Nicholas II’s telephone sold at auction for $2 million USD

On Friday 10th March, a telephone belonging to Emperor Nicholas II was sold at a Sotheby’s auction. The Romanov Week auction featured more than 100 items belonging to members of the Russian Imperial Family.

The most expensive lot was a telephone belonging to Emperor Nicholas II, which sold for a staggering 2 million US dollars, almost five times over the estimate.

“It’s a unique device made in 1915 at the Russian-Baltic Wagon factory in Petrograd. The telephone was presented it to the Tsar during the First World War, who used it for communicating with the Empress at Tsarskoye Selo during his trips to General Headquarters (Stavka) at Mogilev,” said Sotheby’s representative Robert Jefferson.

Following the February 1917 Revolution the telephone was confiscated on the order of the Provisional Government and transferred to the custody of the chief of the Petrograd garrison.

Following the riots that swept the capital in July 1917, the telephone was later stolen during the Russian Civil War and smuggled to Europe.

NOTE: In 1896, the Swedish manufacturer of telecommunications equipment Ericsson, installed the first telephone for Emperor Nicholas II in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow.

© Paul Gilbert. 11 March 2023

Nicholas II’s Imperial Train at Mogilev

PHOTO: the Imperial Train at the specially built station at Mogilev. Artist unknown.
From the Collection of the Tsarskoye Selo State Museum

In August 1915, after the German advance, the Headquarters [Stavka] of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, was re-located from Baranovichi to Mogilev. The following month, September 1915, Emperor Nicholas II assumed personal command of the Russian Imperial Army, after dismissing his cousin, Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich from the post.

In the years 1915-1917, Nicholas II spent long periods at the Stavka in Mogilev. He would arrive on the Imperial Train, which made frequent journeys back and forth between Tsarskoye Selo and Stavka.

With the outbreak of World War I, the number of carriages of the Imperial Train was reduced to three. The Imperial Train became both a travelling residence for the Emperor, as well as a military field office, equipped with telephone and telegraph communications.

PHOTO: the Imperial Train set in a pine grove near the Stavka near Mogilev. Nicholas II often went for walks in the surrounding forest, with walking stick in one hand, a cigarette in the other.

As the Imperial Train approached Mogilev, it was diverted to a separate branch line and station, specially constructed for the Imperial Train. It was from this station, that the Emperor and his retinue traveled by motorcar to General Headquarters – where Nicholas II lived, often with his son Tsesarevich Alexei – in Mogilev and back.

The location of the branch was determined by the fact that the forest masked the train from German bombers. The entire area surrounding the station was heavily guarded by police agents and gendarmes.

Trees were felled, and a wooden platform and protective roof were constructed on a privately owned pine forest just north of Mogilev. Pathways and landscaped gardens were laid out, as well as the installation of electric lighting for the tracks, water supply, sewerage, telephone and telegraph wires.

As Prince Michael of Greece notes in his pictorial album ‘Nicholas and Alexandra: The Family Albums‘: “It creates a romantic picture to see these luxurious wagons appear between the vertical tree trunks”.

The special branch line and station for Nicholas II’s Imperial Train at Stavka were both destroyed during the Great Patriotic War (1941-45).

To learn more about the Imperial Train of Nicholas II, please read my article – with photos – The fate of Nicholas II’s Imperial Train, published on 12th January 2021

© Paul Gilbert. 3 September 2022

Nicholas II’s visit to the 1812 Memorial Chapel in Saltanovka, 1917

PHOTO: Emperor Nicholas II and his family visiting the Memorial Chapel, 1917. To the left of the Tsar is General Count Alexander Grabbe (1864-1947), who served as Major-General of His Imperial Majesty’s Own Convoy from 1914 to 1917, and Pierre Gilliard (1879-1962), can be seen between the two

NOTE: The three vintage photographs presented in this post, depict Emperor Nicholas II and his family visiting the Memorial Chapel in the village of Saltanovka, on 1st January 1917, just weeks before the Tsar’s abdication on 16th (O.S. 3rd) March 1917.

The Memorial Chapel was constructed in 1912, it is situated two kilometers north-west from the village of Saltanovka near Mogliev. It has survived to this day – see photo below.

The chapel was erected by the Tsarist government in 1912 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Saltanovka, during the Patriotic War of 1812. It was here, on 11th July 1812, that the battle took place between the Russian troops of Emperor Alexander I (1777-1825) the 7th corps under the command of Lieutenant General Nikolai Raevsky (1771-1829), and the French troops of Emperor Napoleon I (1769-1821) under the command of Marshal Luis-Nicolas Davout (1770-1823).

It was constructed in the Neoclassical style by the Russian architect Konstantin Alekseevich Mikhailov (1873-1927) and sculptor Pyotr Grigorievich Yatsyno, who carried out the artistic stucco decoration, memorial plaques and finishing works.

On the walls of the chapel are commemorative plaques listing the Russian regiments and divisions that took part in the battle. The ashes of Russian soldiers who died in the 1812 Battle of Saltanovka, lie within the walls of the chapel.

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, Emperor Nicholas II, Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna and an unidentified officer

PHOTO: Empress Alexandra Feodorovna and Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna


PHOTO: The Memorial Chapel near the village of Saltanovka as it looks today

© Paul Gilbert. 15 June 2021


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Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II found in Mogilev, now a holy icon

PHOTO: Ceremonial portrait of Nicholas II. Artist and year unknown.

This year marks 30 years since the revival of the St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev. This Orthodox monastery is one of the oldest – the first mentions of the monastery appears in the annals of 1522 – and most famous spiritual centers in eastern Belarus, its history is closely connected with Emperor Nicholas II.

The pearl of the monastery is a unique wooden carved iconostasis, made in a special technique of Belarusian carving of the 17th century. Only three such iconostases have survived in the world: in the Novodevichy Convent in Moscow, in the Assumption Cathedral in Smolensk and in the St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev. The first abbess of the revived monastery, Abbess Evgenia Voloshchuk and her sisters worked hard during the restoration of the St. Nicholas Monastery.

Difficult fate

St. Nicholas Convent operated from 1637 to 1719, and then was transformed into a male monastery, which existed until 1754. Later, the St. Nicholas Cathedral became the parish church.

Like all Orthodox places of worship, the monastery shared a similar fate – during the years of persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church during the Soviet years, the church’s icons and other contents were confiscated, the iconostasis was destroyed. In 1934, with the death of the priest Mikhail Pleshchinsky, St. Nicholas Cathedral was closed. In 1937, the Mogilev diocese ceased to exist.

In 1937, St. Nicholas Cathedral was used as a transit prison (closed in 1941). In 1991, during the restoration of the monastery, numerous human remains were discovered – most likely victims of Stalinist repressions.

It was not until 1989, that the Mogilev Diocese was restored. It was at this time, that the reigning archbishop of Mogilev and Mstislavsky Maxim (Krokha) began the revival of the St. Nicholas Monastery.

On 28th March 1991, the St. Onufrievsky Church was consecrated. On 18th June of the same year, the monastery was visited by His Holiness Patriarch Alexy II (1929-2008) of Moscow and All Russia.

PHOTO: St. Nicholas Cathedral, St. Nicholas Monastery in Mogilev

Monastery and the Romanov family

The history of the monastery is closely connected with the last Tsar and his family. Between 1915-1917, the headquarters of the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces was located in Mogilev. During that time, Nicholas II and his family often attended Divine Liturgies held in St. Nicholas Cathedral.

During the canonization by the Russian Orthodox Church of the New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia of the 20th century in the summer of 2000, a ceremonial portrait of the emperor was miraculously found in the niche of an old wall of one of the houses in Mogilev. Local Orthodox Christians, believing the discovery as a blessed meaning in coincidence and turned the portrait into an icon, transferring it to the St. Nicholas Cathedral.

The icon hangs today, on the left side-altar of the church consecrated in memory of the Holy Royal Martyrs. A five-ruble gold coin is also attached to the icon, which was once presented to the boy Simeon Khalipov by Emperor Nicholas II during a visit to the monastery.

© Paul Gilbert. 28 March 2021