Napoleon’s Pistols Linked To French Emperor’s Suicide Attempt Net Over $1.8 Million At Auction

A pair of pistols from Napoleon Bonaparte’s “darkest moment” of his life sold for $1.83 million at a French auction over the weekend. The weapons are linked to the French emperor’s suicide attempt at Fontainebleau in April 1814.

Pistols once used by Napoleon Bonaparte
Pistols once used by Napoleon Bonaparte. (credit: Osenat)

Napoleon’s pistols were part of Osenat’s “The Empire at Fontainebleau” auction that ended on Sunday.

Napoleon attempted to take his own life on the night of April 12, 1814, after his French forces fell to a European coalition following his invasion of Russia. However, his friend and grand squire, Armand de Caulaincourt, took the gunpowder out of the emperor’s pistols. Napoleon tried using poison to die but survived. He was then exiled to Elba, an island off Italy.

Napoleon ended up giving the pistols to Caulaincourt a day after his suicide attempt.

Caulaincourt cherished these relics until his death in 1827. In his will, he bequeathed the pistols, along with a cameo of Napoleon and the emperor’s saber, to his eldest son. He wrote, “I attach great value to these objects because they were given to me by him in 1814 at Fontainebleau when he left, as a souvenir of the loyalty and attachment that I had always shown him.”

The pistols, crafted by the renowned gunsmith Louis Marin Gosset in the early 19th century, are housed in a walnut burl veneer box. The interior of the box is lined with green velvet, intricately embroidered with gold thread depicting oak leaves, bees, and an “N” beneath a laurel crown with nine stars. The silver lock plate bears the engraving, “Box of pistols given to Fontainebleau to Monsieur the Duke of Vicenza by the Emperor Napoleon in 1814.”

The pistols have been exhibited before, most notably in 1935 at the “Two centuries of military glory, 1610-1814” exhibition organized by the Sabretache at the Museum of Decorative Arts in Paris. They were displayed alongside the “Emperors’ saber,” another gift from Napoleon to Caulaincourt, which now resides in the collections of the Ch√Ęteau de Fontainebleau.

Despite the sale, the pistols were¬†declared a French National Treasure by France’s Ministry of Culture. The decision means the items cannot be exported and that the French government has 30 months to buy Napoleon’s pistols from the new owner, who has not been named.

Recently, Osenat sold Napoleon’s Marengo saber for $4.87 million, while the emperor’s emblematic bicorne hat scored $2.16 million.

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