Shiny Side Up

Writing a round on Fabergé eggs is easier than making one, right?

Published October 27, 2023

Eric Keihl is the managing editor for Questionist’s parent company, Geeks Who Drink. Each week, he will accept a reader challenge to write a entire, quiz-ready trivia round on some tricky or obscure subject. You can challenge Eric here.

This week’s theme is “Fabergé eggs,” suggested by Rachel Cressin at Vasen Brewing in Richmond, Virginia. Thanks, Rachel!

You folks like thrift shopping? I know I do. I found this snazzy ad for men’s hats at a Goodwill for $7 and it just about made my year. But I doubt I like it half as much as an anonymous Midwestern scrap metal dealer, who in 2015 spent $13,000 to buy this piece of gilded chintz from an antiques dealer.

That knickknack was, it turns out, a lost Fabergé egg, one of 52 made under the supervision of Peter Carl Fabergé for the Russian monarchy. Estimated value? $33 million. That’s a profit margin of… sixteen, carry the two, factorial of… uh, a lot. Feel free to drop me a line if you want a $280,000 men’s hat ad! 

The Romanovs weren’t the only customers for Fabergé’s jewel-encrusted ova, but they were definitely the biggest and the ostentatious-est. The largest egg is one of theirs: a 14-incher with an idealized model of the Kremlin. It’s currently stored in the Kremlin Armoury, aptly enough, where it was stashed by the Communists after the Russian Revolution. Knowing the ballgame was over, P.C. Fabergé greeted the Bolsheviks storming his workshop with a resigned “give me 10 minutes to put on my hat and coat.” If you’ve ever read a Russian novel, you can probably guess how this ends: He fled to Switzerland a broken man, where he died three years later in 1920.

But his jewel-encrusted goggies are still around, and we’re still around to learn about them. Here we go!

1. Don’t overthink it: The first Fabergé egg made for the Russian imperial family was a special treat for what holiday? Easter

The association of eggs with spring holidays is an old one – like, older than Christianity. The ancient Persians painted eggs to celebrate Nowruz, the new solar new year, at least 2,500 years ago.  Saint Augustine famously compared Christ’s resurrection to a baby bird leaving an egg, but never addressed the more philosophically challenging question of whether Jesus ate worms.

2.  The perfect gift for a red or purple wedding: Gold blades representing Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion adorn a Fabergé egg inspired by what TV series? Game of Thrones

Someone paid $2.2 million for the ruby-studded egg before Fabergé even started working on it. Say, George, what’s High Valyrian for “eat the rich”?

3. You could just barely see an “e” poking out from one of six digital eggs in 2012, when Peter Carl Fabergé’s 166th birthday was honored with what online illustration? Google Doodle

Google Doodles debuted in 1998, to let folks know that the company’s founders were away at Burning Man. Nowadays, it’s probably faster to tell us which tech bigwigs won’t be there.

4. The Pansy egg gets its wonderful spinach-y color from what stone that was also used to make burial suits for Chinese emperors? Jade

The word “jade,” as in the stone, comes from the Spanish ijada, or “flank,” because it was thought to cure diseases of the side and kidneys. Meanwhile “jade” meaning “a worn-out horse” might come from the Old Norse for “whore.” English really is the hobo stew of languages.

5. Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Lauren Jackson all played for Shabtai Kalmanovich, a former KGB spy who owned multiple Fabergé eggs and three teams in what sport? Basketball

Shady as his past was, Kalmanovic did a lot for women’s basketball. For one thing, he paid them: Taurasi made about 10 times her WNBA salary playing in Russia during the off-season. Sadly, that extra pay was considerably reduced after Kalmanovic’s 2010 assassination.

6. A little golden wind-up train came with the 1900 egg that celebrated the launch of what 5,000-mile engineering project with a namesake Christmas-loving orchestra? Trans-Siberian Railway

Riding the Moscow-to-Vladivostok leg of the Trans-Siberian Railway takes a full week – or you can shave off a day by taking the Moscow to Beijing route across the Mongolian steppe. Watch out for death worms!

7. The Cleveland Museum of Art has an egg from 1915, showing five Russian noblewomen in the uniform of what aid organization that soon won its first of three Nobel Peace prizes? Red Cross

Other cool items from the CMOA include a gallery full of medieval armor, a statue of an upward-looking figure from 3000 BCE (below), and a single shred of hope left over from the career of Johnny Manziel.

8. The auction of a fake Fabergé egg gets James Bond tangled up with the titular gem smuggler, in what Moore-era film whose poster shows him getting fondled by eight hands? Octopussy

One of the first actors cast in Octopussy was Indian tennis player Vijay Amritraj. He portrayed a character named Vijay… who wielded a tennis racket as a weapon. It’s the part he was born to play!

Bonus: Despite a $1,500-a-day Fabergé egg habit, long-gone Simpsons character “Bleeding Gums” Murphy helped supercharge Lisa’s love of what instrument? Saxophone

A 2022 Simpsons episode introduced Murphy’s deaf son, Monk. It was the first episode of the show to use American Sign Language – or as close as you can get to proper ASL with only four fingers. Can’t wait until we finally get an Esperanto episode in season 79!