Skip to content

Turner Auctions + Appraisals showcases Russian lacquer boxes April 15


Russian lacquer and malachite jewelry box, 8¾ x 6 x 4½ in. Estimate: $1,000-$2,000. Turner Auctions + Appraisals image

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Turner Auctions + Appraisals will present the Lucy Maxym Collection of Russian Lacquer and Art on Sunday, April 15. Offering over 100 lots, the online sale features Russian lacquer boxes, jewelry, icons, a Fabergé cigarette case, and reference materials. Absentee and Internet live bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

Acquired over 30-40 years, all items are from the personal collection of Lucy Maxym, a noted author and expert on Russian lacquer art. The sale also includes a selection of her silver items from Russia and Asia, an egg and other items in cloisonné, books and other collectibles.

Lucy Maxym was born in Russia near the Ukraine and emigrated to the U.S. as an infant.  Portending Lucy’s travels to come, the family first lived in New York, then Japan and then San Francisco, where Lucy grew up. After she married Stephen Maxym, the couple returned to New York, where they had two children, Eda and Robert, and lived for over 45 years before returning to California. Her husband Stephen was principal bassoonist for the Metropolitan Opera Company Orchestra for over 35 years. He was also a renowned bassoon teacher – at Juilliard, Yale, the Manhattan Schools of Music, the New England Conservatory, and the University of Southern California. The family’s life was rich with music, culture and travel.

Russian lacquer, Persian casket, ‘The Seven Semeons,’ Palekh school, 4 x 2¾ x 3¾ in. Estimate: $800-$1,200. Turner Auctions + Appraisals image

Creative and adventuresome, Lucy Maxym further expanded her interests in the late 1950s when she and her sister founded Siamese Imports, sourcing items from Thailand, where their brother lived. Their import and wholesale business added a new destination when Lucy happened to see a Russian box on the coffee table of a friend. She became fascinated with this art form, launching a passion, curiosity and desire to know more that lasted for the rest of her life. After her sister passed away, Lucy and her business began to focus more on Russian lacquer and art, Kashmir lacquer, and fine crafts from all over the world.

Although such travels were uncommon at the time – for a man, let alone a woman – Maxym was a pioneering entrepreneur and intrepid traveler to the USSR, Kashmir, Burma, Vietnam and other exotic destinations. On her frequent journeys to the USSR, she was accompanied always and everywhere by a Russian escort supplied by the government. Starting in Moscow, they would travel to small villages known for these unique lacquer crafts – primarily Fedoskino, Palekh, Kholui, and Mstera – each with a distinctive style.  On these trips, she would search out the talented artists who painted in miniature, and bring their wares back to the U.S.  Over the years, she often collaborated with the artists, suggesting ideas, themes, new formats like porcelain plates, and new materials such as mother-of-pearl.

Russian lacquer, ‘Scarlet Flower,’ artist L. Zuerkova, 6½ x 4 x 1¾ inches. Estimate: $400-$600. Turner Auctions + Appraisals image

Although in this era of the Cold War, such business trips were formal, structured and restrictive, Lucy nevertheless made strong personal connections with the artists.

According to the Sitka Sentinel in June 1985 regarding her then-upcoming exhibit in Sitka, Alaska, Maxym was “the only American authorized by the Soviet government to purchase the boxes from Russian artists for resale in the U.S.” As she exposed these hand-crafted Russian artworks at trade shows and elsewhere, buyers were curious what the beautiful boxes were all about. Because she was constantly explaining the Russian stories that were the subjects of the miniature paintings, she decided to write a book. In 1981, Russian Lacquer, Legends and Fairy Tales was published. Five years later, Volume Two shared new stories of Russian myths and life.

In addition to the lacquer boxes, Lucy also became interested in icons and was one of the first persons allowed to take them out of Russia.

An 18th/19th century Russian icon with elaborate hallmark gilt riza, ‘Our Lady of Vladimir,’ 12½ x 10¾ in. Estimate: $1,000-$2,000. Turner Auctions + Appraisals image

As her business grew, so did her reputation and recognition – resulting in her being honored as the first woman member of the U.S.-USSR Trade and Economic Council, according to her daughter Eda.

Although the lacquer boxes were originally sold in kiosks to tourists in Russia, Maxym was instrumental in elevating the lacquer boxes to an art form.

Late 19th/early 20th century Russian antique gilt silver and cloisonné enamel Easter egg, Moscow, circa. 1899-1908. Estimate: $2,500-$4,500. Turner Auctions + Appraisals image

After a long life full of adventure and discovery, Lucy Maxym passed away in 2017 at age 99. Her family now wishes to share some of her prized lacquer boxes with others who appreciate the beauty, artistry and provenance of these exquisite items that Lucy helped introduce to the world.

Turner Auctions + Appraisals begins its online auction on Sunday, April 15, at 10:30 a.m. Pacific time, 1:30 p.m. Eastern.

For details contact Stephen Turner, president of Turner Auctions + Appraisals at 415-964-5250 or

[av_button label=’View the fully illustrated catalog and bid on LiveAuctioneers.’ link=’manually,’ link_target=’_blank’ size=’medium’ position=’center’ icon_select=’no’ icon=’ue800′ font=’entypo-fontello’ color=’theme-color’ custom_bg=’#444444′ custom_font=’#ffffff’ admin_preview_bg=” av_uid=’av-m67mnm’]