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Seven Odd Fabergé Egg Facts: From Czars to Stalin to Bleeding Gums Murphy

​The American International Fine Art Fair kicks off this weekend at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. It's sure to be a week chock-full of art snobbery and superrich collectors.

On Sunday, Géza von Habsburg, director of Fabergé  Inc. USA, will deliver a lecture titled "Fabergé Then and Now," a history of the company that's best-known for those flashy eggs but has produced loads of jewelry since the 1800s. The lecture is sure to be among the more high-brow events of the week, especially given that von Habsburg is as regal as his name sounds -- he's a direct descendant of Austria's Habsburg Empire.

Just because you'll never be able to afford one of the iconic eggs doesn't mean you can't sound like a know-it-all. Here, seven oddball Fabergé egg facts to impress the art crowd.

1. They Started Out As Expensive Easter Eggs

In 1885, Czar Alexander III commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé to craft an exquisite Easter egg for his wife, Empress Maria Fedorovna. The gift was a hit, and Fabergé went on to produce 50 Easter eggs, each of which contained a surprise inside, over more than two decades. These became known as the Imperial Easter Eggs.

2. The Bolsheviks Weren't the Biggest Fans
The Russian Revolution of 1917 didn't bode well for lavish jewelry makers. The Bolsheviks nationalized the House of Fabergé, prompting Peter Carl and his family to make their way to Switzerland. Surprisingly, 42 of the 50 original Imperial Easter Eggs managed to survive these tumultuous times and remain intact to this day.

3. Stalin Paid Special Agents With Them
While Lenin tried to preserve these cultural artifacts, Joseph Stalin saw an easy way to make a quick (Western) buck. He sold off some, and, according to this article from the Guardian, "American oil billionaire Armand Hammer was paid by Stalin for his services as a Soviet agent in Fabergé eggs, which he sold on to collectors such as King Farouk and Malcolm Forbes."

4. The Forbes Family Hoarded Them
What better way to show the world that you're filthy rich than by amassing the largest private collection of Imperial Easter Eggs? That's what the Forbes family did before auctioning them off in 2004. The collection of nine eggs included the Coronation Egg, a piece dating to 1897 that was estimated to be worth more than $20 million. Russian oil tycoon Victor Vekselberg won the auction for an undisclosed sum.

5. James Bond Swapped a Real for a Fake
Octopussy, the 13th Bond film, features the always-crafty 007 swapping out a real Fabergé with a fake that's equipped with surveillance equipment. Bad dude Kamal Khan ends up blowing like a half a billion pounds on the thing. According to IMDB, the egg used in the film was the actual, very valuable Coronation Egg, which, as noted above, was once owned by the Forbes family. The egg went on to make an appearance in Ocean's Twelve

6. Pricey Knockoffs Conceal Booze Bottles
For $1,400, you can buy a bottle of wheat vodka distilled 15 times that's hidden in an egg "created after the style of Fabergé." The egg -- and the accompanying crystal shot glasses -- are adorned with 24-karat gold. Pat Brophy, spirit specialist at Illinois-based Binny's Beverage Depot, one of the few U.S. locations that has these things, says they manage to sell a few each year.

7. Bleeding Gums Murphy Was Addicted to Them
On the Simpsons, jazz legend Bleeding Gums Murphy told Lisa Simpson that he blew his fortune from the hit album Sax on the Beach on his Fabergé egg addiction. He confessed that he spent $1,500 a day fueling the habit. If that doesn't impress the Palm Beach art crowd, what will?

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Chris Sweeney

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