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Treasures for the Tercentenary

In this special anniversary year of The 1723 Constitutions, the Province of Berkshire marks its significance with the commissioning of the Berkshire Hart Egg by Theo Fabergé.


As part of its Tercentenary celebrations, the Province of Berkshire worked hard to provide a new home for its significant treasures, judiciously accumulated over a number of years. 

Freemasons stand around the blue Faberge Egg smiling

Using a significant bequest to its Library and Museum, the refurbishment project was completed in May 2019 and opened by the then Assistant Grand Master Sir David Wootton. The Library and Museum, a registered charity, started life in 1896 at the Masonic Hall, Reading. It was created by members of the Grey Friars Lodge, with help from members of other Reading Lodges. Following its move to the Berkshire Masonic Centre, Sindlesham, in 1969, the contents of the collections were put into storage until a room could be allocated to house the Library and Museum. 

The museum collections contain some 3,500 items of ceramics, glassware, regalia, jewels and similar memorabilia – some of which are more than 200 years old. The library houses more than 20,000 books on Freemasonry, including many rare editions, making the collection one of the largest in England. There are also more than 3,000 certificates, prints, postcards, photographs and other archival items, as well as a reference database holding more than 90,000 records. These collections continue to increase in size and provide a valuable resource for reference and research by Freemasons and non-Freemasons alike. 

Naturally, one of its key exhibits is an original copy of Anderson’s The 1723 Constitutions, the centrepiece in this 300th celebration year. While it is rewarding to trace progress over the past 300 years, there is a need to ensure that modern Freemasonry also records its current practices and peculiarities for future generations. It is with this in mind that – as part of the Berkshire 2023 Festival run for the benefit of the Masonic Charitable Foundation – there was thoughts of commissioning a special legacy creation. The concept of the Berkshire Hart Egg and Pendant was born. 

The Berkshire Hart Egg
The Berkshire Hart Egg features Bristol blue crystal and 18ct gold-plated silver and is set with rubies.

Under the personal direction of Philip Birkenstein, Chairman of the St Petersburg Collection, these unique English hallmarked limited editions were commissioned at no financial risk to the Province. Nothing similar has ever been created for Freemasonry or for the Masonic Charitable Foundation.

For many years a collector of fine decorative antiques, in 1984, Birkenstein started his association with British craftsman Theo Fabergé, grandson of Carl Fabergé, jeweller to the Tsars of Russia. They became firm friends and, 18 months later, their company was created, the result of a unique combination of the design and production skills of Fabergé and Birkenstein’s marketing expertise.

The Berkshire Hart Egg, which is on permanent display at the Berkshire Museum Sindlesham, is a limited edition of just 33, reflecting an association with the Antient and Accepted Rite. Created in Bristol blue crystal, it is based on Theo Fabergé’s Egg of the Covenant. The specially designed decorations are sterling silver and hard gold plated with18-carat gold and set with rubies. The first amazing reveal is a work of exquisite craftsmanship, reflecting an intricate depiction of the Berkshire hart and oak tree located between celestial and terrestrial globes mounted on pillars. 

The significance of the globes is well known to Freemasons, depicting Masonry Universal. The first reveal is indented on the edge with Freemasonry’s core values of ‘Integrity, Respect, Friendship and Charity’ (often known as Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth) and display the hallmark for sterling silver, including Theo Fabergé’s personal mark. The exceptional second reveal depicts an interpretation of a rough and smooth ashlar, indented with gold placed on a red velvet locator. The locator and the red inserts found within the imperial crown itself allude to the indissoluble link between Craft and Royal Arch Freemasonry. The gold indented triangle on the ashlar reflects the Mark Master’s mark of approval of the work as being fitted for its place within the intended structure. In essence, since Freemasons’ strive for perfection of conduct, it symbolically marks our transition through life, one that is shaped by education, cultivation and brotherly love. 

The Berkshire Hart Pendant
The Berkshire Hart Pendant is part of a limited edition of 100.

The complementary Berkshire Hart Pendant, a limited edition of just 100, coincides with Theo Fabergé’s centenary and has been conceived from the Dragon’s Passion – the first of his Fantasy Collection, launched in 1991.The inside of the pendant bears on one side the Berkshire hart and oak tree, with the hallmark and edition number on the other. The pendant is made from sterling silver and enamel with a brilliant cut diamond to the front. 

Despite a year’s delay as a consequence of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, an imperial dinner held at Sindlesham Courton 18 September 2021 celebrated the world launch of the spectacular Berkshire Hart Egg and Berkshire Hart Pendant. In the presence of Sir Paul Williams, Deputy President and Chairman of the Masonic Charitable Foundation, 86 guests celebrated the launch and received a presentation on the history of and creations by Theo Fabergé. The sale of eggs and pendants has already secured additional donations to the Festival. Thoughts then turned to how the Province could appropriately mark the celebration of Her Majesty The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee and reflect on the memory of His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. It came to notice that one egg (the Trafalgar Egg) had previously been presented to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and is permanently housed on HMS Victory in Portsmouth. Two others (the Milestones of Flight Egg and the Diamond Battle of Britain Propellers) had also been commissioned with the enthusiastic support of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. 

The presentation of a Berkshire Hart Egg appeared to be an appropriate way forward and, thanks to the generosity of two private sponsors, financially feasible. A single special commission was given based on the Berkshire Hart Egg, bearing no serial number, but with a suitable engraved golden baseplate. Following advice from the Grand Master, an approach was made to the Master of the Royal Household to determine whether such a gift would be considered appropriate by HM The Queen. The Province was advised that The Master had spoken to Her Majesty and that she would be delighted to receive such a gift. Given the proximity and special nature of Windsor Castle and the Great Park, arrangements were put in hand to make the presentation to the new Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle.

The Berkshire Hart Egg Details
The base has been engraved simply with the words ‘To Memories’.

Unfortunately, events overtook matters and the country was rocked to learn of the death of HM The Queen on 8 September 2022, when we entered a period of national mourning. Following discussion within the Province and with the Governor, it was considered that the sentiments behind the gift were still valid and that it would be an appropriate mark of respect to present the special Berkshire Hart Egg to His Majesty King Charles III to celebrate and remember the lives and devoted service of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. Appropriately, this base has been engraved simply with the words ‘To Memories’.

On Monday 31 October at Windsor Castle, the Provincial Grand Master Anthony Howlett-Bolton OBE and a small team of senior Berkshire Freemasons, together with Philip Birkenstein, made their exceptional presentation of a Berkshire Hart Egg to the Constable and Governor of Windsor Castle Lt Gen Phil Jones CB CBE DL. Anthony Howlett-Bolton said, 

‘We have all been saddened by the recent deaths of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, our longest serving British Sovereign, and His Royal Highness Prince Philip The Duke of Edinburgh. By making this special presentation to King Charles III, we wish to commemorate their example of service, selfless duty, reassurance and compassion, which was and remains an inspiration to us all. We will remember them with great affection.’

The following day, the Governor met with His Majesty King Charles III and mentioned the gift. The Province has been advised that he was fascinated and appreciative. The Berkshire Hart Egg is now in transit to The King’s private office. Although something of a rollercoaster ride from conception to fruition, the Province has more than fulfilled its original intention and has laid down a small legacy piece from the current era for others to muse and to delight over in the decades to come. A limited number remain available for commission by discerning collectors. 

Contact Gerry Preston, Provincial Grand Charity Steward: [email protected]

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