Important Discovery of a Russian Fabergé Treasure
Stair Galleries is excited to be offering for sale an important Fabergé treasure, the C.K.G. Billings “Loving Cup.” This massive silver and shaded enamel kovsh cup, dated 1909, comes to us from the family of Cornelius Kingsley Garrison Billings (1861-1937), a wealthy industrialist and noted horseman at the turn of the twentieth century. The auction will take place in our galleries on April 30 – May 1, 2016.
This rare and unique Fabergé kovsh cup was presented on behalf of Tsar Nicholas II to C.K.G. Billings in Moscow following the triumphant performance of Billings’ horse, Lou Dillon. In a first account of the day, Murray Howe describes the scene:
Moscow Race Track, 1909: a heavy downpour leaves the track a “sea of mud” and few expect to see the horses at all, but “Mr. Billings brings them out per schedule. He decides to step Lou [Dillon] up and down the stretch a few times… The fact that her foot does not hold to the track makes her mad, and she not only pulls like a wild horse, but makes the first break she ever made in her life in an exhibition. This quiets her a little, however, and she pulls her owner down through the mud a couple of trips faster than the audience ever saw any other trotter go… The mare covers [the track] at frightful speed, about a 1:48 gait…” Applause roars through the stands. At the end of the exhibition, Mr. Billings is called to the front of the stand where on behalf of Tsar Nicholas II, he is presented “with two unique and handsome trophies.” 1
Of the two precious gifts given to Billings on that day in 1909, only the large Fabergé kovsh cup still exists. The Fabergé silver cup that accompanied it was sadly destroyed.
C.K.G. Billings grew up in Chicago. After college he began working for his entrepreneurial father at the Peoples Gas Light and Coke Company. He eventually became president of the company, and retired in 1901 at age 40 to move his family and horses to New York City.
An avid art collector and a real estate investor, Billings was best known for his passion for matinee racing. He was a leading member of the Jockey Club, and the owner of many champion horses including Uhlan, The Harvester and Lou Dillon. Billings was most famous for his sensational 1903 dinner party at which thirty-six men dined on horseback in a grand ballroom in Manhattan. The horses were transported via freight elevator to the fourth floor, meals were strapped to their saddles and champagne sipped through plastic tubes hooked to canteens in saddle bags.
In 1907, Billings moved his family and twenty-three servants into Tryon Hall, a Louis XIV-style mansion standing on Manhattan’s highest point above the Hudson River. Billings then built another grand home in the Georgian Revival style in Locust Valley, New York, called “Farnsworth,” selling Tryon Hall to John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1917. Just a few years later, Tryon Hall was destroyed by fire. On this site now stands The Cloisters, the medieval art branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
In 1909, Billings decided to travel abroad to Europe and Russia to show off his talented trotting horses. He and his horses were greeted with much acclaim overseas. The crowds in Moscow were especially enamored of his famous trotter Lou Dillon, known as the Queen of Trotters, and the first to trot a mile in under two minutes. With much admiration and popularity, she was immortalized by many artists’ renderings.
The “Loving Cup” given to Billings in honor of Lou Dillon is called a kovsh. By definition a drinking vessel with a boat-shaped bowl and a handle at one end, the Russian kovsh cup had transformed into a precious art object by the end of the nineteenth century. A kovsh cup of the size and grandeur of the Billings cup is very rare. The body, domed foot and stylized bird-form handle of the cup are all colorfully ornamented with enameled flowers, whirlpools, and geometric designs, masterfully created in the Fabergé studio.
The Billings “Loving Cup” is contained in its original fitted oak case with a brass carrying handle at each end. This case is stamped in Cyrillic with the text, “Fabergé, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kiev, London.” This text appears below a stamp of the Russian Imperial Eagle. The exterior of the case is stamped with the text, “C.K.G. Billings, Oyster Bay, N.Y.”
The cover of the case is decorated with a silver plaque engraved with the Russian Imperial Eagle and text in Cyrillic, “From the Moscow Imperial Society to Encourage Trotting Horse Breeding to C.K.G. Billings In Memory of His Visit to the Moscow Hippodrome and the Run of His Queen of Trotters Lou Dillon, Moscow, 26th June 1909.” The case is marked “K. Fabergé” in Cyrillic below an Imperial warrant, the initials of master enameller Fedor Rückert (1840 – 1917), and the 88 standard, with scratched inventory number 24807.
The dimensions of the cup are: Height 13 ¾ inches (35 cm), Length over handle 16 inches (40.5 cm), Height of case 14 ¼ inches (36.5 cm), Length of case 18 ¼ inches (46 cm).
Sale: April 30 – May 1, 2016
Estimate: $80,000 – $120,000
The fascinating story behind the Fabergé “Loving Cup” continues to unfold as research continues into its long and interesting history. Special thanks to Andrew “Murray” Howe V who has helped us immensely with images and documentation he has acquired as the great-grandson of Murray Howe, the photojournalist who accompanied C.K.G. Billings on his trip abroad in 1909. View a wealth of captivating images at the following website:
For inquiries regarding the C.K.G. Billings “Loving Cup” in this sale please contact us at 518-751-1000 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read about the “Loving Cup” in The New York Times >
1 Howe, Murray. “With the Billings Horses in Russia.” The Horse Review, December 15, 1909.