Monday, October 07, 2013

An Estate Treasure Named Nikolai

IRS audits and feuding heirs can make estate settlement a thankless job. Once in a while, happily, some forgotten treasure turns up in a barn or attic to enliven the process – a Duesenberg perhaps, or a Picasso.

In the estate of an unidentified New Yorker, the attic treasure is a rare portrait statuette by Fabergé. 

Meet Nikolai Nikolaevich Pustynnikov, personal bodyguard to Alexandra, last Empress of Russia.

The Nikolai statuette –his eyes are cabochon sapphires – was part of the Czarist loot the Soviets exported in the 1930s to obtain hard currency. Brought to the United States by Armand Hammer, it was sold to the New Yorker's mother-in-law in 1934. Apparently Nikolai was exiled to the attic for so long that Fabergé historians assumed he was lost forever.

A similar bejeweled statuette, portraying the bodyguard of Alexandra's mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress, stands guard in a St. Petersburg museum. As for Nikolai, when he marches onto the auction block October 21, he is expected to earn the estate at least $500,000.

Update: The auction is scheduled for October 27-28.

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