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Russian Orders Fetch Unprecedented Prices at Morton & Eden Auction

MAGNIFICENT ORDERS GIVEN BY TSAR NICHOLAS I OF RUSSIA, LEOPOLD I OF BELGIUM, OTHO OF GREECE AND WILLIAM IV TO FIRST EARL OF DURHAM SELL FOR £4 MILLION IN LONDON AUCTION

RUSSIAN ORDERS FETCH UNPRECEDENTED PRICES
• Order of St Andrew insignia sells for £1,320,000 (world auction record)
• Order of the White Eagle insignia sells for £852,000
• Order of St Alexander Nevsky insignia sells for £576,000
• Order of St Anne Grand Cross insignia sells for £372,000

A magnificent group of recently rediscovered Orders of Knighthood conferred during the 1830s upon John George Lambton, “Radical Jack”, the first Earl of Durham, by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, Leopold I of Belgium, Otho of Greece and William IV of England, were sold for a total of £4,057,080 by specialist London auctioneers Morton & Eden in association with Sotheby’s today (Thursday 10 June 2010). The sale had been expected to raise £500,000.

Bidders in the room, on a bank of telephones and on the Internet ignored pre-sale estimates and spent freely on the unique collection which was being sold by a descendant.

The Orders comprised the Russian Order of St. Andrew (the highest honour the Tsar could bestow), which sold for a world auction record £1,320,000 against an estimate of £140,000-180,000; the associated Orders of St Alexander Nevsky (sold for £576,000, estimate £80,000-120,000); the White Eagle (sold for £852,000, estimate £80,000-120,00) and St Anne (£372,000, estimate £30,000-40,000). In addition, the Belgian Order of Leopold I sold for £19,200; the Greek Order of the Redeemer for £21,600, and the British Order of the Bath for £24,000.

Breast stars for the Order of St Andrew made by Nicholls and Plinke in St Petersburg and Rundell Bridge & Co., in London sold for £180,000 and £120,000 against an estimates of £5,000-7,000 respectively and a miniature collar and badge of the Order of St Andrew by Wilhelm Kämmerer of St Petersburg in 1838 sold for £240,000 against an estimate of £20,000-30,000.

Even the fitted mahogany box specially commissioned in 1838 to transport the Earl’s orders was wanted. Estimated at £600-800, it sold for £12,000.

The sale, in which every one of the 22 lots sold, was taken by Lord Poltimore, the Chairman of Sotheby’s Russia. Bidding battles were long and involved as Russian and Russian-speaking agents spoke to their clients by mobile phones, while bids also came from the packed saleroom, on the Internet and from a bank of telephones.

Bidding increments were also unpredictable. Lots which opened at a few thousand pounds suddenly leapt into the tens of thousands and beyond, while in some cases bidding rose by £100,000 at a time. There was applause when the Order of St Andrew insignia was hammered down for a world auction record price.

Specialist in charge of the sale, James Morton, who prepared the separate sale catalogue, said Morton & Eden and Sotheby’s were absolutely delighted with the result. He said he had privately predicted that it would raise £2 million, but was astonished that the total was double that.

He said the collection easily met the three criteria collectors require: quality, provenance and condition. “The celebrated Emanuel Pannasch of St Petersburg, of one of Russia’s finest Court jewellers, made many of the pieces in the collection and therefore the quality was superb,” he said. “The provenance of the collection, which had not been seen for 150 years, was also impeccable and as it had been largely untouched during that time, the condition was magnificent. Lord Durham died shortly after the orders were conferred upon him, so he had little time to wear them and as a result they were in mint condition.”

He explained that orders given to Russian nationals in the 1830s and beyond were traditionally returned on the death of the recipient, but this was not the case with those presented to foreign recipients. “Orders such as those conferred upon Lord Durham therefore have an enormous rarity value and this, together with the immense enthusiasm for high quality Russian orders worldwide made for a highly successful sale.”

Buyers included individual collectors and agents representing international clients, many of whom were Russian.

In his foreword to the auction catalogue, the military historian Stephen Wood examines the life of the Rt. Hon Sir John George Lambton GCB, Earl of Durham, Viscount Lambton, Baron Durham (1792-1840), including his part in the establishment of constitutional monarchies in Belgium and Greece and his achievement in thawing Anglo-Russian relations during two years of tireless diplomacy in St Petersburg. He subsequently played an important, if controversial, role in the reorganisation of Canada’s administrative structure in the union of Lower and Upper Canada. He died of tuberculosis on 28 July 1840.

Elected as one of two MPs for the county of Durham in 1813, Lambton established his reformist credentials early, voting on measures critical of the government of the day and in favour of Parliamentary reform. He was created Baron Durham in 1828. In 1830, he became Lord Privy Seal in Earl Grey’s new government with a seat in the Cabinet; he played a pivotal part in the drafting of the Great Reform Bill of 1832.

Durham’s fifteen years in the House of Commons were marred by his own ill health and personal tragedy. The untimely death in July 1815 of his first, much-loved wife Henrietta (the illegitimate daughter of Lord Cholmondeley) with whom he had eloped to Gretna Green in 1812, left him with three young daughters. Later the strains of over-work and despair following further family deaths, including that of his eldest son Charles, almost overcame him.

Durham first became engaged in foreign affairs as an unofficial adviser to his friend Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha who was elected to the throne of the newly-created kingdom of Belgium in June 1831. In gratitude, Leopold conferred upon Durham the Grand Cordon of the brand new Order of Leopold on 10 March 1833.

While Belgian affairs were being resolved and the Great Reform Bill was passing through its final stages, Durham was asked to undertake a special mission to Russia for wide-ranging discussions aimed at establishing the nature of Russian foreign policy towards the West. Durham and Tsar Nicholas I soon established a strong rapport. In his biography of Lord Durham published in 1929, Chester New wrote: “Thus began that strange friendship between the most autocratic of European sovereigns and the most democratic of English ministers which lasted so long, and had such an important bearing upon the relations between two governments, in which up to this time there had been little but misunderstanding.”

Durham resigned from the Cabinet in 1833 to be created Earl of Durham and Viscount Lambton. He was subsequently appointed British Ambassador to Russia in 1835, arriving in St Petersburg via Greece. Greece had recently emerged from its war of independence with Turkey and its new king Otho I, formerly Prince Otto of Bavaria, was shy and inexperienced. Durham gave him support and advice and, following their final audience before Durham departed for Moscow, Otho conferred upon him the Grand Cross of the Order of the Redeemer.

Stephen Wood writes: “Russia was barely known and less understood in the West. Her naval and military capacities were regularly over-estimated and her intentions in foreign affairs were often exaggerated or falsified. Durham’s role, both self-defined and ordained by the British government, was to establish what Russia’s intentions were towards Turkey and in any other areas, such as India, where her expansion might threaten Western spheres of influence; it was also to create a climate of understanding between St Petersburg and London.

“In all aspects of the defined role of his ambassadorship, Durham not only succeeded but also exceeded the best expectations of his masters in London – to the extent that inveterate British Russophobes believed that, in modern parlance, he had been ‘turned’ by the Russians. He wrote regularly to Foreign Secretary, Lord Palmerston, sending detailed reports on the strengths of the Russian fleets and of the deployment of troops and his assessments of Russian intentions in territorial expansion. His reports were regarded in Whitehall as models of clarity and good advice at a time when fear of Russian strength and intentions had assumed hysterical proportions: his conclusion was that, for all her vastness, Russia was too weak to be feared.”

The early friendship with Tsar Nicholas was further strengthened. One of his earliest biographers, S. J. Reid, wrote “It was a veritable triumph of personality. The Tsar Nicholas was a shrewd judge of men, and was quick to detect either flattery or dissimulation. Durham’s open nature, his palpable honesty, the moral courage which lurked beneath his conciliatory speech, his broad grasp of first principles, the practical bent of his quick mind, and the imagination which made the sympathy of his warm heart so effective, all appealed to Nicholas. Even Durham’s weaknesses, love of display, moody depression, the touch of hauteur which marked his bearing, and that strain of impatience which he was not able always to suppress, even in the atmosphere of a Court, were points of similitude between them which promoted mutual understanding.”

Lord Durham’s embassy to Russia ended in 1837, by which time William IV had come to appreciate his qualities. Shortly before his death William appointed Durham a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath, although the actual insignia was presented by the young Queen Victoria. Tsar Nicholas I conferred upon the departing Ambassador the Order of St Andrew, Russia’s senior Order of Chivalry. According to custom the insignia of the Orders of St Alexander Nevsky, the White Eagle and St Anne were presented to him at the same time.

For further enquiries, please contact Morton & Eden on +44(0)20 7493 5344 or info@mortonandeden.com or Christopher Proudlove, Press Officer +(0)1492 544514.

About the Author

Based in Central London, Morton & Eden Ltd., was founded in 2001 by James Morton and Tom Eden, specialist auctioneers of Collectors' Coins of all periods and types, War Medals, Orders and Decorations, Historical Medals and Banknotes.

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