Two Napoleon pistols sell for $1.83 million in French auction

Guns are considered national treasures in France, banned from export

Cover Image for Two Napoleon pistols sell for $1.83 million in French auction
The original box is included with the pistols, which Napoleon gave to a French general. (Credit: Osenat)

A pair of pistols owned by Napoleon Bonaparte sold for $1.83 million Sunday in France, near the Fontainebleau palace where the French Emperor attempted to end his own life using the same pistols in 1814.

Despite the auction proceeding as planned, a ruling from the French culture ministry has banned the pistols’ export, classifying them as national treasures. The ban allows the French government a 30-month window to make an offer to the new owner, who has the right to decline.

Osenat, the auction house which sold the pistols, is located outside Paris and has become known for its sales of Napoleonic objects in the past, including Napoleon’s sword from the battle of Marengo, which fetched $6.4 million in 2007, and his bicorn hat, which sold for $2.1 million last year.

The guns were described as the two pistols “that could have changed the course of history” by the auction house, referencing the fact Napoleon intended to use them to end his own life following his abdication.

The original box is included with the pistols, preserved for over two centuries, and given by Napoleon to General Armand de Coulaincourt on the evening of his suicide attempt.

After Napoleon took poison on an April night in 1814, intending on ending his life, he called for Coulaincourt to join him in his room, where he asked him to keep multiple of his most treasured weapons, including the pistols, according to French magazine “Le magazine des encheres.”

The box and pistols remained in the general’s family for generations prior to the sale Sunday in France.

Now among the most expensive historic guns ever sold at public auction, the pistols place second in history behind George Washington’s Saddle Pistols, which sold for nearly $2 million in a 2002 auction at Christie’s.

Will Stern is a reporter and editor for cllct.