Marie Antoinette’s Emeralds: 1888, 1895

The Queen Mother wearing a diamond and emerald necklace believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette.

The Queen Mother wearing a diamond and emerald necklace believed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette.

Queen Marie Antoinette was born on this day in 1755. Rather than dwell on her ghost, predictions of her doom, or her death warrant, let us enjoy some wonderful tales of her jewels.


That Marie Antoinette’s Emeralds Are in Washington?

A Remarkable Story of Some Marvelous Jewels.

[New York Graphic.]

A German newspaper contains the interesting announcement that the Czar [Alexander III] presented the Czarina [Maria Feodorovna] on her fortieth birthday, November 26th, last year, a necklace of forty magnificent emeralds. The purchase of these forty gems had been kept a profound secret while the Czar’s agents for the nine months preceding the presentation were engaged in collecting them. For the sake of the brilliant woman who received so imperial a present it is to be hoped that she will not recall the sad auguries that have been historically furnished in the connection of emeralds and ill-fated women who were sovereigns also.

One of Dumas’ great stories is founded on the emerald necklace presented to Marie Antoinette, about the disappearance of which so much of romance and suffering was woven in the terrible days that saw her die upon the scaffold. The mention of emeralds and Marie Antoinette recalls a strange story told the Graphic some time since, which, as it relates to emeralds, and some, too, reputed to be of marvelous size and purity, will bear telling in type.

In the north-west quarter of Washington and on the upper edge of the most fashionable section, there stands an old-fashioned, three-story house, built about fifty years ago. Except that it is old-fashioned and seedy, there is no one thing to call attention to it, besides its being the home of a reduced yet well-known Virginian family. That one thing is the fact that a back window on the second floor is always closed tight with a pair of heavy outside iron shutters, in the top of which there are two small light holes.

A Southern gentleman living on his wits somewhat, though not in a disreputable sense, told the incidents herein narrated. He knows the Virginias, who are still possessors of a small property, and among the family a couple of Government appointments. He was aware that there was a room in the dwelling which was never opened, so far as visitors knew. The door thereto was heavily molded, and evidently had a strong lock on it. In the course of a friendly conversation he mentioned a visit made to the Chinese Embassy (not the present one). In the course thereof his host, one of the accomplished attaches, who spoke English perfectly, led him to his private sitting-room. The conversation accidentally turned on gems, on which subject he Chinese diplomat proved himself an adept. He showed his visitor a large number of rare jewels, diamonds and other stones, some of them of a most costly character. He was a gem collector, and, being very rich, could readily gratify his most extravagant wishes. His visitor remembered afterward that as he told the incident quick glances passed between members of the family. A few days passed by and he was waited upon at his office by one of the male members, who asked, after exacting a pledge of secrecy, if he could bring the Chinese attaché to the house with the iron shuttered window in order to examine some very rare and valuable jewels.

Of course this was done. Both gentlemen, American and Chinese, went on their call in quite a flutter of excitement. The hour set was late in the evening. They were met at the door by the two gentlemen of the family. None of the ladies were visible, nor their one servant either. After removal of hats and coats, the callers were asked to go upstairs. They were taken to the strong-room, as it turned out to be. The door when they entered was observed to be heavily lined with steel plates. Its lock was a combination one. A light was burning within. The iron shutters were closed as usual. There was nothing in the room but an iron stand bolted to the floor, supporting a small iron safe.

The door was closed behind them. On the stand lay two cocked revolvers. The visitors were asked to stand near the door. Both were men of nerve and one had been a cashing cavalry officer and was scarred with a score of wounds. But they confessed afterward that thrills of apprehension ran through them. One of the brothers opened the safe, and the other stood where his hands would readily grasp the revolvers. A few second and then appeared a jewel-box, from which a small parcel carefully wrapped in soft leather and cotton, was as carefully removed.

Opening this there were exhibited to the astonished eyes of the callers several large emeralds and evidently of a rare purity. The Chinaman trembled with excitement. He declared as the largest one, as big at least as a good-sized pigeon’s egg, was placed in his hand, that he had never seen anything like it, while telling also f wonderful gems that he knew of in China. The emeralds were cut in an antique style. There were a dozen of them and all remarkable for their beauty and size. The Chinaman was allowed to examine them all carefully. He did so with the utmost minuteness sand delight. All the time the closest watch was kept, and the brothers, as well as the visitors, seemed to feel relieved when they were all outside the door and going down the staircase.

And this was the story of their possession of such wonderful jewels told then and afterward by the Virginians: Their paternal great-grandfather was a military surgeon. Just as the French Revolution was beginning he was in Paris, greatly interested, too, in all the stirring events of the period. He had apartments in the house of a physician who had some Court practice and yet was secretly a radical. He was involved heavily as a gambler at one time, and borrowed money to a considerable amount of his American friend. When the revolution became violent, the Frenchman came under suspicion on both sides. One day he brought to the Virginian, then about to return to America, a small jewel box and showed the emeralds, which had been exhibited to the visitors. He insisted upon his creditor taking them to America, where he promised to come also. Suffice it to say they were brought to the Virginian’s home. The French physician was never heard of afterward. The possessor of the emeralds held a transfer memorandum of them, and his family had held them in possession ever since. They became both a fascination and a terror to the family, which had apparently gone down the hill of well-doing in guarding a great fortune they were unable or afraid to utilize. The Chinese gentleman was eager to buy. Difficulties arose at once. The possessors were unwilling to trust an expert with their secret, or to carry the gems out of their abiding place. The attaché desired to have expert testimony as to value and purity before he expended a princely fortune. Some inquiries were cautiously made as to the history of the remarkable emeralds. All known gems of that class were located except those of the unfortunate Queen of France, whose necklace had apparently disappeared absolutely from the face of the earth. The Chinese gentleman was recalled home or sent somewhere else shortly afterward. He did not buy.

That much and no more the Graphic knows. So far as it is aware the marvelous gems are still in Washington.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 28 January 1888: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A remarkable story indeed! Such a perfect blend of mysterious ingredients: a Frenchman fleeing the Revolution, the “reduced yet well-known Virginian family,” an iron-shuttered room, the exotic Chinese attaché, conveniently an expert in gems, and a tantalisingly inconclusive conclusion. It is simply all too thrilling!

Whenever a crowned head is lost, rumours of treasure inevitably follow. Here is another story of those seeking the Queen’s gems from a little over a decade later. Mrs Daffodil will caution her more excitable readers, seeking proof, that M. Vanhoven may have spelt his name Van Hoven or Van Hoeven or may not actually have existed. Mrs Daffodil has also not verified the question of whether a chest of treasure was truly dispatched as the family made its ill-fated attempt to escape.


Treasure Hunters Seeking Marie Antoinette’s Gems.

The Paris correspondent of the London Telegraph writes that some of the inhabitants of those breezy districts outside Paris, known as Bondy, Raincy, and Ville-monble, are afflicted with a strange craze. They are under the impression that a large treasure of gold, jewels, pate and artistic objects of great value is buried somewhere between Montfermeil and the Fort of Vaujours. A society has been formed for the purpose of exploring the countryside, and half a dozen men afflicted with the gold fever turn out every night with pickax and shovel in order to discover the hidden store, which is destined, if found, to turn some of the excavators into millionaires and heroes of fortune, worthy to figure as genuine Monte Cristos. Recently the searchers were temporarily arrested by the local gendarmes. The booted, spurred, and cock-hatted representatives of authority had not heard of any treasure being in the vicinity of their beat. If they had they would in all probability have excavated for it in their off-duty hours. They accordingly obliged the treasure seekers to accompany them to the gendarmerie, where it was made clear by means of documents and identification that the suspected persons were peaceful shopkeepers and retired functionaries residing in the district, who had been impelled by a mysterious call to shoulder the shovel and go out in quest of buried ore.

The supposed treasure has an historic and interesting origin. It is said that Marie Antoinette, on the eve of the flight to Varennes, in 1791, sent a coffer full of gold, jewels, miniatures and important papers to be buried in the Forest of Bondy, and that a plan of the place where the precious objects were deposited was made for the ill-fated Queen. This plan a Belgian of the name of Vanhoven, who was in the royal service, copied for himself. After the battle of Waterloo Vanhoven returned to France and repaired to the Forest of Bondy, but he failed to find to the spot indicated on his plan, owing to the many changes which had taken place in the wood within 24 years. The Belgian died destitute in the Cour des Miracles [a slum district of Paris.]

Later on the person bearing the same name as the present President of the republic, and who was supposed to be crazy, obtained permission from the Emperor Napoleon III, to search the forest for the treasure at his own cost and peril. This Faure claimed to be in possession of Vanhoven’s plan, but the document, if he had it, was burned down with his hut a few days after his death. Faure’s researches were hampered by the war, as what remained of Bondy Forest was much damaged by the Germans [during the Franco-Prussian War.] These failures have not discouraged the new treasure-seekers, who are confident in the success of their quest. A local fortune-teller is of the opinion that the coffer is in a garden, and the owner of this place is accordingly delving from morning to night This is rather disappointing to the others, who are led by an expert in geometry; but they, nevertheless, pursue their work of excavation literally up hill and down dale, each fervently hoping one day or night to strike the long-lost coffer with his pick or shovel and to cry “Eureka.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 October 1895: p. 14

An emerald and diamond necklace said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette and purchased from the jeweller Boucheron by Margaret Greville was willed by Greville to the late Queen Mother.



4 thoughts on “Marie Antoinette’s Emeralds: 1888, 1895

  1. Teresa Silverman

    What a fascinating story. I was looking for antique emerald jewelry to add an interesting picture to my site. Would you mind if I wrote a little something and re-blog your story and point to your site. I just love the history and writings. All this is new to me and I am still learning. I think you can go to my blog by clicking on the picture to see a little about us. Please let me know I will also be following you for I could keep reading all. I am glad I found this. Teresa


  2. Teresa Silverman

    Reblogged this on 4RLoveOfOldAndNew and commented:
    I was looking at Emerald Antique Jewelry last night. For Emerald is the stone of May and my beautiful daughter Coral’s birthday is next week and I could not remember her stone. I came across this blog and was just fascinated in the reading and thought you might enjoy it to.


  3. Pingback: Encore: Marie Antoinette and the Fortune-Teller: 1782 | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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