Geoffrey Munn, a jewelry specialist on the BBC Antiques Roadshow and a Fabergé expert, was looking at an advertisement for a New York auction house’s sale when he spotted something that left him gobsmacked.
There in the ad was a small photo of a Tyrannosaurus Rex that Munn immediately recognized as a piece made by the renowned Russian jeweler Carl Fabergé that had long been considered extinct.
It's thought that the dinosaur, carved in nephrite jade with rose-cut diamond eyes, was intended for Russian Tsar Nicholas II. Lost for more than 100 years, it sold for $65,000 on November 7 at Clarke Auction Gallery in Larchmont, New York. It had been in afamily's curio cabinet for decades. Not knowing the provenance of the piece before Munn saw the ad in the Antiques Trade Gazette and let them know it was an extremely rare Fabergé carving, Clarke had a pre-sale estimate on it of $800-$1,200. The sold price does not include the 25 percent buyer’s premium.
“It is astonishingly rare. I never thought it would turn up in my lifetime. I had to let the auctioneers know what it was. I am hoping that it is bought by a museum who will restore it,” Munn told Daily Mail.
This discovery comes on the heels of Munn's other recent discovery of a cache of other Fabergé treasures hidden in a museum for almost 100 years.
Munn noted on his Twitter page that if the T-Rex had not been missing its forelimbs, it might have fetched £250,000 (around $335,700). The missing arms may be due to having been played with by a child.
Munn, who was managing director at Wartski, a British family firm of antiques dealers specializing in silver, fine jewelry and Russian works of art, particularly those by Fabergé, had featured the T-Rex in his 2015 book, Wartski: The First 150 Years.
“I have worked for Wartski all my life and have access to archive photos and there are some there of this object. I have never seen it or handled it before. It is not that I thought it was a Fabergé, I knew it was because of the archive photograph. It is almost 6 inches tall, which is a whopper for a Fabergé animal,” he told Daily Mail.
The dinosaur, thought to have been created around 1910 and inspired by the first discoveries of T-Rex skeletons a few years earlier, came to Clarke from a consignor who was selling items that belonged to her in-laws.
“This was in an upstairs office in a small curio cabinet. It stood out because it is a very unusual subject matter,” said Whitney Bria, a jewelry and silver specialist at Clarke. “It had been in the family for about 40 years. Her father-in-law was a gemologist and a world traveler and had an affinity for carvings. He had very good taste. I am sure they brought it back from their travels in Europe.”
“I had known the image all my life but never dreamed I would ever find him. All very exciting!” Munn wrote on Twitter. “This is definitely the moment for Fabergé discoveries. What's next? An egg?”