A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton
Lot 556
A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton
By Joseph Manton, London, No. 568 For 1796
Sold for £67,250 (US$ 91,245) inc. premium

Lot Details
A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton
A Fine And Exceptionally Rare Cased Pair Of Gold-Inlaid 40-Bore Flintlock Duelling Pistols Made For Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Thornton
By Joseph Manton, London, No. 568 For 1796
With heavy browned twist octagonal sighted barrels each signed in gold '.. Joseph Manton's Patent London..' along the top flat between the gold-inlaid inscriptions '... Ne Tirez Pas sans Raison...' and 'Retournex Pas sans Honneur ..', gold fore-sights each on an engraved gold-inlaid double foliate scroll hung with a festoon, a line of engraved gold foliage around the muzzles, and an engraved martial trophy centred on a flaming urn at each breech, the breeches and tangs decorated en suite, the latter each carrying a dovetailed back-sight and with gold-lined touch-hole, flat detented locks each inlaid in gold with engraved martial and musical trophies, the former signed on a gold oval beneath the gold-lined semi-rainproof pan, the internal working parts retaining most of their original burnished finish, bevelled cocks (one repaired) inlaid in gold with a cornucopia, the retaining screws, top jaws and steels all inlaid with gold foliage, plain safety-catches, and rollers bearing on a ramp on the blued steel-springs, highly figured full stocks (one broken through and repaired at the lock and butt) with chequered rounded butts (some bruising, one repaired and partly rechequered), the latter each with iron mount for the shoulder-stock, numbered '1' and '2' respectively, and each with a detachable blued oval cover, blued iron mounts comprising border engraved rounded butt-caps each with a flower-head centred on the retaining screw, spur trigger-guards each with engraved pineapple finial and decorated with a elaborate martial trophy suspended from a ribbon on the bow, blued ramrod-pipes, large gold escutcheons engraved with Thornton's coat-of-arms and mottoes, silver barrel-bolt escutcheons, original horn-tipped ramrods, one with iron worm, and much of their original finish (barrels with minor rust patination): in original lined and fitted vertical casing of mahogany with accessories including original attachable highly figured skeleton stock (some bruising) with border engraved iron mount, brass-mounted three-way powder-flask covered in red leather, blued bullet mould, and rare Manton breech scraper, the interior of the lid with maker's trade label of circa 1795 to 1805, the exterior with large flush-fitting brass carrying handle
23 cm. barrels


  • Provenance:
    Viscount Ullswater, High House, Campsea Ash, Suffolk (in the house sale conducted by Garrod, Turner and Son, Ipswich, 24-31 October 1949)

    The Art of the Armourer ..., Victoria and Albert Museum, 19 April - 5 May 1963 (cat. no. 264)
    The Craft Of The Gunmaker 1640-1870 (cat. no. 29, front cover and inside cover colour illustrations)

    W. Keith Neal and D.H.L. Back, The Mantons: Gunmakers, 1966, p. 226
    D.H.L. Back, Great British Gunmakers, The Mantons 1782-1878, p, 82

    Thomas Thornton (1757-1823), self-styled Prince of Chambord and Marquess du Pont, is famous for being one of the most dedicated and flamboyant sportsmen of the 18th and 19th centuries, dividing his time between hunting, racing, shooting, angling and hawking. In the shooting field he was certainly the best equipped - in his words he had 'a greater quantity of sporting apparatus of the most valuable and curious manufacture than any other sporting gentleman in England' - and he favoured air weapons and multi-barrelled guns and rifles, including examples with seven, twelve and fourteen barrels (the second of these depicted in the portrait illustrated on the back cover of this catalogue and sold by Bonhams Sydney, The Owston Collection, 26 June 2010, lot 1233 for AUS$321,636 including premium, the last preserved in the Arms Museum, Liège, no. Ael/5866). He was something of a legend in his own time, as well known as a bon viveur as he was as a sportsman and collector

    Thornton inherited Thornville Royal estate in Yorkshire, but his exuberant lifestyle, which involved keeping two London houses as well as his country seat, taxed his finances and he was eventually forced to sell his estates. Contemporary records chart the progress south of his considerable belongings and retinue after the sale of the Yorkshire property: this included grooms, huntsmen, falconers, kennel-hands and servants, travelling by horse and attended by hounds, following a chain of wagons containing his prize animals. In addition to the live cargo was 'a fantastic arsenal of sporting weapons drawn by Arab mares of the King's stud. The procession was completed by several wagon-loads of wine'

    Thornton was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the West York Militia, a regiment that had been both financed and commanded by his father before him. In 1794 a dispute arose at Roborough Camp, near Plymouth, between Colonel Thornton and some of his officers. This was to lead to Thornton's court-martial and subsequent resignation as described in his pamphlet entitled An Elucidation of a Mutinous Conspiracy entered into by the officers of the West York Regiment of Militia against their Commanding Officer in year 1794

    A francophile, Thornton visited France with his mistress before the Revolution and again in 1802 on a sporting journey afforded during the brief peace created by the Treaty of Amiens following Napoleon's defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in June 1800. It seems probable that while in France, Thornton sought the support of the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, over the circumstances of his court-martial. If he could convince Bonaparte that his version of the events were the truth and gain his endorsement, it would greatly help him to regain his reputation. He used the gift of a fine pair of three-barrelled flintlock pocket pistols with gold-inlaid decoration, by Durs Egg (one of which was sold in these Rooms, Antique Arms and Armour, 6 April 2006, lot 396 for £38,400 (including premium) as his introduction. In his Sporting Tour Through France Thornton describes writing to General Duroc, Napoleon's aide-de-camp, gaining an interview and 'After some conversation .....I produced the pistols designed for the First Consul. The general then enquired the name of my regiment, with the particulars of which I acquainted him, as well as the manner of my quitting it; after which we parted mutually satisfied with each other.' He goes on to say 'In a few days I was favoured with a letter from General Duroc, containing the thanks of the First Consul for the pistols, which had been very graciously accepted.' In due course Thornton was presented to Bonaparte at the Tuileries. Their meeting was to provide a further opportunity of explaining the virtues of the men once under his command and all the implied regret caused by the untimely separation from them. 'He (Napoleon) noticed my medallion, and enquired the meaning of it. I told him, the legend was Triumph of Truth and that the medallion had been presented to me by the soldiers of the West York Militia, when I was Lieutenant Colonel of that regiment, as a testimony of their esteem for myself and family'

    Following the sale of his estates Thornton leased Spye Park in Wiltshire in 1805 from the Bayntun family. He wanted to replace the Bayntun family portraits with sporting paintings of his own, and commissioned a number of large-scale works from the best sporting artists of the day such as Reinagle, Gilpin and Henry Bernard Chalon. Reinagle is known to have painted a portrait of him holding a hawk (see below), as well as portraying his spaniels, and Gilpin exhibited A foxhound in the possession of Col. Thornton at the Royal Academy in 1786, and in 1792 a horse portrait entitled Jupiter, the property of Col. Thornton. This last work, measuring an imposing 134 x 175cm, came to auction in London in 2009 when it realised just over £100,000

    Thornton is also famous for his succession of mistresses, the first being Alicia Meynell or Massingham known as the 'Norwich Nymph' and famous in her own right for her horse race against Captain Flint at York racecourse in 1804, and again in 1805 on the Knavesmire when she beat Edward Buckle the crack jockey of his day. Thornton moved to France during the second decade of the 19th century and in 1819-20 his very substantial art collection – which included works by significant Old Masters including Rubens and Van Duck– was auctioned to settle his debts

    Offered with a handwritten letter to the late owner signed by Alan Dace, dated 15 October 1956, and giving details of the pistols' sale from Viscount Ullwater's sale, describing a Reinagle portrait of Colonel Thornton 'in red coat with yellow waistcoat, seated under a tree with a hooded falcon and dog' (lot 568), a silver-gilt racing cup inscribed to Mrs. Thornton (lot 758), and 'that we [Alan Dace and W. Keith Neal] thought that the pistols might have been Thornton's, but were put off by what we thought was the French gold inlay work, the inscriptions in French, ... I can only congratulate you again on your good fortune ...'; a handwritten letter signed by the late Claude Blair on Victoria and Albert Museum headed note paper, dated 26 September 1956, confirming that the coat-of-arms and mottoes are those of Thornton; and a typed note by the late owner giving details of the pistols, their sale in 1949, his acquisition of them from an Ipswich dealer in 1951, and mentioning the letters above
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  1. David Williams
    Specialist - Arms and Armour
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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