The International Museum of the Horse in Lexington, Kentucky plans on a “soft” opening on July 8, 2013 of a priceless Faberge Punch Bowl set that came from Russia to America. The eleven-piece antique Russian Cloisonné Punch Bowl Set dazzles with its intricate beauty as much as it bedazzles with the story behind it. It’s a story about a love of horse racing that spanned America to Russia and back as well as a story of the superb craftsmanship of Karl Faberge. The soft opening follows the induction of Frank Caton as an “Immortal” in the Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame on July 7, 2013, along with his son, Will Caton, who was inducted as an “Immortal” in 1958.
Frank Caton Revolutionizes Russian Trotters
It was about 1895 when American horseman Frank Caton was on a business trip to Russia involving some imported American trotters. What he saw left him in utter dismay: From what he observed the trotting horse sport was way behind American breeding, training and racing. Furthermore, it involved outdated racing equipment and dated concepts involving the care and health of the racing horses.
It was then that American horseman Frank Caton decided to move his family to Russia in order to help revolutionize the sport. Together with his sons Will Caton, Sam Caton, and son-in-law William J. Rosemire, they were able to introduce new training methods and breeding, and began winning races in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Through Frank Caton’s love of the sport and technical knowledge, he helped put the Russians on the world map and become a legitimate participant in the sport of trotting horse racing.
“The sport was widely recognized in Russia and heavily attended,” according to William Rosemire Sims, grandson of William Rosemire. “However, though the success of the Caton/Rosemire quartet was widely recognized in both Europe and the U.S., the Russian success was not successfully exported to other countries. Frank Caton and sons largely created and demonstrated through winning, the values of cross breeding the Russian Orlov trotter with the American standardbred trotter…”
Faberge Trophy Set
As a tremendous token of appreciation for the advances Caton brought to the sport, the Imperial Moscow Trotting Club presented him with a Faberge Punch Bowl Set and a black leather presentation book with sterling silver mounts having the Faberge hallmarks. A scrolled monogram with the initials “FC” were embedded on the book along with a silver horse head. In both Russian and English, it read: “…for his excellent, sportsmanlike and straight driving and his magnificent training and preparing of trotting horses. Moscow, August 23, 1907.”
The Russian Cloisonné Punch Bowl Set was crafted by the workshop of Karl Faberge circa 1894. Made of sterling silver with a 14 karat gold wash that has since rubbed off, the punch bowl, cups, tray, and ladle are elaborately decorated with colored cloisonné enamels of turquoise, pink, white and green with cabochon semi-precious stones. The motif consists of an abstract floral and foliate design with accentuated yet graceful scrolling circumnavigating the punch bowl.
The octagonal tray has eight oval bases, each engraved with the names of all 43 Russian donors. These bases are where the cups rest. In the center is a raised medallion engraved, “To Frank Caton From the Horse Breeders and Sportsman of Russian, July 27, 1895-1903.”
The matching eight cups are formed like a traditional Russian kovsh; an ancient Russian drinking vessel, oval-shaped and much like a boat, that was originally made for tasting and drinking mead. By the 19th century, the kovsh became a lavishly decorated gift emblazoned with cloisonné enamels: It was usually given as an official gift of the tsarist government to dignitaries, supporters, and friends.
The House of Faberge
Peter Carl Faberge (1846-1920) joined his father’s firm in 1864 after returning to St. Petersburg from time he spent studying in Europe. By 1872 he took over the firm, began making his legendary Easter eggs in 1884 for the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, and quickly became the Tsar’s Court Goldsmith by 1885. His style was rooted in Byzantine techniques, with a propensity for visual extravagance that began with Russia’s silversmiths and goldsmith from the reign of Nicholas I. Unfortunately, the1917 Bolshevik Revolution ended the Russian success of Faberge, resulting in his escape to Switzerland.
The International Museum of the Horse
Somehow, the cloisonné punch bowl set made its way across Siberia as the Russian Revolution raged. Brought by family, it has since been meticulously cared for by William Rosemire Sims, grandson of William Rosemire who was the husband of Frank Caton’s American daughter. Fortuitous to horse culture, when Rosemire returned to America he chose Lexington, Kentucky as his home.
The semi-permanent exhibit of the Faberge punch bowl set is an important loaner to the Kentucky Horse Park because of its symbolic history of harness racing. According to Museum Director Bill Cooke: “In its own right, the Fabergé Punch Set is an incredible piece of decorative art, and is considered one of the largest and best works ever produced by Fabergé. As a presentation piece to Frank Caton, the punch set provides a centerpiece around which to tell the wonderful story of him and his family’s transformation of harness racing in the final days of Tsarist Russia. We feel quite confident that the “Frank Caton and Russian Harness Racing” exhibit will be extremely popular with our guests and will help us increase our appeal to those aficionados of the decorative arts.” He adds that the Fabergé punch set will be the first thing that guests see as they enter the museum.