Napoleon's Pistols Command a Bonaparte-esque Price at Auction

AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere

One point six nine million Euros ($1.63 million American) seems a pretty fancy price to pay for a pair of handguns, especially when they are single-shot, front-stuffing flintlocks.

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But when those pistols belonged to the infamous Napoleon Bonaparte, once Emperor of France, that lends a whole new angle to the story. That is indeed the price the late Emperor's Gossard flintlock pistols sold for at auction on Sunday.

Two flintlock Gossard pistols once owned by French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte have sold at auction for €1.69 million ($1.83 million). 

The guns were sold at French auction house Osenat in Fontainebleau, just outside Paris, on Sunday. They were originally valued at an estimated €1.2 million-€1.5 million ($1.3 million- $1.63 million). 

According to the auctioneer, they were given to Napoleon’s friend and squire Armand de Caulaincourt just after the emperor attempted suicide in April 1814.

It's unclear as to whether old Bony carried the pistols on any of his campaigns. 

It's interesting to note that, from the very advent of portable sidearms, an officer's pistol (or pistols) was generally privately purchased and was the personal property of the officer. At the conclusion of conflicts, as recently as World War II, officers on the losing side were generally allowed to retain personal sidearms, as opposed to all other weapons, which were typically stacked and surrendered. The going attitude of the times was that a gentleman was presumed to have the right to retain a personal sidearm for protection, and the military practices of the time reflected that. It's too bad that we no longer live in times where this was considered the civilized thing to do, but then, add that to a long list of things that have changed for the worse.

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 Even for an officer of the Napoleonic era, though, these Gossard pistols were some pretty fancy pieces.

The guns were sold in a Burr walnut box with an ebony inlay. The lid of the box is lined with green velvet embroidered with the letter N, which is bordered with embroidered flowers. The box and two guns also bear Napoleon’s cipher. 

Last November, Osenat sold one of Napoleon’s famous black hats for a record €1.932 million ($2.1 million).


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There's a catch, though, for the buyer; the pistols must remain in France.

Osenat told CNN Monday that the pistols were declared a National Treasure by the French government a week before they were sold, meaning that they cannot leave France.

Napoleon wasn't alone in his appreciation for fine firearms. Most people who don't know (or care) much about guns don't realize that a finely crafted piece can be just as much a work of art as a painting or a sculpture. I have a few in my safe that I consider works of art in walnut and blued steel, such as a 1940 Winchester Model 12 Black Diamond trap gun, one of the prizes in my small collection of pre-64 Winchesters and Belgian Brownings. If one looks at the products of gunmakers like Rigby or Holland & Holland, one sees not only functional firearms but fine, hand-crafted works of art - and the prices commanded by these guns bear that out.

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It's good that Napoleon's pistols will remain in France. That's as it should be. They are part of that nation's history, just as any sidearm of George Washington - or George Patton - would be for the United States.

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