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Napoleon’s Suicide Pistols Sell for €1.69 Million at Auction, Declared National Treasures

Two pistols that once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte were sold at auction in France for an impressive €1.69 million ($1.84 million). The sale followed the French government’s declaration of the firearms as national treasures, a status that brought significant attention to the auction.

Exquisite Craftsmanship and Historical Significance

The pistols, inlaid with gold and silver, and engraved with images of Napoleon, were highly anticipated at the auction held by the Osenat auction house in Fontainbleau, south of Paris. The auction took place on July 7, with initial estimates ranging from €1.2 million to €1.5 million. These ornate weapons are not only masterpieces of craftsmanship but also bear immense historical significance.

A staff member showed a detail of one of the two pistols, which belonged to Emperor Napoleon I, during the preview before their auction, in Paris on 18 June 2024. Courtesy: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

An Almost Tragic History

According to Jean-Pierre Osenat, the president of the auction house, these pistols were nearly used by Napoleon to end his own life in 1814. After a devastating defeat by foreign forces, Napoleon was reportedly so despondent that he intended to commit suicide using these weapons. However, his grand squire intervened and removed the powder from the pistols, thwarting the attempt. Napoleon then ingested poison but survived after vomiting the substance. These poignant artifacts were later given to his squire, General Armand de Caulaincourt, whose descendants eventually consigned them to the auction house.

Previous High-Profile Napoleon Memorabilia Sales

The sale of Napoleon’s pistols is not the first time memorabilia associated with the French emperor has fetched high prices at auction. In November, one of Napoleon’s famous “bicorne” hats was sold for $2.1 million, significantly exceeding its original estimate of $650,000 to $870,000. Such high-profile sales reflect the enduring fascination and historical value associated with items linked to Napoleon.

Government Intervention and Future Prospects

The French Ministry of Culture announced the designation of the two pistols as national treasures on July 6, just before the auction. This status comes with an export ban certificate, initiating a 30-month period during which the French government can make an offer to purchase the pistols from their new owner. The unidentified buyer retains the right to refuse the government’s offer.

Significance of National Treasure Status

Being classified as a national treasure significantly enhances the value and prestige of cultural property. According to a representative of the Osenat auction house, “Being classified as a national treasure gives an incredible value to the object.” The designation ensures that such valuable artifacts remain within France, safeguarding the country’s cultural heritage.

In conclusion, the sale of Napoleon’s pistols highlights the historical and cultural significance of artefacts associated with notable historical figures. The auction not only drew attention to the exceptional craftsmanship of the pistols but also underscored the enduring legacy of Napoleon Bonaparte.

Feature Image: This photograph shows a box containing two pistols, which belonged to Emperor Napoleon I, during the preview before their auction, in Paris on 18 June 2024. The sale, called “L’Empire à Fontainebleau”, organised by both Rossini and Osenat auction houses, will take place on 7 July 2024 in Fontainebleau. Courtesy: Geoffroy van der Hasselt/AFP/Getty Images

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