A lost collection of Faberge heirlooms have been discovered in a museum basement where they had been hidden for almost 90 years.
The items were found covered in dirt and dust but in good condition during a routine trip through the storerooms of the Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton.
Dating to the turn of the last century, the previously unrecorded antiques are believed to be worth over £1 million.
They are now set to go on a new public display.
The items include two jewel-encrusted photo frames made by the prestigious Russian jewellery house.
The lost collection of Faberge heirlooms, which date back to the turn of the last century, were found during a routine trip through the storerooms of the Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton
Both frames contain contemporary photos of two women.
While their identities remain something of a mystery, it is thought one of them may be Princess Alice of Battenberg, Queen Victoria’s great-granddaughter and mother of Prince Philip.
The five Faberge items may have been brought back to Britain by Henry Vere Benett, who worked for the British Intelligence Services at St Petersburg during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
He was known to have searched in local jewellers for things to send back to his stepmother, Lady Ellen Thomas-Stanford who lived at Preston Manor in Brighton.
Dating to the turn of the last century, the previously unrecorded antiques are believed to be worth over £1 million. The items include two jewel-encrusted photo frames made by the prestigious Russian jewellery house
Also included in the small collection are two gum pots (one pictured) and a stamp damper
Lady Thomas-Stanford was a wealthy heiress and personal friend of Princess Beatrice, the daughter of Queen Victoria.
After she died in 1932, Preston Manor and its contents were left to the local authority to become a museum.
The Faberge items were recently discovered by pure luck by the Antiques Roadshow’s Geoffrey Munn.
He had been carrying out a routine visit to the storerooms of the Royal Pavilion and Museums Trust in Brighton when he walked past a display cabinet of mostly English porcelain.
He saw the corner of the purple enamel Faberge photo frame sticking out of the tissue paper it had been wrapped in.
The items were found covered in dirt and dust but in good condition during a routine trip through the storerooms of the Royal Pavilion and Museums in Brighton
He asked for the cabinet to be opened up and unwrapped the tissue paper to reveal the Faberge items covered in years of dust and dirt.
They included the two enamelled silver and gold photo frames, two gum pots and a stamp damper.
Mr Munn has carried some research into the items and has been able to trace them back to Lady Ellen of Preston Manor.
He said: ‘This is a very exciting discovery not least because it was completely serendipitous.
‘I was there researching a Sussex painter and there really was a snowflake’s chance of me finding what I did.
‘I was walking along in the basement after something completely different and I saw the corner of one of the photo frames sticking out of some tissue paper.
The five Faberge items may have been brought back to Britain by Henry Vere Benett, who worked for the British Intelligence Services at St Petersburg during the 1917 Russian Revolution
‘Because I have spent my whole life working with Faberge things I simply recognised it and said ‘come on let’s lift up the tissue paper’ and there were the two frames, two gum pots and a stamp damper in blue enamel.
‘If the tissue paper had covered it completely they would still be there now.
‘I was thrilled but they were also filthy and covered in tobacco tar and God knows what else that obscured their brilliance.
‘Faberge is a very famous name now but it hasn’t always been and was completely out of fashion in the 1920s and 30s.’
On the back of the photo frames Mr Munn found stuck on inventory numbers written in the same hand as inventory numbers for items at Preston Manor.
The hallmarks on them also told him the frames were made between 1896 to 1906.
The photographs of the two women sitters were contemporary to this time.
Princess Alice of Battenberg would have been aged in her late teens and the woman in the picture thought to be of her is wearing a type of pearl earrings that she was known to have had.
She was connected to the Russian Royal Family who were overthrown in the Russian Revolution on 1917.
Mr Munn has no idea who the second woman in the photograph is and is appealing for the public’s help to find out.
He added: ‘The photos haven’t been seen by the public since they were left by Lady Ellen.
‘How she got them is the great enigma and it remains so but she was certainly in the orbit of Royal Family as Queen Victoria’s daughters stayed as weekend guests with her.
‘And there has always been a very strong royal connection with Faberge, after all his main clientele was the Russian Royal Family and to an extent the British Royal Family.’
The items will be on display at the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery from November 2 to June 2022.
How Peter Carl Faberge went down in jewellery history by creating stunning golden eggs for the Russian Tsar and his wife
Born in 1846, Peter Carl Faberge took over the family business when his father Gustav, who was a jeweller, died in 1882.
At the Pan-Russian Exhibition held in Moscow later that year Faberge creations proved to be a hit.
One piece on display was a replica of a treasure from the fourth-century BC that impressed Tsar Alexander III so much that he ordered Faberge works to be displayed in the Hermitage museum, as examples of superb contemporary Russian craftsmanship.
From there Faberge decided to start producing their signature eggs.
Tsar Nicholas II (pictured with his family) continued the tradition of ordering the stunning golden eggs from Faberge
In 1885, the Hen Egg was given as a gift from the Tsar to his wife Maria Fyodorovna for Easter which she loved. Just a few days later the Emperor assigned Faberge the title of ‘Goldsmith by Special Appointment to the Imperial Crown’.
The Tsar even commissioned the company to make an Easter egg as a gift for her every year thereafter.
By 1887, the emperor apparently gave Faberge complete freedom with the egg design with the only caveat being each one should be unique and each should contain a surprise.
The designs became increasingly elaborate.
The Bay Tree egg (left) is a jewelled nephrite and enameled Easter egg made under Peter Carl’s supervision in 1911 for Nicholas II of Russia to present it his mother. The egg ‘Lilies’ (right) was made by request of the last Russian Emperor Nicholas II as a present to his wife in 1898
When Alexander III died, his son Nicholas II became the next Tsar.
He continued his father’s tradition and even expanded it by requesting that two eggs be created – one for his mother and one for his wife. His mother ended up with 30 Faberge eggs in her lifetime.
The tradition continued until the October Revolution in 1917 when the entire Romanov dynasty was executed and many treasures, including the eggs, were confiscated by the interim government.
Of the 50 eggs that Faberge lovingly crafted, only 24 now survive, making them among the rarest and most fabulous of the world’s jewels.
When one of the eggs went up for auction at Christie’s in 1994, it sold for a staggering $5.5million.