26 November 2014

Jewel History: Ex-Sultan's Jewels on View in Paris (1911)

"Ex-Sultan's Jewels on View in Paris"
(originally appeared in the New York Times on 26 Nov 1911)

Abdul Hamid's [1] remarkable collection of jewels, which will be sold at auction, beginning Monday, is on exhibition this afternoon in the Galerie Georges Petit for the benefit of a privileged few.

The sale, which has been entrusted by the Young Turk Government to the Paris jeweler Robert Lingeler, has attracted the attention of amateurs and dealers all over the world. The principal American, English, and German firms have sent special representatives to attend it.

Abdul Hamid II in Constantinople, ca. 1901

The experts who viewed the collection this afternoon unanimously agree that several million dollars will be realized, but none of them is ready to give an approximate estimate, as there is a general belief that amateurs and souvenir hunters are likely to compete with professionals and send prices up beyond the intrinsic value of the jewels. The sale coming at this moment, when Turkey is in the throes of war, it was thought that the Turkish government intended to employ the proceeds toward keeping up its army. It is, however, officially stated that the money will be invested in new battleships and the general improvement of the navy.

The exhibition room afforded a wonderful spectacle, ablaze with lights reflected by the wealth of diamonds and precious stones of all kinds arranged in show cases of plain pane glass. Each case was guarded by armed policemen, while other policemen in plain clothes and detectives circulated among the crowd. Although the ensemble of the 419 lots described in the catalogue might appear extravagant to modern taste owing to a touch of Oriental gaudiness, there are some fine pieces, such as only refined artists could conceive or execute.

One of the emeralds sold in the auction, today called the "Hooker Emerald" (source) [3]

Most remarkable for workmanship and beauty is the collection of so-called zarfs, or coffee-cup stands, made of brilliants and rubies mounted on invisible settings [2]. There is, too, a Cardinal-shaped tiara finished with osprey plumes with small diamonds at the points, from which hang thirteen large pear-shaped diamonds of the first water. The collection of emeralds is most gorgeous [3]. Some are as large as walnuts and a few of them are of perfect color. There is a profusion of magnificent pearls, perfect in shape and some matchless in their wonderful hues.

Among the ex-Sultan's personal valuables, such as studs, cigarette cases, canes, etc., many articles quite modern may be observed, and even some that, in America or Europe, would not be considered in bad taste. The sale may extend for days.

1. Abdul Hamid II (1842-1918) was the 34th Sultan of the Ottoman Empire; he was deposed in 1909 in the wake of the Young Turk Revolution. He was an autocratic, absolute ruler; his reign saw modernization in his country, but he was also complicit in the persecution of some of his own people. Just before he was deposed, Abdul Hamid sent the crown jewels to Paris, hoping that he could sell them to raise funds for his life in exile. But the agent he trusted to oversee the sale apparently funneled the payments to the Young Turks, and Abdul Hamid never saw any of the proceeds from the auction.
2. One of these zarfs was resold by Bonhams in 2004; here's more information, including an image.
3. One of these emeralds was the Hooker Emerald, purchased at the sale by Tiffany and Co. and on display today in the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Read more at the Smithsonian's website. The emerald's current setting dates to the 1950s; Abdul Hamid reportedly wore the stone in a belt buckle.