Rock Island Auction Company

Lot 1362: High Art Wheellock Petronel Circa 1575

Auction Date: December 4, 2021

Splendid High Art Wheellock Petronel, Probably French, Circa 1575 Ex Collection Baron Frederic Spitzer, Paris

Price Realized:
Estimated Price: $35,000 - $55,000

Splendid High Art Wheellock Petronel, Probably French, Circa 1575 Ex Collection Baron Frederic Spitzer, Paris

Manufacturer: Unknown
Model: Wheellock
Type: Pistol
Gauge: 12 mm
Barrel: 22 1/4 inch part octagon
Finish: bright
Stock: fruitwood
Item Views: 1146
Item Interest: Active
Serial Number:
Catalog Page: 171
Class: Antique

Before touching on this pistol’s beauty and craftsmanship, it is of utmost importance to point out its extreme rarity. Only a handful are known to exist and are seldom offered for sale in any venue, public or private. This gun is distinctly larger than a pistol, more of a carbine size, and fit between a pistol and arquebuse. It is the rarest form of all 16th century wheellock guns, even rarer than guns with the French lock in which the mainspring functions as part of the trigger guard. The last reported Petronels that were offered for sale was a matchlock, Lot 74, at the 1983 Hever Castle Sale of Viscount Astor and an additional gun in 2008, (source unknown to this writer). This gun is a head-turning piece and of the greatest beauty and importance as not only an ultimate rarity, but a museum quality work of art. The dramatically curved fruitwood full-stock is inlaid with engraved and polished white staghorn throughout its length. The white horn inlays are finely and richly engraved with scenes of gods and goddesses from classical antiquity, grotesques, scrollwork, geometric bands, and mythical dragons. Enhancing the lavish beauty of the inlays are inlays of green stained horn producing an enamel effect known as polychrome. Two German wheellock guns, one in the von Keinbusch Collection in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and another formerly in the Clay P. Bedford Collection, also have stocks with polychrome inlay. The mythological scenes of gods and goddesses appear on the left side of the stock, while the grotesque masks appear on the underside of the forearm, and well-rendered dragons coil along the sides. The forend cap is en suite in white staghorn. The heavy smoothbore barrel is part round, part octagon and has a slightly swamped muzzle ensuring that this most important Renaissance work of art preserves its original length. Behind the rear sight at the breech, the barrel is deeply engraved “No 93” (almost certainly a royal inventory number). The lock plate itself is relatively plain and unadorned which helps focus attention on the incredible artistry of the polychrome inlaid stock. The dog, spring, and pan cover are chiseled. Baron Frederic Spitzer was the most important dealer in medieval and Renaissance art during the late 19th century. His clients included the Baron Adolphe de Rothschild and Sir Richard Wallace. Many of the finest armor and guns in the Wallace Collection were bought from Baron Spitzer. This Renaissance Petronel appears in the included catalog “La Collection Spitzer: Armes & Armures” (1895) on the plate between pages 54 and 55 as item 343 and on plate XXXVIII (38) in the included copy of "La Collection Spitzer Tome Sixieme Armes et Armures" (1981). It also appears on plate 38, number 307 in the catalog “La Collection Spitzer” (3 volumes, Paris 1887) together with the finest wheellocks by Daniel Sadeler and the Munich Royal Workshops. The British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum also have pieces from Baron Spitzer’s collection. There are virtually no wheellock Petronels in American private collections, and the opportunity to acquire one with such a distinguished provenance may not come again in our lifetime. When examined in person, it holds an incredible ability to please the aesthetic senses.

Rating Definition:

Very good. The barrel, lock, and trigger guard are bright steel in the European museum tradition and show scattered mild pitting which in no way detracts from the beauty of this wheellock. There are traces of a crack through the top tang and brazing repairs on the lock plate. The dog has faint engraving. The work of art fruitwood stock has some repairs and replacement of inlays (most visible rear of and front of the lock), thin cracks, and a small chip at the heel. None of these minor features are unusual on a 500 year-old artifact of this nature, rather, they are expected. The polished stag horn inlays retain the attractive engraving that is generally crisp throughout and retains the distinctive and attractive green polychrome tint. It would be difficult to overstate the rarity of this work of art in firearm form. It certainly will offer the fortunate buyer years of enjoyment and pride of ownership.

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