- Harry Fane
A leggy Royal bird
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
I don’t know if you are tuned into Francesca Brickell’s lectures (Webinars.. wherever that word came from?)..they are invariably interesting because of the nuggets of information Francesca shares from her family archive. Her most recent lecture with Caroline de Guitaut entitled The Cartiers and The British Royal Family was particularly informative. Who knew the miniature clocks in The Queen’s Doll House were all made by Cartier?
One piece they illustrated brought back poignant memories for me. This tall rose quartz flamingo.
Many years ago, I was researching the animals and flowers Cartier was making in the early years of the 20th century to compete, head to head, with those Faberge was producing. There are records from both Houses showing people buying tiny animal sculptures from both Houses on the same day. Bainbridge, the manager of the Faberge shop in London, long after he retired, wrote (in 1949) an extensive book about Faberge which has many illustrations including one of this flamingo. Something about it caught my eye and I turned to my friend the remarkable Geoffrey Munn, then with Wartski and a true scholar of all things Faberge, to ask his opinion. It seemed doubtful Bainbridge would have made such an error and included something in his book which was not made by Faberge and, according to my instincts, was made by arch-rivals Cartier!
Geoffrey said only seeing the piece would be conclusive and off we set to Sandringham where the Queens’s collection of Faberge animals reside. Thanks to him, we were given access to a locked glass cabinet where the flamingo reigned supreme in a group of smaller animals and birds.
Cartier's hardstone animals are notoriously hard to authenticate as they are not signed. Whilst, I have an extensive photographic record of Cartier’s menagerie, this flamingo is not included. As I reached to pick up the delicate bird, I knew all rested on the underside of the base where there should be a screw with a small nut fitting which should be stamped with a number. Sure enough there it was! A tiny darkened steel screw and the distinctive Cartier style nut embossed with the recognisable Cartier stock numbers. It was rather an exciting moment. Cartier confirmed Mrs Whitelaw Reid had purchased the flamingo on Sept 25th 1908 for £ 32.00 (The equivalent of
£ 12,000 today) and at some point must have presented as a gift to the King and Queen. We duly informed the Curator of The Royal Collection that the attribution needed changing and it is rewarding seeing it correctly recognised today as a Cartier creation.