The exhibition conceptually refers to the historic institution that once existed in the same place, namely the Crown Treasury—a manifest sign of the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Poland and later of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Since the fourteenth century the crown jewels and other insignia of royal power (crowns, scepters, orbs, and the sword Szczerbiec) were kept in the Treasury alongside various other precious objects and exotica, comprising together the official state treasure. The monarch also had a private treasury which held his or her personal insignia, jewels, and display vessels. The holdings of the Crown Treasury were enriched by diplomatic gifts and royal bequests, such as King Sigismund II Augustus’ enormous collection of jewels. Only the king monarch could authorize the removal of individual valuables for special occasions, such as royal coronations and other state ceremonies.
Inventories were taken regularly during so-called inspections. The crown jewels were displayed to the public for the first time in 1792. After the third Partition of Poland in 1795, the Prussians broke into the Treasury emptying it of practically all its contents; several years later they melted down the crown jewels. In light of the loss of the crown jewels and nearly all of the valuables from the Treasury, the present exhibition can only evoke its former splendor.
Since 1930, the collection has been systematically enlarged through the acquisition of significant works of art and historic heirlooms, including several surviving objects from the former holdings of the Crown Treasury, headed by Szczerbiec, Poland’s most important historical object.