Schaffer Collection - Antique Ladies Evening Purse from Russian Church Vestments found in the Winter Palace 1930s


Attractive ladies evening purse with small hand mirror made from antique imperial Russian nineteenth century material found in the Winter Palace in the 1920s. The hand loomed cloth of gold has a scarlet floral and leaf design with gold thread. The material was most likely to have been used in vestments for priests in the imperial chapel of the Palace. It was sold to the American businessman Alexander S. Schaffer (1900-1972), of of 'À la Vieille Russie', the Fifth Avenue gallery that has championed Russian works of art for decades. It was sold through their gallery at the Rockefeller Center, 15th February 1936 and comes with its its original letter of authenticity, it is further stamped on the inside silk section of the purse.

Since 1928, the Soviet leadership had been selling off art treasures confiscated from the church, the Imperial family and the aristocracy to wealthy buyers in the West. This was in a desperate attempt to raise money for the industrial imports needed to put into effect Stalin's First Five Year Plan. The richest art buyers were in America, and Moscow officials hoped that by selling art on the American market they could shrink the huge negative trade balance building up with American companies because of the Soviet imports of industrial goods. But their attempts to sell were hampered by the absence of diplomatic relations with Washington, broken off after the Bolshevik Party seized power. In the five years to 1933, when diplomatic relations were re-established, Moscow's Commissar for External and Internal Trade, Anastas Mikoyan, attempted to get round this obstacle both through secret deals with dealers and buyers in America, and through major public sales in Europe.

By 1931, the Soviets had also started selling off other treasures – tapestries, chandeliers, furniture, and also icons. One conduit to the United States was a German art syndicate that sold on these luxury items through the Wallace H. Day Gallery in New York. The New York-based British dealer Joseph Duveen went to Russia to buy tapestries from imperial palaces.

The big winner was an American businessman, Armand Hammer, who had gone to Russia in the 1920s to invest in asbestos and later pencils, and made Mikoyan's acquaintance in 1923. He well understood the fascination that fabulous Tsarist treasures would hold for wealthy Americans tied to the humdrum life of a democracy.

Following a 1928 agreement that Hammer and his brother could sell their concessions and expatriate their belongings from Russia, the brothers started selling huge numbers of Russian treasures in US department stores and in their own gallery.

In the late nineteen‐twenties Alexander Shaffer worked for Victor Hammer, who later became director of the Hammer Galleries.  After his apprenticeship in connoisseurship, Schaffer in the early 1930s began a series of trips to the Soviet Union.

"Fabergé died in 1920 and these were considered modern things, not heritage property", said Peter Schaffer, Alexander Schaffer's son, who now owns the gallery.

Size: 23.5 x 14 cm approx

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