Napoleon’s Elaborately Decorated Pistols Sell for $1.8 Million at Auction

The French government has declared the artifacts national treasures, which means they can only leave the country temporarily

Pair of pistols in ornate box
The weapons are adorned with gold and silver designs and an engraved image of Napoleon. Osenat

A pair of pistols once owned by Napoleon Bonaparte sold at auction over the weekend for roughly $1.8 million. But the ornate artifacts may be stuck in France, where the government has declared them national treasures.

Made by Paris gunsmith Louis-Marin Gosset, the two pistols are decorated with gold and silver patterns, as well as an engraved image of the French ruler. They are stored inside their original case, alongside a powder horn and tamping rods.

After Napoleon was forced to abdicate the throne in 1814, he reportedly contemplated death by suicide using the pistols. However, that plan was thwarted by Armand de Caulaincourt, Napoleon’s grand squire, who dumped the gunpowder out of the guns.

Napoleon tried ingesting poison, which he survived. He was then banished to the Mediterranean island of Elba. He later gave the guns to Caulaincourt.

The pistols represent “the end, the image of the fall,” says Jean-Pierre Osenat, president of the auction house, to the Independent’s Alisha Rahaman Sarkar.

Before the auction, which took place in France on July 7, the French culture ministry classified the pistols as national treasures, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP). The government also issued an export ban certificate, which means that French officials will have 30 months to make an offer to the pistols’ new owner. Additionally, the guns are only allowed to leave France temporarily.

Maître Osenat vous présente l'objet phare de notre prochaine vente Empire

Items that once belonged to Napoleon are usually quite valuable—and typically command high prices. For example, one of Napoleon’s bicorne hats sold for $2.1 million in November—days before the release of the film Napoleon, director Ridley Scott’s historical drama about the emperor’s rise and fall.

Though military officers typically wore their bicorne hats front to back, with the wings perpendicular to their shoulders, Napoleon began wearing his sideways, with the wings parallel to his shoulders. This new style, called en bataille (“in battle”), helped Napoleon remain visible to his troops during combat.

In 2021, a handwritten doctor’s note describing Napoleon’s ill health during his final years fetched $2,000 at auction. In 2007, a single handwritten page from Napoleon’s unpublished novella sold for $35,400.

As a military officer during the French Revolution, Napoleon quickly rose to power during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. After crowning himself emperor in 1804 at age 35, Napoleon expanded the French empire by conquering parts of Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland.

In 1812, however, he led a failed invasion of Russia. The loss emboldened Napoleon’s adversaries, including Sweden, Great Britain, Austria, Prussia and Russia, which joined forces to fight against the emperor. By March 1814, the coalition had captured Paris. Napoleon abdicated the throne, attempted suicide and was forced into exile on Elba.

“After the defeat of the French campaign, he was totally depressed,” Osenat tells the AFP.

He escaped in 1815 and briefly attempted to regain power in his Hundred Days campaign, but was defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon was once again exiled, this time to the island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean, where he died of stomach cancer in 1821.

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