Saturday, January 12, 2019

DAY 10: A Duel Over a Cigarette Case

Faberge enamel cigarette case, St.Petersburg 1890

Finally, a post about men's fashions.

Yes, women smoked cigarettes in the Gilded Age, and Consuelo Mandeville liked to flaunt her Cuban heritage by smoking cigars, but few women actually carried their own cigarettes--they relied on gentleman to proffer the vice, with a deft hand drawn from an inner coat pocket.

Women loved to give cigarette cases to the favorite men in their lives, because the precious objects were carried next to a man's heart. A gentleman could never own too many--different cases suited different moods, different times of day, different attire, even different love affairs. One reason the great Russian Court jeweler, Faberge, opened a shop in Bond Street during the Gilded Age is due to the fad for exchanging exquisite jeweled and enameled accessories, popularized by the royal sisters, Queen Alexandra and Czarina Minnie.

Which brings me to this extraordinary story of one case in particular. Diamonds and enamel the color of lapis lazuli, created by Faberge, it belonged to Bertie--Prince of Wales, and King Edward VII.

The case was a 1908 gift from Alice Keppel, Bertie's last mistress. (That's a potential book title, by the way--The Last Mistress.) 

According to notes from the Royal Collection, where the cigarette case is held, it's a consummate example of Faberge's Art Nouveau style. Of course. But what I notice is the ubiquitous symbol of the Gilded Age and in particular the Marlborough House Set--the ouroboros, or snake devouring its own tale. Recall the tattoo of the same symbol on Jennie's left wrist, and the constant serpent theme in the era's jewelry. The ouroboros was a symbol of eternity, spiritual renewal, or eternal love--something a mistress would want to express.

After Bertie's death in 1910, Queen Alexandra returned the cigarette case to Alice Keppel as a memento. Alice passed it back to Queen Mary in 1936, ensuring it remained in the Royal Collection.

I have to wonder...did the duel over this case--Alix banishing it from Buckingham Palace and Alice returning it--represent a tug-of-war over the importance of each woman in Bertie's life? 

Here, some other notable examples of that classic male accessory, the cigarette case.
Silver and enamel pictorial case,
4th Artel, Moscow, 1908

Silver, gold and sapphire gem case, 1901
Zodiac symbol of Sagittarius, by
Paulding Farnham, Tiffany & Co.

And a few more:
Faberge, 1905, Moscow
enamel, mother-of-pearl, gold, diamonds, rubies
enamel case, possibly Russian, 1905, courtesy Sotheby's

Faberge, parcel-gilt silver and champleve enamel,
St. Petersburg, 1895

John T. Curran, Tiffany & CO., 1893,
from the Chicago Columbian Exposition.
Sterling silver, enamel and nephrite


  1. Wow - these are incredibly beautiful!

  2. Yes. My personal fave is the subtle and entrancing case with the stag beetle--on close examination, the veins of the leaves and the legs of the beetle done in diamonds are breathtaking!

  3. It almost makes me want to smoke cigarettes, just to carry one of these. Although I suppose you could re-purpose it into a business card holder.

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