The Raphael service was the most important produced at the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory in the period and a project so complex the 50 place settings were not completed until 1903. Each piece, centred by medallions painted en grisaille, carried a large gilt and red imperial cypher of the reigning emperor to the reverse.
A year after its completion, the service was moved to the Anichkov Palace in St Petersburg but was dispersed soon after the revolution.
As shown by two different UK salerooms in March, pieces do turn up in unlikely places. Steve Stockton, head of the Tennants’ Harrogate office, was shown three 6in (15cm) oyster dishes at a valuation event “on a grey day in Bolton Abbey”.
The vendor’s grandfather, an engineer from a Blackburn firm of boiler manufacturers, had travelled several times to Moscow in the 1920s. The gifts of Romanov porcelain and glass he received during his post-revolutionary trade missions were carefully stowed in a corner cupboard for almost 90 years. The three oyster dishes bore the cypher of Tsar Nicholas II and were dated 1900 and 1901.
Sotheby’s New York sold a set of 11 of these for $40,000 in 2011 as part of the Safra collection. Entered to Tennants’ March 25-26 sale, this trio were knocked down at the lower end of an £18,000-20,000 estimate.
Serendipitously a 9½in (24cm) dinner plate from the service (this one with the cypher for Alexander III and dated 1886) was offered by Tamlyns of Bridgwater on March 8. At the start of the decade these plates were bringing over £20,000 each but prices have slipped as the Russian market has cooled. This example, another discovery following a routine house visit, realised £5800.