The mysterious gemstone button box
By Julia Petrov, Acting Head, History
June 5, 2020
During the move downtown, RAM staff discovered some strange – and extremely fancy! – boxes. Boxes with no keys, and no way to open them.
What could their purpose be? The answer might surprise you…
Recently in our vault, we found a couple of boxes without any numbers or notes. Two highly decorated boxes with gemstone buttons on top. Each box had a hole that looked like a keyhole, but they didn't come with keys. So we tried to open them up, thinking, maybe it's a jewelry box. But there was no lid to open.
What purpose does a box serve if you can't open it?
Then, we noticed the Fabergé hallmarks on the bottom. You might have heard of Fabergé eggs. Fabergé was the Russian jewelry firm from before the revolution, who made luxury items for the Russian Czars and aristocrats.
After a lot of research, we discovered that these boxes were actually table bells. The hole was for the wire, and pushing down on the gemstone button would complete the circuit and call your servant in your mansion. These boxes were part of a collection donated by a wealthy Edmonton family. One bell has an inscription in Russian: ‘from Ada, May 17th 1910,’ but that doesn't correspond to any of the members of the family that we know of.
It's just another mystery we have to solve!