Dear Helaine and Joe:
I received this plate several years ago from a friend who lives in Estonia. I was told the plate was a gift from Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna, born Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice, Princess of Hesse (Darmstadt). The plate was given to a handmaiden when her service was terminated as a token of appreciation. I understand this to have been customary at the time. I have never found a picture of the tsaritsa wearing these jewels, so I am not convinced the story is accurate.
Dear P. C.:
Actually, that makes three of us who are not certain who the subject depicted on this plate might actually be. We have our doubts it is the legendary tsaritsa and we doubt the handmaiden part as well.
Alexandra was considered to be bad luck by the Russian people from the very beginning. Tsar Alexander III, who preceded Nicholas II, died Nov. 1, 1894. Alix (throne named “Alexandra,” when she would have preferred “Catherine”) married Nicholas on Nov. 26, 1894, and it was said by many of her new subjects, “She came to us behind a coffin. She brings misfortune with her.”
The mark on the plate in today’s question belongs to the M. S. Kuznetsov Partnership for the Manufacture of Porcelain and Pottery. The enterprise began rather humbly in 1832, when Terenty Kuznetsov established a factory in Dulyovo, just outside of Moscow. The early pieces were charmingly painted by peasant women called “Agafya” and their products were called “Agashikas.”
The company grew, challenged the Imperial Porcelain Factory established under the auspices of the Empress Yelisaveta Petrovna and even absorbed the famous Gardiner Factory. The company adopted the M. S. Kuznetsov Partnership name in 1889 and by 1895 was turning out half the porcelain made in Russia.
But with success came the introduction of modern equipment and more highly trained personnel and artists. Unfortunately competition from foreign factories, particularly those in Bohemia, brought about cheaper mass production and the introduction of transfer prints and even decals for decorations.
The factory was nationalized in 1918 and has continued production well into the 21st century. We brought up the company’s transition into the use of machine-made and transfer-printed processes because the plate very strongly resembles objects more associated with Bohemia (modern-day Czech Republic) than with Russia.
The photograph supplied by P. C. is small and lacks detail, but it does indeed look like the image of the woman could be a transfer print. To be sure, we would need to see this piece in person. In any event, it was made in the Bohemian style, and that makes it very difficult for us to say with any certainty that this is indeed the portrait of the Tsaritsa Alexandra.
If it is a transfer-printed piece, this circa-1900 plate has a retail value in the $250 to $350 range, but if it is hand-painted that value would essentially triple.