The egg has always been a universal symbol of renewal and rebirth—a perfect symbol for the celebration of Easter. And it is a very popular collectible. But did you know that elaborately painted eggs have been found in Italian burial sites dating as far back as the 7th century B.C.? It’s clear that today’s collectors join a very ancient tradition.
There are hundreds of different varieties of collectible eggs—they come in all sizes and materials, they can be ornate or plain, and they span a full range of budgets and tastes. Here’s a fun look the genre.
Hand Decorated—These eggs (from domesticated chickens, geese or ducks) are the most familiar and most often associated with Easter. The tradition of coloring eggs for the holiday can be traced back hundreds of years as evidenced by the household budget of King Edward I in the year 1290, which included 18 pence for the purchase of 450 eggs to be dyed red or covered in gold leaf. Other regions in Europe used many different decorating techniques such as pressing a natural leaf pattern onto an egg or using wax and acid etching to create designs. The custom came to the United States with the first immigrants.
Hand-etched Polish ostrich egg with four panels
Those of us in the Southwest love the Mexican tradition of hollowed-out Easter eggs filled with confetti and glitter. Called cascarones (pronounced kahs-kah-ROH-nays), the eggs are meant to be playfully broken over the heads of friends. A confetti shower and a hair full of sparkles are signs of good luck. Some historians believe this custom originated in Asia and was brought to Italy by Marco Polo. Those eggs were filled with perfumed powder and tossed at attractive women by potential suitors. The practice traveled to Spain and was brought to Mexico in the 1860s by the wife of the Emperor Maximilian.
Candy Containers—During the early 1900s, large eggs were made from pressed cardboard and covered on the outside with vibrant lithographed paper. The scenes on the covers often depicted images of spring—children, flowers, chicks and bunnies. The eggs opened in half, and the insides were lined with beautiful printed paper in a softer pattern. The openings were edged in delicately cut paper lace. These eggs were made to be candy containers, and some also had a loop of string at the top so that they could be hung. The containers mostly originated in Germany, although some were made in England. They are reproduced today, but holiday collectors really covet the originals.
Lithographed cardboard candy container
Sculpted Eggs—Sculpted eggs have been crafted for centuries. During the 1800s, many countries produced lacquered nesting eggs with the most famous coming from Russia and Japan. In the late Victorian era, milk-glass eggs were embossed, hand painted and gilded. And in the early decades of the 1900s, J. Chein and other toy companies first produced tin lithographed eggs. Today, dozens of different porcelain, art glass, figurine, toy and ornament companies produce collectible eggs and egg boxes, often issuing new releases each year. These include Avon, Noritake, Fisher-Price, Goebel, Hallmark, Lenox, Radko, Franklin Mint, Limoges and scores of others. The variety is almost endless, and eggs can be found made of wood, stone, rock crystal, mother-of-pearl, papier-mâché, wax, ivory, gold, silver, jade, pewter, spun sugar, straw, chocolate, plastic, alabaster and virtually any other material. The collecting fun is in the enormous assortment available.
1995 Franklin Mint gazebo egg
Antique hand-painted milk-glass egg
Original Fabergé—These are the most lavish examples of egg art in the world, created between 1884 and 1917 for Czars Alexander III and Nicholas II by Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé. They are famed for their gold, silver and jewel-encrusted composition accompanied by brilliantly colored enamel. And each egg opens to reveal an equally elaborate, tiny masterpiece inside. More than 100 of these opulent eggs were believed to have been made (with more than 50 going to the imperial family), but only 69 survived. After the Russian Revolution, most of the imperial eggs were sold. Today, the majority of these (valued at millions of dollars each) are housed in public museums around the world, although a few are still in private collections. Many view these eggs as the indulgence of a doomed monarchy, but they are a stunning triumph of craftsmanship.
This pink enameled Fabergé egg sold in 2007 for $18 million
Whew! The collecting world is full of an amazing variety of eggs. And there are many collectible areas of this genre that we haven’t even mentioned: books about eggs, dolls holding eggs, paintings of eggs, darning eggs, dinosaur eggs, ostrich-egg purses and egg recipes, to name just a few. Other people collect egg-shaped objects and containers such as perfume bottles, cigarette lighters, candles, paperweights, dishes, charms and jewelry.
For those who just can’t get enough, there are even museums devoted to eggs—in Egg Harbor, Wis.; Cobleskill, N. Y.; the tiny village of Soyans, France; and Kolomyya, West Ukraine. A museum in Siófok, Hungary, has more than 5,000 decorated eggs from 19 different countries. And don’t forget the Royal Alberta Museum in Canada that has one of the most extensive collections of wild and extinct bird eggs in the world.
Collectible, incredible (not edible) eggs—they’re everywhere!
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