The Most Expensive Christmas Card: 1874

Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda wearing a diamond necklace, suggestive of the riches of the dynasty.

Maharani Sita Devi of Baroda wearing a diamond necklace, suggestive of the riches of the dynasty.

The Most Expensive Christmas Card

The most costly Christmas card in the world was undoubtedly one made some years ago by an English firm in Calcutta, to the order of the Gaekwar [Gaekwad is the correct term] of Baroda, the potentate who was afterwards deposed for attempting to poison the British Resident by mixing diamond-dust with his food.

The “card,” which was of ivory, measuring 12 by 10 inches, and more than forty elephants were sacrificed before a piece of ivory of the required size was obtained. Four of the most skillful ivory-cutters in the province were employed to decorate the costly plaque, each devoting his energies to his own particular quarter. They worked almost incessantly at their task for six months, and when it was finished the eyesight of all four was affected, and one of them went totally blind shortly afterwards.

The carvings represented ten thousand scenes in the various lives, or stages of existence, of Buddha, and their execution involved more than eight million distinct motions of the graver.

Ranged round the edge, so as to form a sort of frame or setting to the whole, were forty-four diamonds, each as large as a hazel-nut, and of the purest water. Its value was estimated at half a million sterling, and it was intended as a Christmas gift to a certain European lady of high rank, with whose charms the Gaekwar was greatly smitten.

It never reached is destination, however, for before the anniversary came round the Gaekwar was arrested. Its ultimate fate was never known.

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 24 January 1897: p. 34

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The Gaekwar above was Malharrao, a person of the “vilest character,” who had conspired to have his brother, the reigning Maharaja of Baroda, killed. Nevertheless, Malharrao still succeeded him in 1871, after the Maharaja’s widow gave birth to a posthumous daughter. Malharrao proceeded to empty the coffers of the kingdom, ordering solid gold cannons and a carpet of pearls.  He was just the sort of person who would sacrifice 40 elephants and four carvers’ eyesight to a whim. His tyranny and cruelty were reported to the British Resident, whom he tried to poison with arsenic rather than diamond-dust—a lovely touch one wishes were true. (Far too rich for Mrs Daffodil’s purse, but ground glass will do in an emergency.) Malharrao was deposed after four years of terror for his subjects and sent into exile. One wonders if the extravagant Christmas card still exists in some forgotten vault.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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