Queen's collection of jewel-encrusted eggs, enamelled cigarette cases and carved figures by the Russian jeweller Carl Fabergé was on display. Laura Bush, America's first lady, visited the Queen's Galleryto viewhighlights of the collection before the presidential party left the capital. At least 100,000 people are expected to visit the exhibition, which runs until 7 March.

The size, range and quality of the royal collection of Fabergé are such that a small case of items by competitors such as Cartier and Boucheron, included for comparison, looks second-rate.

Although many of the treasures have been seen in public before, their full history is only now becoming clear thanks to newly released documents in Russia.

Until the mid-1990s the surviving papers from Fabergé's Russian workshops were buried in Soviet bureaucracy. But the exhibition's curator, Caroline de Guitaut, has searched institutions such as the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg and discovered new details on the origins of some of the items now on display.

"We have managed to track down, in certain instances, original designs for some of the objects and have matched them with the objects for the first time," she said.

Fabergé's workshops were closed at the time of the 1917 revolution and Tsar Alexander III's collections were seized by Lenin and held at the Kremlin. Many items were sold, including four Easter eggs bought by King George V and Queen Mary.

The majority of the British royal collection was acquired during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most were gifts between the British, Danish and Russian royal families. Many bear Fabergé's familiar techniques of enamelling, gold decoration and the use of carved semi-precious hardstones.

Ms de Guitaut said the collection was insured but refused to put a value on it. "We think about it more in artistic terms," she said.