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I came across an interview this week with Lynda Resnick, the marketing genius  and billionaire [former] owner of the Franklin Mint. You remember the Franklin Mint, right?

Ms. Resnick doesn’t own the Franklin Mint anymore, having made a bundle off it in the 1990s and then selling it for a crap load of money a few years ago. She now makes her pile with other businesses including Pom Wonderful — the woman is a marketing GENIUS.

She recently went through a round of interviews to promote her new book, whose title I’ve forgotten, about how she can sell almost anything to almost anybody. All this is just prelude to the most interesting thing I’ve ever read: In one interview, Ms. Resnick is asked whether there is anything she regrets selling. (Mind you, this is the woman who sold so many crappy  Princess Diana dolls, etc., that the official Princess Diana memorial Fund called Ms. Resnick and the Franklin Mint “vultures feeding on the dead.”)

Do you know what Ms. Resnick said she regretted foisting onto the American public?

This line of kitty cat plates.

She said that she regretted making a product that stooped to a “taste level” she didn’t believe in. 

Note to self, re: my future Cat Book: GO FOR THIS EXACT SAME TASTE LEVEL. Ms. Resnick made $25 million on these plates. That’s a lot of cat food and a lot of cases of Champagne-O-Meters.

And I got to thinking. Because, as you dear readers may or may not know, I used to be in the business of Good Taste.

As the Faberge Expert for Christie’s Auction House in New York, I had quite a hoity-toity level of taste, which I have not lost lo these many years later. Yes, I still have great taste, I’m just saying.

I actually handled this Faberge Egg (above), the Nobel Ice Egg, in 1994. We acquired it in America, but sold it in Geneva. More  hoity-toity that way.

I had to fix the jeweled watch “surprise” that came in the egg (all of Faberge’s Imperial and other Famous eggs came with “surprises”). The egg and watch had been made c.1910 and things get rusty if you don’t play with them. The Nobel egg was made for Emanuel Nobel, nephew of Alfred, the Nobel Prize guy. It sold for $220,000. I later wrote a whole scholarly article for a hoity-toity antiques magazine about the designer of both  The Nobel Ice Egg, and this one:

I had my hands on this egg, too — but this one is an Imperial Egg, made for the Romanovs. It is called The Winter Egg and it was quite exciting when it appeared on the market, having been “lost” from sight for about 50 years. It sold, again in Geneva, for $5.6 million. It later sold again, in 2002, again at Christie’s, for $9.6 million. It was designed by a young woman–the only woman allowed to design eggs–called Alma Piehl (Peel). That’s who I wrote about, bringing her name and work to public attention for the first time. Because I had the good taste to recognize that the same hand was at work on these two eggs and I researched to discover the lovely girl who came up with this most original idea of “ice” eggs. She also made a number of  “ice” jewelry for Emanuel Nobel, who was quite a ladies’ man.

At the time of its creation, in 1913,the Winter Egg was the most expensive Romanov Egg every made. It is small and heartbreakingly lovely. I am glad that I had the chance in my lifetime to handle such extraordinary object of art.

But you know, the Faberge Eggs were not always revered as objects of great taste. They were once thought of as tacky, second-rate tchokahs. They were poo-pooed by the art establishment, and I remember reading that in the 1950s the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was offered a few eggs for their collection and they looked down their noses and refused to take them. So, again, back to the issue of “taste”.

These days, if you want to decorate your home with objects of good taste, you can buy reproduction Faberge eggs from something called House of Faberge. Let’s investigate the “taste level” of House of Faberge, for example, in this egg:

This might not seem to be in the same category of hideousness as a Franklin Mint cat plate, unless you know can compare it to a similar real Faberge egg:

Mid-Post aside: This might be a good time to apologize to all those lovely Commentors whose Comments I have inadvertently deleted from Posts Past. I am so sorry: I was trying to clear this blog of its 10,000 spam “comments” and I wiped out a few good friends. I will be more careful in future. And in future: if you are a new Commentor, please feel free to Comment here–Comments are the heroin we bloggers blog for–and then email me to let me clear you  as a first-time member of the peanut gallery: vivianswift at yahoo dot comm. Thanks.

This egg was made in 1901 for a wealthy family called Kelch. It’s called the Kelch Apple Blossom Egg. It’s made of  jade with three colors of gold for the tree branches. The little enamelled flowers have diamond centers. I also handled this egg, and it was an absolute delight to thold. It’s the biggest egg that Faberge ever made, yet it still has a gossamar heft. It has a wonderful Art Nouveau look that still communicates the trademark Faberge charm and wit. Last time I saw it, in 1994 (it was a very good year for Faberge eggs) it was being sold in Geneva for $857,000, to an anonymous Russian buyer.

It’s now in The Principality of Liechtenstein, having changed hands at least twice since I’ve seen it.

Now, you may think this egg is not as gorgeous as a more typical Faberge egg.

You might wish this egg had a little more ooomph, like in the Renassance Egg, or the Coach Egg.

And how about that Lily of the Valley Egg???

Plus, some people don’t go for that color of nephrite jade.

That’s why some people at House of Faberge decided to “improve” it.

Like this:

You can also get it in pink.

Now, I know that the readers of this blog are the most tasteful people on earth. So, for the sake of the children who are in danger of going “Ooooooh! I want that!” over House of Faberge eggs, the world needs a list of the objects that best exemplify Good Taste.

Starting with:

Blue jay feathers. (Well, really, any feather is a work of art, but esp. blue jay feathers.)

What else?

18 comments to There’s no accounting for taste.

  • My mom used to have a very bad Home Shopping Network addiction back in the late 80′s, and for a while we had multiple shipments of Capidomonte (spelling?) arriving on a daily basis. I’m sure it could have been worse, but it definitely deterred me from becoming a collector myself (well, besides cats and art supplies…)

    But that last egg- wow. That’s *some* blue- I would call that CHEMICAL blue.

  • Considering I looked at my cow cookie jar this morning as I was pouring a fantastically large cup of coffee and thought “man, I love that cookie jar,” I don’t really consider myself the harbinger of good taste. I just wanted to say that I love, love the way you’re able to make an interesting point/social critique seem approachable. Thanks for 1) using “crap load of money” and Principality of Liechtenstein in the same post. 2) making me laugh on this Friday morning 3) reminding me that random bits of knowledge somehow make me feel better about myself. I do plan to bring up Faberge eggs at least three times today in conversations at work.

  • janet bellusci

    from high culture to kitch, you have a wealth of experience which, TODAY, lets your trained eyes see the precious bits of each day. you’re a lucky lady.

  • Carol

    What a blessing and a privilege to live a life that includes both REAL Faberge AND cat litter! Man! Thanks for sharing – I would never have known all this information about Faberge. Is there a way to access your magazine articles? Thanks for a wonderful Friday post!!

  • Deborah

    My husband & I decided to try breakfast at a new restaurant this morning, and it turned out to be the type of place we don’t usually frequent: country music playing, walls lined with signs that say things like “There’s a thin girl inside me screaming to get out, but I can usually shut her up with cookies,” so I was thinking about the idea of ‘taste’ even before I sat down to read this.

    It seems weird, even to me, but I think my notion of bad vs good taste developed with shoes: when I went off to college, Earth shoes were ‘in.’ I couldn’t afford real Earth shoes, so I bought a pair of knock-offs — the first & only knock-offs I ever bought. The sole cracked straight through, and they made my feet hurt like hell (first time they ever had). So I resolved then to only buy good shoes — good being fit and feel rather than looks.

    I guess I aim for mid-level taste: baked brie (with raspberries and almonds) at a local winery; locally hand made art (unique vs. mass produced). My income limits me to this. Reverence for animals and nature is the ultimate reflection of taste, I’m pretty sure, and it’s free.

  • Carol

    Little chuckle here.
    Rocks,need I say more.
    Round rocks, flat rocks, green rocks, blue rocks, gray rocks, rocks with stripes, rocks that look like pie, rocks that look like hamburgers, heart shaped rocks, jelly bean rocks, and dinosaur eggs.
    could be worse right.

  • A friend sent me a Christmas card with a *Thomas Kincade* painting, and I shuddered when I opened it. I could not bring myself to put it up with the rest but couldn’t throw it away until she was safely out of town and Christmas was over. Whew.

    On the other hand, I collect just about anything to do with dachshunds, and I can’t say they are all in good taste. But I do try to steer clear of the more odious examples of sentimentality.

    My favorite “good taste” items in my home are the fossil collection, two original watercolors of the Newfoundland coast, the piano, the bookshelves (of course!), and a finely crafted walking stick.

    On the other hand, my house also contains a ship in a bottle, a foot-high wooden pelican, and a Danbury Mint sculpture of dachshunds in Halloween costumes sitting in a pumpkin patch which lights up orange and yellow when plugged in. Guilty!

    You’ve inspired me — I think I’ll go post on Taste on my own blog today. Thank you for the inspiration!

  • I have two cabinets of what I like to call “dust collectors.” They have been collected more for the sentimental value than anything else. Pottery pieces my children have created from kindergarten through high school, China that belonged to my grandmother and isn’t real china but something that was probably purchased at a department store, nick-nacs collected on trips, molds of my children’s hands when they were babies, a coconut brush my mother-in-law used to use to scrub her floors in Jamaica, a brick from a special place, and the list goes on and on. I really hate dusting and I hate dusting little things even more yet I keep the tidbits on the shelf, dust and all because they bring back fond memories. I’m sure others might look at the tidbits and wonder about my taste but thats okay I don’t mind because I wonder about their’s too. :D

  • Janet

    This was a very interesting lesson today. Thanks.

    On the short list of Objects of (My) Good Taste:
    1) Autumn leaves – I have still-golden maple leaves the size of plate chargers that I picked up in British Columbia in 1974 when I was a hippie living in a van. They were actually too big to press between LP album covers (which, depending on the album, could also be a good taste. Like Carole King’s Tapestry album. Or Phoebe Snow. I also have an tiny, tiny red oak leaf which I discovered on a street with way too many McCain/Palin yard signs (bad taste).
    2) Exquisitely shaped chocolate bonbons, the kind in Parisian candy counters that single your mouth to start drooling the second you see them.
    3) Butter-soft leather gloves, especially the ones that require you to know your hand size (mine is 7-1/2).
    4) The velvet feel of delicious red wine on the back of your throat
    5) Puppy breath
    6) Snow flakes and rain drops
    7) Shooting stars

    I’ll spare everyone the list of things I love that mark me as a person of Dubious Taste. But seriously, what’s not to like about those rhinestone-studded cat clocks with the tails that work like a pendulum?

  • Jacqui

    Everything of good taste is in my kitchen cupboards.
    I think I need a case of campaign o’meters………
    Laptop battery just enough to read today’s
    blog……….powerless near Seattle!!

  • Linda Jacks

    Vivian, Could you give up your day job so you can entertain us all in a more time manner? This was a wonderful post, made LOL funny by Alexandra’s sculpture of Halloween-togged, self-lit dachshund sculpture.
    The best thing about your blog is knowing that you and others exist to whom I would never have to explain, That was a joke, when I comment on what’s self-evidently hilarious to me.
    On the subject of my innate good taste, my youngest daughter (30) always says go me, That looks like something you would like (or wear or buy or display), Mom. It took me a while to realize this was not a compliment.

  • I have to agree with Carol – rocks rock! And the ones that are on the top of my list are those you can find in Homer, Alaska – black with white circles on them that INTERSECT! How did that happen!! And second on my list is lichen. Next time you stoop down to pick up a precious feather, do take the time to look at any lichen that might be decorating an old branch or stone wall. I have even brought nicely decorated branches into my studio for inspiration. I also have one rolling around on my dashboard. But the collection I most prize is my collection of girlfriends (not all with good taste, either!). It has ebbed and flowed over the years to a select group who all grab for that lichen covered twig with delight when they hop in my car.

  • I second Deborah, when she says above, “Reverence for animals and nature is the ultimate reflection of taste, I’m pretty sure, and it’s free.” Superb.

    In the realm of physical stuff, my definition of good taste involves good books. Lots and lots of good books. I can’t bring myself to believe they will ever go out of style.

  • nadine

    The perfect design is a black cat.

  • Wow on the eggs, absolutely fascinating. Now. $25 million on cat plates. I’m in the wrong business. I say get writing that cat book then come hang out in France. I’ll help you spend your money.

  • Migosh, lady, you’ve certainly led an interesting life!

  • christine

    Three kitten plates up the wallish?
    Yes, I’m familiar with The Franklin Mint. My friend was the manager of one at our local mall and needed seasonal help one year, so I helped. Unbelievable what folks will buy, and that’s why I’ll never be wealthy, because I Just Don’t Get It. It was a case of “give the people what they want” because we sold everything down to the display fixtures! Every item came with its own “Certificate of Authenticity.” Brilliant marketing tool, authenticating something that has no real value, assigning value. But truly, isn’t all value assigned? From your children’s artwork to diamonds?
    I must live in a parallel universe.

  • Thank you for excellent lesson in taste. That Apple Blossom egg is knocking me out, os perhaps my taste is not as bad as I’ve always assumed.

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