• Reuters

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When a scrap metal dealer bought a golden ornament at a junk market, he had no idea he was now the owner of a $20 million Faberge egg hailing from the court of imperial Russia.

The 8-cm egg was spirited out of St. Petersburg after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and then vanished for decades in the U.S.

An unidentified man in the U.S. spotted the egg while searching for scrap gold and purchased it for $14,000, hoping to make a fast buck by selling it to be melted down. But there were no takers because he had overestimated the value of the watch and gems tucked inside the egg.

In desperation, he searched the Internet — and then realized he might have the egg that Czar Alexander III gave his wife, Maria Feodorovna, for Easter in 1887.

When he approached London’s Wartski antiques dealer, he was in shock. “His mouth was dry with fear — he just couldn’t talk,” said Wartski Director Kieran McCarthy. “A man in jeans, trainers and a plaid shirt handed me pictures of the lost imperial egg. I knew it was genuine. He was completely beside himself — he just couldn’t believe the treasure that he had.”

McCarthy then traveled to a small town in the Midwest to inspect the reeded yellow golden egg in the man’s kitchen.

Wartski acquired the egg for an unidentified private collector. McCarthy said he could not reveal the identity of the man who found the egg, its sale price or the collector, though he did say the collector was not Russian.

Rich Russians, who before the communist revolution dazzled European aristocracy with their extravagance, have since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union returned to stun the West by snapping up treasures and real estate.

When questioned whether the story was too fantastic to be true, McCarthy said: “We are antique dealers, so we doubt everything, but this story is so wonderful you couldn’t really make it up — it is beyond fiction, and in the legends of antique dealing, there is nothing quite like this.

“It is nothing but wonderment and miracle — a miracle that the egg survived. The treasure had sailed through various American owners and dangerously close to the melting pot.”

Peter Carl Faberge’s lavish eggs have graced myths ever since they were created for the Russian czars. Only royalty and billionaires can ever hope to collect them. Faberge made some 50 imperial eggs for the Russian czars from 1885 to 1916. Forty-two are known to have survived.

Alexander III asked Faberge to make one egg a year. His son, Czar Nicholas II, ordered Faberge to up production to two per year — one for his wife and one for his mother. The tradition ended when Nicholas was forced to abdicate in 1917.

As Russia’s rich rushed to the exits, treasures were sold off under Vladimir Lenin and his successor, Josef Stalin, under a policy known as “treasures into tractors.”

The mystery egg, which opens to reveal a Vacheron Constantin watch set with diamond set gold hands, was last recorded in Russia in 1922, two years before Lenin’s death. It will go on display in London next month.

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