This is an extremely rare example of a unique lever action, single-shot, breech-loading carbine made by famous Paris gun maker Gastinne Renette for Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew Emperor Napoleon III of France circa 1870. The carbine is 37-inches long and has a Damascus finished, round, rifled, barrel with a bayonet lug on the right side. The barrel has a dove-tail mounted pin front sight and folding double leaf rear sight. The carbine has a unique action with a lever that lowers the breech block and external hammer that manually cocks an internal firing pin. The carbine has a highly figured European walnut stock with checkered wrist and iron buttplate. A steel forearm extends about six inches from the receiver. The forearm, receiver, hammer, lever, receiver tang and buttplate tang are engraved with a delicate oak leaf and acorn motif. The engraved portions of the carbine may have originally been gold washed or plated but are now bright. The top of the barrel is lightly engraved "Inv. Gastinne Renette arqr de S.M. Empereur a Paris". "MUSEE DE L'ART'Le" is stamped in small oval cartouches on either side of the stock. The stock cartouche signifies that this carbine was an item belonging to the Musee de L'Artillerie or French Artillery Museum. It is known that articles of wood or metal entering into the Artillery Museum collection were stamped with the "Musee de l'Arte" cartouche until 1905 when the museum became the Musee De l'Armee or French Army Museum. (Note that the famous Army Museum is located in the same building as Napoleon's Tomb in Paris.). This carbine was described in detail in an article published in the September 1989 issue of "GUN REPORT" entitled "Nazi Loot From Napoleon's Tomb". The article described how the carbine had been purchased in San Antonio, Texas, in the 1980s. Subsequent research and correspondence with the French Army Museum in Paris revealed that the Renette carbine was part of the collection of the "Musee de l'Armee" prior to 1905 and was removed from the Army Museum during the Nazi occupation of France in 1940-1944. The cover photo to the issue was this carbine along with a close-up of the museum cartouche. (The article and the correspondence cited in the article are included with this lot.). Then, in 2007, the carbine was seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In the included photocopied Interpol Washington and FBI documents, French authorities requested the seizure and return of this carbine after seeing the carbine for sale on a U.S. online antique gun website. French records indicated that Brigade General Robert Bresse, Director of the Musee De l'Armee carbine officially reported this carbine stolen in 1940. Concluding that the carbine was Property of the French State, an undercover operation initiated by local San Antonio, Texas, FBI agents in conjunction with the FBI's Art Crime Team seized the carbine from a private collector. The FBI considered the recovery operation as "an example of the FBI's commitment to being at the forefront of investigating crimes involving high value, significant, or historic art work." However, the FBI returned the carbine to the private American collector in 2008 after French government failed to "put forth the proper follow-through to help conclude this investigation". The French government failed to send experts to physically examine the carbine to determine if it was stolen. It was the lack of evidence that allowed the firearm to stay in the United States and to be put back on the collector's market. A follow-up article on the Renette carbine was published in the December 2009 issue of "GUN REPORT" and is included in this lot. This is a unique opportunity to own a Renette carbine made for Louis Napoleon, the last monarch of France, and formerly part of the world-famous Musee De l'Armee collection of firearms.
Very good. The Damascus finished barrel, engraved, forearm, receiver, lever, hammer and buttplate have a smooth silver-gray patina. The barrel markings are faint but the oak leaf and acorn engraving is crisp. The highly figured walnut stock shows moderate handling wear and the checkering on the wrist is worn. This is a rare and unique carbine with solid provenance to the Louvre Army Museum and French Emperor Napoleon III.
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