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Treasure in the Trash

A scrap-metal hunter finds a historic treasure worth millions of dollars at a flea market in the Midwest

By Laura Leigh Davidson

The 3-inch-tall egg contains a lady's watch. Photos courtesy Wartski.

Some news stories can sound more like fairy tales than real events. About 10 years ago, a scrap-metal hunter shopping at a flea market in the Midwestern United States found a beautiful egg made of gold. He bought the egg for around $13,000, hoping to sell the metal and jewels inside. What he didn’t realize was that he had just purchased a priceless piece of history.

The 3-inch-tall egg opens up to reveal an antique watch. Sparkling diamonds and sapphires decorate the inside and outside of the sculpture. The metal hunter (who wishes to remain anonymous, or unknown) was confident he could find a buyer for the sculpture.

But no one offered the metal dealer a good price for the golden egg. Buyers thought he had overvalued its gold and gems. For 10 years, the man tried to sell the egg, with no luck.

EGG HUNT

Finally, the owner of the unwanted egg learned that an antiques dealer in London was searching for a similar egg worth millions of dollars. The scrap-metal hunter hopped on a plane to London to meet this dealer in person. “He brought pictures of the egg and I knew instantaneously that it was [what I was looking for],” says the dealer, Kieran McCarthy.

McCarthy then flew to the scrap hunter’s home in the U.S. to authenticate the egg, or make sure it was real. “I examined it and said, ‘You have an Imperial Fabergé Easter egg.’ And he practically fainted. He literally fell to the floor in astonishment,” McCarthy says.

AN EASTER GIFT

The Russian Empire used to be ruled by king-like rulers called czars. In 1885, a czar commissioned(ordered something to be made) an egg sculpture as an Easter gift for his wife. The egg was designed and constructed under the supervision of the Russian jeweler and artist Peter Carl Fabergé. The royal family loved the first egg so much that they commissioned Fabergé to make one or two Easter eggs every year.

Each jeweled egg has a unique design and contains a surprise. The egg found by the scrap-metal dealer was made in 1887 and contains a lady’s watch. It was crafted in a workshop in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Fifty Imperial Fabergé eggs were made before the royal family fell from power in 1917. Some of the eggs remain in Russia, while others belong to wealthy collectors scattered around the world. Seven of the Imperial eggs are still missing.

A HAPPY ENDING

McCarthy set up the sale of the Fabergé egg. He won’t disclose the final selling price of this egg, but the last Fabergé egg sold went for $18.5 million at an auction in 2007. Before being shipped to its new owner, the lost treasure will be on public display at the antiques dealership McCarthy works for in London from April 14 to 17.

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