A FEW GOOD EGGS

Byline: James Fallon

LONDON--In the early 1900s, King Edward VII received a blue enamel and diamond Faberge cigarette case from his mistress Alice Keppel. On his death in 1911, Queen Alexandra, his wife, returned the case to Keppel as a memento, complete with a stub of one of the King's cigars. Twenty-five years later, Keppel gave it to Queen Mary.
The case--still containing its half-smoked cigar--is now on display in the Queen's Gallery in Buckingham Palace, as part of an exhibition of 540 of the royal family's collection of more than 700 pieces of FabergA. The exhibition, which opened last month and runs until Jan. 7, 1996, is the most extensive display of royal FabergA since 1977.
The royals have always had a love affair with FabergA, beginning in the mid-19th century and continuing to the present day. The collection on display was first started by two Danish princesses: Alexandra, later England's Queen, and Dagmar, who married Tsar Alexander III, according to Sir Geoffrey de Bellaigue, director of the Royal Collections, which has mounted the exhibition. While Dagmar went for the traditional FabergA eggs, Alexandra preferred less ostentatious pieces such as animals, clocks, letter openers, picture frames and jeweled flowers in crystal vases.
"Queen Alexandra always wanted things that were humorous, uncomplicated and lighthearted," de Bellaigue said. "This exhibition represents the taste of a family."
The British royal family demanded so much FabergA that the jeweler finally opened a shop in London in 1903. The royals came to know its stock better than the staff did, and Edward VII was known to specify to friends an exact piece and add, "If you wish to give me something, give me that." FabergA was keen for the royal patronage, offering King George V a 10 percent discount on some of his smaller eggs. While many of the pieces were gifts to the royals from admiring subjects, the family also commissioned a lot of items. Among them were the farmyard animals of the royal residence Sandringham, which King Edward VII commissioned for Queen Alexandra. He also commissioned a chalcedony and ruby figure of his favorite dog, the Norfolk terrier Caesar. The figure has a small gold bell around its neck inscribed, "I belong to the King."
"Caesar went everywhere with Edward VII," de Bellaigue said. "Unfortunately, he fell out of favor with Queen Alexandra after the King died. Caesar was in the funeral cortege, and she felt he wagged his tail just a little bit too much. He apparently wasn't mournful enough for her liking."

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