Magnificent Sword Made for Napoleon's Brother Sells at Bonhams Napoleon Sale

London – A magnificent sabre deluxe which belonged to Napoleon's eldest brother Joseph sold for £312,750 at Bonhams Napoleon Bonaparte: The British Sale in London today (Wednesday 27 October). The sword, made for Joseph in 1806 while he was King of Naples and the Two Sicilies, bore the unique inscription VIVA IL RE GIUSEPPE NAPOLEONE (LONG LIVE KING JOSEPH NAPOLEON) along both sides of the blade. Offered for the first time at auction, it sold for £312,750 having been estimated at £250,000-350,000. The 189-lot sale made a total of £1,800,000.

The sword was produced between 1806-1808 by the Royal Arms Manufactory of the Torre Annunziata in the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies. The blade itself, however, was most likely to have been made by Coulaux at Klingenthal in Alsace (Klingenthal means Blade Valley in German) as the type of engraving on the blade was not known in Naples.

Other highlights of the sale included:

Dawn of Waterloo, The 'Reveille' in the bivouac of the Scots Greys on the morning of the battle, by Lady Elizabeth Butler. The painting shows young troopers of the 2nd Royal North British Dragoons – Scots Greys – awakening on the morning of 18th June 1815. Later that day they were to take part in the heroic charge of the Union Brigade which, at first successful, ended in terrible losses for the British. Never before offered at auction, it had been in the family of the artist since it was painted in 1895. It was being sold to benefit the Falkland Stewardship Trust in Fife which supports education in the stewardship of heritage, culture and the environment. Sold for £325,250 (estimate £80,000-120,000)
• A newly discovered bicorne hat believed to have belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. One of only 20-30 of Napoleon's hats known to have survived, it was made for a winter campaign and most probably worn during the battles of Jena and Auerstadt in 1806. The hat had been the subject of recent intensive research where it was confirmed that it matched the dimensions and age of other of Napoleon's bicornes. Further examination showed that the felt was made in the same way as other known Napoleon hats and narrowed the date of manufacture to the early part of the 19th century. Sold for £200,250 (estimate: £100,000-150,000
• A very rare letter handwritten by Napoleon in English in March 1816, a few months into his exile on St. Helena. Napoleon started to learn English seriously in early 1816, having arrived in St. Helena in October of the previous year. He was motivated variously by boredom, the need to communicate with his captors and a wish to read the English language books and newspapers, which were practically the only reading materials available on the island. He was taught by a member of his entourage, Emmanuel, Comte de Las Cases, who had mastered English during time spent in London after the French Revolution. One of only three known surviving letters in English by the former Emperor, it sold for £150,250 (estimate £130,000-180,000).

Head of Sale, Simon Cottle, said; "This fascinating sale offered wonderful pieces from Napoleon's own life – his newly discovered bicorne hat, for example, and one of his halting attempts to write in English – and from the lives of those who experienced the tumult of the Napoleonic era. The sword made for Bonaparte's brother was a very special object and Lady Butler's powerful and moving depiction of soldiers awakening on the day of the Battle of Waterloo deservedly far surpassed its estimate. 200 years after his death Napoleon continues to divide opinion and, as this sale demonstrated, has never lost his ability to captivate and enthral."

27 October 2021

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