The Story of... The rare Russian Order of St Andrew the First-Called

As we've noted repeatedly, 2010 was a great year for medals in general and perhaps above all Russian medals.

But even allowing for the stunning performance of the pieces at auction, one piece stood out in spectacular fashion: the record-breaking £1.32m (nearly $2.1m) sale of an Order of St Andrew against an already high estimate of £140,000-180,000.

So what's special about the Order of St Andrew? It was the first and the highest order of chivalry of the Russian Empire, created by Tsar Peter the Great following his travels in Europe.

Peter had been impressed by the way that certain countries rewarded those who had shown great determination, courage or other commendable character in the service of the state, noting the value in ceremony in encouraging pride in the award compared to more material rewards of money or land.

In particular, the Tsar was inspired by England's Order of the Garter and the Austrian Order of the Golden Fleece when he established the Order of St Andrew the first-called, referring to Russia's patron saint, who was Jesus's first apostle.

The award took primacy over those which followed it with the Order of St Alexander Nevsky, the Order of the White Eagle, the Order of St Anne, first degree, and the Order of St Stanislaus automatically awarded with the Order of St Andrew.

The £1.32m award in June 2010 was that originally given to 'Radical Jack' Sir John George Lambton GCB, Earl of Durham, Viscount Lambton, Baron Durham by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia.

Russian St Andrew Badge
Russian Order of St Andrew sash badge and breast stars
(Click to enlarge)

Nicholas was impressed by the Earl's character, which led to a thawing of relations between England and Russia with huge benefits for trade.

The Order of St Andrew was wound up following the Russian Revolution of 1917, but it has recently been revived, unofficially in 1988 and officially in 1998.

Those receiving the award started with Dmitri Likhachev - the country's expert in Old Russian language and literature until his death in 1999. He was known as "a guardian of national culture", and "Russia's conscience".


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