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The Best Of | The Modern Sybarite | Renovating Russian Style

Most people hate renovating (although I secretly love the whole process of watching the old become fresh, fabulous and new), and when it’s an old house, the process can be just unbearable.

So I’m fascinated with the story that came out of St. Petersburg, Russia in mid-April, where workers renovating an 18th century building that had originally been two townhouses, then cobbled into one grand townhouse, then a Soviet cafeteria, then drab Communist apartments, and is presently slated to become a convention center (phew, that’s repurposing!!), opened a hidden storage area between floors and discovered a veritable Aladdin’s cave treasure!  The find included jewelry, military orders, coins, documents and silverware (including not one, but THREE dinner services of over 1000 pieces each!) that had been hidden away by the noble Naryshkin family.  Not yet fully catalogued, it is expected to be worth several millions of dollars.

Interestingly, much of the treasure was wrapped in newspapers dating from March, June and September 1917.  You can just imagine the story unfolding: March of 1917 saw Russia still embroiled in the throws of World War I and the streets of St. Petersburg were filled with tens of thousands of striking workers who brought about the end of the Romanov monarchy on March 2nd.  That’s when the Naryshkins put away the first of the cache.

Then in June 1917, the war was coming to its disastrous end for Russia as troops flooded into St. Petersburg and joined the strikes which were now clamoring for a government takeover by the Soviets (yup, it was looking pretty bleak for the aristos as the Royal family would be executed July 16 1917). 

Finally by September 1917 when the last things were squirreled away, Leon Trotsky had taken control of St. Petersburg and Russia had been declared a Republic.  The Naryshkins left Russia in late 1917 probably hoping to return to their home and possessions.  They never did.

According to Russian law, the finders should keep half the treasure with the owners of the property keeping the other half.  I think this is an important lesson for all home renovators: make sure you’re there with your workers when they start opening floors and walls, or better yet, get on that demolition team yourself!  Start digging!

image credits: Associated Press

Florence von Pelet

Florence is a senior editor at Modenus.com. Aside from her natural passion for interiors, kitchens and baths Florence also leads the way on Modenus’ BlogTours around the world so please follow her on Twitter to get the latest information and inspiration about design trends from around the world.

  • alan hartman

    Best renovation story ever!  Inspiration to us all!

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/N7W2323YSF4KJQCOIGMOPCE4JQ Todd

    Very interesting story, hard to believe it wasn’t picked up in the mainstream press.  Thank you for posting such an amazing find.  Hope they get to share in the spoils.

  • a guy

    What a HAUL! Just from a historically significant point of view, forget money value.

    A hand full of cufflinks, Ear Rings, and Gold, Chrome and Sliver Sniff Boxes, all most likely Faberge.

    What looks likes, a WW1 Russian Red Cross pin…The history behind this alone is amazing!! They were minted by Faberge, for Royals, who volunteered in ww1 for the Red Cross. Many were for Women Nobles, but some men, who were unable to serve.


    Several Imperial Russian Bravery Medals, most likely from the Russo-Japanese
    war 1905

    The Orders with the Red and yellow trim ribbon, are the orders of St. Anne with
    swords (Combat award).

    The loose cross, without a ribbon is the order of St. Vladimir, with swords. AND it looks like it’s the non-Christian type (Black face, with just an Imperial Russian Greater seal) CRAZY RARE!! Easy five-figure sale. The Christian variation, had a little picture of on the Saint on the Front.

    Order of Saint Stanislaus 3nd class.
    Order of St. Anne with swords under that. Next to that,
    another order of St. Vladimir… And another Stanislaus 2nd class (Christian Version).

    My medal collection, has a Stanislaus 2nd class, with swords, and it was almost 10K, and that was 8 years ago. So, as a collector; I am saying there has got to be at least 60-$75,000 in just medals alone!


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