Antiques & Collecting: Easter Eggs
PUBLISHED: 16:26 16 June 2009 | UPDATED: 15:50 20 February 2013
The custom of giving an egg at Easter dates back a long way, possibly to the Middle Ages when eggs were distributed by churches to mark the end of the Lenton fast. Many English china factories, as well as all the European ones, manufactured porcel...
Early English ones were very prettily decorated with paintings of flowers, then in around 1850 paintings of famous buildings, people and animals became popular. These rarely come onto the market and are expensive, but English and German flower painted eggs are not nearly so expensive. Some of the most collectable were made at the end of the 19th century in the so-called 'Mary Gregory' style, with enamelled white figures on green, clear or red glass valued at £100-£400.
However, the most collectable and expensive Easter eggs are those that were made in Russia by the jeweller Carl Fabergé in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Every year Fabergé would create a fabulous egg with a concealed 'surprise' for his greatest patron, the Russian Tsar, to present to the Tsarina. On the very rare occasions when a Fabergé egg comes onto the market it is likely to fetch £25,000 or more. The Russian eggs were also copied in France, where they were often made from ivory, gold or semi-precious metals, but the manufacture of these expensive Easter presents declined in both countries after the 1917 Revolution in Russia.
Simplicity and the taste of the middle classes became a major consideration for manufacturers and during the last quarter of the 19th century large quantities of inexpensive eggs were produced. They were made of painted and varnished pressed cardboard or papier-mâché, and love-birds, cherubs, girls on swings, kittens and bunches of flowers were among the typical Victorian motifs. They are not very expensive to collect, ranging in price from £8 to £50 according to their condition. At the same time wooden versions were being made in Poland and Russia.
Some of the most attractive eggs are those made in France at the beginning of the 20th century. In the form of a small gift box, they were made of a variety of materials and covered with silk, exquisitely painted with birds and flowers. These are scarce and can fetch up to £400 in good condition.
The most collectable Easter eggs belong to the time when highly skilled labour was cheap and their manufacture largely ceased at the start of World War II;