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The Best of the Best 2003: Antiques Dealers - A La Vieille Russie

Sheila Gibson Stoodley

It is hard to imagine a time when collecting Fabergé eggs was considered foolish, but that was apparently so when Alexander Schaffer sought the objects during the 1930s. “When [he] started buying them, he was laughed at,” says grandnephew Mark Schaffer Alexander, who founded the New York–based incarnation of A La Vieille Russie in 1941; he persevered in his belief that Fabergé was a superior decorative artist. Today, the Fifth Avenue gallery is operated by Mark, his father, Paul, and uncle Peter, and roughly a quarter of the company’s stock (which also includes Russian and European decorative objects, antique jewelry, and paintings) comes from the workshop of the legendary master craftsman. This is fitting, because Carl Fabergé was a client of the original A La Vieille Russie, which was founded in 1851 in Kiev by Schaffer ancestors but was closed following the communist revolution. It was reestablished in Paris in 1921 and later moved to New York.

A La Vieille Russie’s inventory currently includes only one Fabergé egg, which was created in 1902 and features green guilloche enamel, gold scrollwork, and diamonds. “I’ve seen photos from the 1950s where we had half a dozen eggs at once,” Mark says. “That shows you how much the market has changed.”

A La Vieille Russie, 212.752.1727, www.alvr.com

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Courtesy of Shakespeare and Company - Paul Foster Books - the NY Antiquarian Book Fair
Photo courtesy of Klein Sun Gallery, New York; Li Hongbo