Louis-Julien Gastinne-Renette (1812-1885) was one of the leading Parisian gunmakers in the mid-19th century and was the gunmaker of Emperor Napoleon III and the king of Spain. He took over the shop of his father-in-law in 1840, and won numerous awards at French national and international exhibitions. The firm was famous for offering dueling lessons with pistols in their shooting gallery in the center of Paris until the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and were well-known for their pistols. Rock Island Auction Company is no stranger to the exceptional exhibition pistols of Gastinne-Renette of Paris, but their pistols never fail to impress. Several pairs from his shop are in renowned collections around the world, including two pairs currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and pairs from the Dr. Gerald Klaz that RIAC sold last year. In the included copy of the relevant page of the rough draft of Tom Lewis' book, he noted, "They show some of the finest steel work of anything I own." This pair is marked "EXPon" and "de London 1851" in script on the upper side flats in the midsection of the barrels indicating they were on display at the historic Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London in 1851, popularly known as the Great Exhibition or the Crystal Palace Exhibition. This was the first of the official World's Fairs marking the beginning of an era of absolutely incredible exhibition arms by gunmakers both in Europe and the United States. Previous exhibitions were usually on the national level, but the Great Exhibition was a chance for the best of the best from around the world to compete on the same stage. The French gunmakers, most especially Gastinne-Renette, regularly won top marks for the artistry of their deluxe arms. Meanwhile, American firms such as Colt, Winchester, and Smith & Wesson also created some of the most ornate firearms in U.S. history and captured the world's attention with their innovative repeating arms. In 1851, Gastinne-Renette won a Prize Medal for "Guns, carabines, and pistols, of very good workmanship." The reports were clearly written by a very understated author, likely a jealous Englishman, given only a few of the English makers received loftier praise. In "Forty-Two Year Scrapbook of Rare and Ancient Firearms" by F. Theodore Dexter on page 229 another pistol is pictured from the exposition, and he wrote, "At the London Exposition, Gastinne Renette Pistols carried off all honors, for being the best made and ornamented Pistol exhibited." The basic design of these pistols follow the same basic form as many French dueling and target pistols from the era; they have rifled barrels, fine post and U-notch rear sights, ebony half-stocks, percussion locks, light trigger pulls, and spurred trigger guards. However, their ornamentation is far from standard. The pistols have intricate, highly sculpted Gothic architectural designs throughout as well as delicately shaped leaf designs. The designs on the tangs and standing breeches flow uninterrupted onto the breech plugs and barrels. The locks, trigger guards, triggers, side plates, and pommel caps have intricate pierced designs, and much of the decoration has finely textured backgrounds. The finer details are best seen rather than described. The undersides of the barrels are marked ":564:1849:" (A) and ":564:1851:" (B), and the breech plugs have the sunken "crown/G.R" maker's marks. The subsequent pair (565) from the exhibition was also dual dated 1849 and 1851. The pistols have post and notch sights. The triggers have light pulls. The ebony stocks have relief and raised relief carving in floral and geometric designs. The ebony veneer case has an elaborately sculpted and pierced central escutcheon inscribed with an "MS" monogram. The inside of the lid is embossed and has "GASTINNE-RENETTE/A PARIS" in gilt letters, and the case is closely fitted and has a cleaning rod, loading rod, mallet, ball mold, nipple wrench, two turned containers (the larger carved to match the stocks), small engraved "G. & J. W. H./FIRE-PROOF" powder flask, and small measure.
Exceptionally fine overall. The metal nearly all remains bright aside from some darker patina in the recesses. The markings, sculpting, and carving remain crisp. The very fine relief carved stock has faint hairline cracks visible on the left flat and minor edge wear. Mechanically excellent. The case is very fine and has some slivers absent from the lower edges, slightly worn monogram, and mild overall wear. The lining has impressions from the designs of the pistols. The accessories are very fine and have minor age and storage related wear.
See "A." Provenance: The Cooper-Collinson Collection, Sylvia Mullen, and The Tom Lewis Collection
Exceptionally fine overall. The metal surfaces nearly all remain bright with little patina and dark patina in some of the recesses. The sculpting, engraving, and carving remain crisp throughout. The stock has a faint hairline crack visible on the left and forward point of the lock plate. Mechanically excellent. This is an incredible pair of pistols by one of the finest Parisian gunmakers in history. This pair was likely witnessed by millions at the very first World's Fair in London in 1851. They would be as at home in an art museum as they would in a gun room among other fine arms.
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