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I enjoy putting up pictures of amazing historical crowns glittering in heavily guarded vaults in countries which are now democracies, yet the crowns which have disappeared are often more interesting even to the point of being allegorical. An example of this is the crown of George XII of Georgia. His highly traditional arched crown of red velvet, gold, and jewels looked like the crown from a high school play or on a corporate logo. It was manufactured by were promptly manufactured by the artist Pierre Etienne Theremin and the goldsmith Nathanael Gottlob Licht in St. Petersburg. The crown was made in 1798 and, when George XII died in 1800 the crown (and Georgia) were duly annexed by Paul I and Alexander I. The crown was kept in the Kremlin until the communist revolution. After the communists took full control of the country, the crown was returned to Georgia in 1923. Unfortunately, it was an age of exigency, and the communist leaders of Georgia decided to “use” the crown in 1930 (whereupon it disappears entirely from history). The two equally likely fates of the crown are both interesting in a choose-your-own adventure sort of approach to political hegemony. In one scenario, the crown was broken up by the Georgian communists and the constituent gold and jewels were sold (or purloined). In an equally plausible fate for the crown, it was sold to super-rich oil titan Henri Deterding, the erstwhile head of Royal Dutch Shell. If this latter case is true, the crown could still be in the private collection of some super-rich collector, who has no need to advertise the fact he has the crown (or possibly doesn’t even know what it is). I wonder which of these possible fates befell the crown…or did something altogether different happen? Anyway, if you happen to have it in a box in your attic, you should call somebody, it may be worth something and I bet the Georgians would love to have it back.

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Today’s news was filled with bluster and foolishness to such an extent that I am just going to disregard it all for the moment and write a throw-away humor post about consumer goods.  Presumably we can work on restoring science, democracy, and art to humankind at some later point when I am less tired from work.

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It has been widely noted that honeybees have been disappearing from the world.  Although this problem was exacerbated by climate change, invasive varroa mites, and disease, the main problem is the overuse of neonicotinoid pesticides, which take a terrible toll on hymenopterans in general and are especially hard on eusocial bees (which extensively rely on elaborate organization, communication, and teamwork).

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This past week, General Mills, the maker of Cheerios decided to cash in on this tragedy, with a marketing campaign in which “BuzzBee” the cartoon bee who is the mascot of HoneyNut Cheerios has likewise gone missing.  The firm is distributing packets of “wildflowers” with their cereal so that children can help out our beleaguered insect friends by planting bee friendly gardens.   It is a bit unclear how wisely or carefully the flowers in the packets were chosen, but I am generally a fan of flower gardening and this sounds like a potentially fun promotion (although I have a suspicion there will be a lot of people who end up disappointed by the “Diving Dolphin” nature of cereal box seeds).

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Although he comes from a rogues’ gallery filled with monsters, addicts, and leprechauns, the Honey Nut Cheerios bee was a fairly amiable cereal mascot: he was sort of good-natured and slightly anxious bee who wanted you to experience “one honey of an O” with his delicious sugary cereal (which really is pretty good).

Yet I tend to regard BuzzBee not as a victim of colony collapse disorder as of poorly thought-out branding.  He seems like he was created by a room full of MBAs without a particularly good grasp of hymenopteran life cycles.  Notably, the honey nut bee was clearly male—even though male honey bees are stingless drones of limited utility to the hive. It seems unlikely that he would ever obtain reproductive success hanging around human kitchens (fertile queens tend to be found and courted in harrowing aerial circumstances), however people also do not tend to use agricultural pesticides in their kitchen, so Buzz most likely did not die of neonicotinoids:  more likely he was a victim of starvation, winter, or possibly a bee-eating predator such as a lizard or a bear.

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And if Buzz did manage to get his act together and find an unfertilized queen, then we will certainly never see him again!  Reproductive consummation proves fatal to drones.

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No doubt, General Mills is hoping to bring Buzz back in the style of Coke Classic with much fanfare and, um, marketing buzz, however, I hope that when they do so, they stop and think about actual bees.  To my mind, a honeybee mascot would be much more powerful if it was a formidable queen bee or, even better, a group of terrifying clone sisters who all speak the same thoughts in the same hive voice.  That would truly be an appropriate image for the group-think world of brand marketing.  Also it would leave an indelible impression on the mind of today’s youth, the same way “Crazy Cravings” scarred a group of children with his disturbing need for Honeycomb.  Crazy Craving taught all of us how giant corporations would like us to be, maybe the fact that GM is so willing to disappear the friendly face of its sugar cereal for a bit of tawdry publicity will remind us afresh of the world they are trying to build.

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Artist's Interpretation of the Crown of Zvonimir

Artist’s Interpretation of the Crown of Zvonimir

The Crown of Zvonimir was another one of those ill-starred comic props which keeps popping up in increasingly goofy forms throughout history.  The original was extremely distinctive looking…um, probably.  Nobody has seen it since the early 16th century when it “mysteriously” disappeared as the Ottomans plundered Croatia (looters probably wouldn’t make off with a golden crown covered in precious jewels right?).  The crown was presented to King Demetrius Zvonimir by the Pope in 1076 (well the actual crown was presented to the actual king by a papal legate, but you know what I mean).

King Zvonimir (pictured here flashing gang signs and struggling with dyslexia)

King Zvonimir (pictured here flashing gang signs and struggling with dyslexia)

Like a duck-hunting hat, the crown of Zvonimir had distinctive ear-flaps.  Maybe Zvonimir’s ears were prone to getting cold? Heraldic convention shows the crown as surmounted with three crosses and encrusted with sapphires, and pearls.  It seems reasonable to assume that the piece was destroyed in the Middle Ages, but maybe it is has somehow survived the tumultuous centuries in some hiding spot.

Carving from a baptismal font

Carving from a baptismal font (including ear flaps!)

In the nineteen thirties and forties a fascist regime, the Ustaše regime, came to prominence in Croatia.  They seized control in 1941 and appropriated medieval symbols of Croatia’s golden(ish) age as symbols of their wicked administration.  These characters forged a new crown of Zvonimir, but their version was ludicrously unlike the original.  The modern fascist crown featured a wreath of golden clover leaves surmounted by a cross (which sounds like an appealing sight—for a devoutly Christian cow).  The new crown, along with a complimentary golden apple scepter (which really does sound delicious) were meant to be given to the new king of Croatia.  Victor Emmanuel III, the King of Italy (snicker) chose some crooked Italian Duke to fill this role, but the reborn Croatian monarchy never really got off the ground and the second crown also disappeared in the madness of World War II. Wikipedia blandly reports that “It is unknown whether this crown remains in existence.”

I couldn't find a picture of this second crown.  Did you know that Croatia has the world's most beautiful beaches?

I couldn’t find a picture of this second crown. Did you know that Croatia has the world’s most beautiful beaches?

Yeesh. Maybe Croatia should work on hyping its exquisite beaches and leave these lost crowns in history’s waste-bin!

Prince Hans-Adam II

The other day I read an overview of the annoyingly smug Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein and I realized that the prosperous inhabitants of that tiny mountain nation have a problem. The Prince of Liechtenstein has the power to “irreversibly veto any law, dissolve the legislature, and appoint judges in his principality.”  He is an old school absolutist with complete power over his subjects (although he doesn’t particularly exercise his authority over the rich burghers and money launderers who live there).  The Prince has a problem as well though—he is missing his fancy hat.  It is ironic that the one European sovereign who maintains true political authority is the one without a crown.

Franz Joseph I, Prince of Liechtenstein (painting by Alexander Roslin)

The ducal hat of Liechtenstein was discovered to be missing in 1781 following the death of Prince Franz Joseph I. Commissioned in 1623 by Karl von Liechtenstein the hat was modeled on the Imperial Crown of Austria and featured eight jeweled acanthus leaves surrounding a red velvet cap with a big shiny button on top.  The white diamonds and red rubies/spinels of the crown were alleged to have magical properties for protecting the Duke (although they don’t seem to have staved off death for Franz Joseph I, nor did they protect the hat itself from whoever walked off with it).  A single gouache painting kept in the Liechtenstein Museum portrays the original crown which has vanished completely from history—well, actually I found an online account of how Bulgarian spider worshippers smuggled it into the United States to sell to Druids (but I thought that there were some issues of historical accuracy with that website).

Gouache from 1756 (Liechtenstein Museum)

The citizenry of Liechtenstein chipped in together and bought a replacement hat for their anachronistically powerful liege in 1976, but undoubtedly he can sense that it is not the real thing. Fortunately the lack of his actual crown has not prevented him from writing a new book The State in the Third Millennium which summarizes his philosophy about governance.  The Prince apparently dreams of “the creation of numerous small principalities throughout the world, where people can live in happiness and freedom…” Each of these microstates would be controlled by a despotic Prince with absolute power. Thanks Prince Hans-Adam, I’m sure the world would work much better if everything broke apart into feuding city-states run by evil autocrats. 

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