Blade and Armour
Chronology : 600 BCE - CE 1460-1479 1800-1809
Classical Period - Greek Helmets
2017 SOLD for $ 1.04M including premium
3,500 years ago in Central Greece, the Mycenaean civilization had helmets that wrapped around the top of the head and were extended by cheek guards, made by assemblies of boar's tusks. The Bronze Age will mark a great step forward in the strength and effectiveness of these accessories.
The Greek helmets in bronze are generally formed by the hammering of a single plate of metal. The archaic types are named Corinthian and Illyrian. They were very heavy and enveloping, causing a dangerous discomfort for sight and hearing.
In the classical period around 2450 years ago, the helmet became open and light. Henceforth the helmets of the military leaders carry incisions, crests and plumes which make it possible to distinguish the rank of the bearer. Of course archaeological findings provide a very incomplete idea of the original patina and of the ephemeral ornaments added for parades and jousts.
A terribly minimalist Corinthian helmet was sold for $ 37.5K including premium by Christie's on June 6, 2013. In the same sale, a very geometric Illyrian helmet incised with some ornaments was sold for $ 435K including premium over a lower estimate of $ 70K.
On April 28 in New York, Christie's sells a Chalcidian-type helmet of the classical period, lot 7 estimated $ 350K. The elegance of its overall shape and of its carvings on forehead and on cheek guards resolutely positions this piece in the transition between the artifact necessary for war and the art object usable for the parade.
The Phrygian-type garrison helmet found by a metal detector in the border area between Roman Britannia and Caledonia is exclusively a parade piece since it was equipped with a realistic mask. It was sold for £ 2,28M including premium by Christie's on October 7, 2010.
Pax Romana in Britannia
2010 SOLD 2.3 M£ including premium
Cumbria, later Cumberland, is the north-west of England (Britannia), on the border of Scotland (Caledonia). From 875AUC, this territory was protected in the north by the Hadrian wall.
The era of Pax Romana is unique in world history: between the reigns of Augustus and Trajan, the Roman domination was total, without invasion and with limited civil wars. This political success that spans over a century is based on a strong network of garrisons located throughout the borders of the Empire.
Our helmet is necessarily subsequent to the conquests of Vespasian, begun in 824AUC. Christie's dates it to the late first century or to the second century of our calendar.
It is an equipment for parade or sport, not a military helmet. It is composed of two parts. The bronze Phrygian shaped cap is topped by a griffin crest where streamers could be tied. The face mask bearing the likeness of a young man is in tin plated bronze.
This lot is estimated £ 200K, for sale by Christie's in London on October 7. It is shown in the press release shared by Artdaily. As usual in this group, subtract 753 years to convert the Roman calendar dates in the usual system.
POST SALE COMMENT
This beautiful witness to the ancient history of England was worth better than its estimate, and had aroused local passions before the auction. It was sold £ 2.3 million including premium.
The image is shared on Wikimedia with attribution : Portable Antiquities Scheme from London, England [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]
1365 The Sword taken to a Crusader
2010 SOLD 385 K£ including premium
The Military Museum in Istanbul has a very important set of swords taken to crusaders or left by them in the sack of Alexandria in 1365. At that date, the major crusades which occupied the whole of Europe had ended since a long time, but the dream of the reconquest of Jerusalem was still in the King of Cyprus, of the Lusignan dynasty.
Very soon these spoils of war were kept in the arsenals of the Mamluks, where dignitaries had deposed them as pious donations. Thus, they remained in excellent condition, much more desirable now than the oxidized weapons found in excavations.
Christie's offers in London on April 13 a large sword, estimated £ 150 K, 114 cm long. The double-edged blade is in superb condition.
Its inscriptions tell the story. Decorated with a cross and a running animal, it was manufactured in Western Europe. It was donated to the arsenal of Alexandria by an amir 35 years after the Lusignan adventure, and a carved Islamic text commemorates this gift.
POST SALE COMMENT
The idea of introducing this sword in a sale of Islamic art was appropriate. It achieved an excellent price: 385 K £ including premium.
Mamluk - A Damascened Shirt of Mail
2015 SOLD for $ 2.3M including premium
On December 5 in Rock Island IL, Rock Island Auction Company sells a Mamluk shirt of mail and plate, lot 1262estimated in excess of $ 200K.
The weaving of this garment is the simplest and most effective model where each ring is linked with its four surrounding rings. The coat opens from the front side. At the front and back of the garment, the plates are inlaid with a gilding of koftgari type.
Inscriptions are difficult to read, but the reference to the Mamluk Sultan Qaitbay seems indisputable. It was probably created for the sultan himself or one of his riders. A similar armor assigned to the same reign is preserved at the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Qaitbay ruled Egypt from 871 to 901 AH, during the last quarter of the 15th century of our calendar.
This piece is in a very satisfactory condition for its age. A few rings and a few plate rivets are missing or twisted. About 60% of the koftgari is present with a particularly good conservation on the front of the shirt.
Nasrid - An Ear Dagger
2010 SOLD 3.7 M£ including premium
It had also to protect the hand, and the ear dagger was appreciated by hunters and soldiers. In this model, the guard consists of two flat disks (the "ears") confronting on both sides of the handle.
A refined specimen is for sale on October 6 in London by Sotheby's. Coming from Nasrid Spain, this piece has been made in the 9th century AH, more than 500 years ago. The final defeat of the Nasrids by Ferdinand and Isabella was in 1492 of our calendar.
With a total length of 30 cm, it is finely damascened with scenes of hunting and with cartouches including Kufic-style inscriptions. This lot is estimated £ 600K.
POST SALE COMMENT
The bidders confirmed the beauty and rarity of this piece, well beyond the price estimated by the auction house. This dagger was sold £ 3.7 million including premium.
1628 A Mughal Kard
2019 SOLD for $ 3.4M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2020
On June 19, 2019, Christie's sold at lot 387 for $ 3.4M including premium from a lower estimate of $ 1.5M a kard which attests to the cosmopolitan character of Mughal art.
The kard is a belt knife made of a straight blade with a handle but without a guard. The example sold by Christie's is 30 cm long overall including a hardened steel blade and a 11 cm handle. The gold inlays on the top side of the blade are Persian in style.
The handle is of an extremely rare type, which has not revealed its secrets. It is made of very pale green jade, which the Mughals imported from China. Its terminal serving as a pommel is a head carved in the round, with a ruff. This head is unusual in Hindu art but corresponds to the taste of Europeans, who did not work with jade.
A human head above the scabbard of a dagger appears in a posthumous image of Jahangir, showing the prince before his accession to the throne. A similar attribute also exists on an image recalling the youth of Shah Jahan. There is no reason to suppose that the blade and the handle were prepared at the same time. We will retain the hypothesis of an assembly carried out in the transition phase between these two emperors. The color of the jade seems consistent with this assumption.
The realistic head of the juvenile-looking character suggests that he was enough beloved by a high Mughal dignitary, perhaps an emperor, to be displayed on his belt. No hypothesis is proposed concerning his identity. I suggest this is the posthumous portrait of a brother or son of an emperor. The ruff is unexplained.
1775 A Tomahawk in the Revolution
2020 SOLD for $ 660K including premium
At the end of the 1760s Richard Butler became an armorer at Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. During the following decade, he obtained a treaty of neutrality with the Shawnee and Delaware Indians. His archives attest to the production of pipe tomahawks.
Revolutionary War breaks out. The new regiments are equipped not without difficulty. The rifles of the Battalion of Pennsylvania Riflemen are not compatible with bayonets. The soldiers use tomahawks as a secondary weapon.
On May 27 in Denver PA, Morphy sells a pipe tomahawk, lot 1019 estimated $ 300K here linked on the LiveAuctioneers bidding platform. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.
This tomahawk made for a Riflemen officer is mounted and inlaid in silver. The maple stick is decorated with porcupine quills dyed in red, black and white in the Shawnee style.
It is signed by Butler and inscribed with the name of Lt Maclellan. John McClellan and Richard Butler were both from Carlisle PA, which may explain why the armorer produced a luxurious presentation piece for this officer.
McClellan did not take long advantage of his tomahawk. He was with the troops who left the siege of Boston on September 11, 1775 with Benedict Arnold, but the conditions of the march to Quebec were too harsh and he died. The tomahawk recovered by his brother was taken by the British as a war trophy during the battle of Quebec.
Important Pipe #Tomahawk Signed R. Butler & Inscribed to Lt. McClellan. On display: Heinz History Center, Canadian War Museum/Museum of Civilization, & #Smithsonian. On the book cover: "Indian Tomahawks & #Frontiersman Belt Axes." Est: $300,000-$500,000. https://t.co/jKTVLvWc45 pic.twitter.com/OyyaLPlSUu— Morphy Auctions (@MorphyAuctions) May 7, 2020
1800 The Marengo Sabre of Napoléon
2007 SOLD for € 4.8M including premium by Osenat
narrated in 2020
Bonaparte immediately understood the advantage of this feat of arms for his personal prestige and for his political future. On May 5, 1805 Bonaparte, who had become Emperor Napoléon I in the meantime, had a throne installed for a military parade on the battlefield. He presides over this ceremony, dressed in the same way as on the day of the battle.
Also in 1805, Napoléon presented his youngest brother Jérôme with the glorious sabre which he had brandished at Marengo. Jérôme, 20 years old, had just returned from the United States where he had married, thwarting the ambition that the emperor could have for him. Napoléon broke this marriage by an imperial decree on March 11, 1805. Having henceforth consolidated his image of a magnificent warrior, he may have used this arm to encourage Jérôme's new military career in his service.
The sabre remained until 2007 with the descendants of Jérôme. Classified as a French monument historique in 1978, it was sold for € 4.8M including premium by Osenat on June 10, 2007. Please watch the video shared by Interencheres.
This arm had been produced by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, the manager of the arms factory in Versailles. The blade has an oriental shape and is decorated with etching. The main fittings for the sabre and its scabbard are in solid gold. The pommel is a Jupiter head in gold.
1806-1810 The Honor of the Bonapartes
2009 SOLD 292 K€ including premium
The Emperor Napoleon endeavoured to dictate his will on Europe, but also on his own family. He forced his brother Louis to marry Hortense, Joséphine's daughter. The couple failed to reach much agreement, but had three children. According to gossip, the eldest was perhaps a son of Napoleon ...
Politically, it was even worse. To counter the English threat, Napoleon, who usually was more clever, named Louis King of Holland in 1806. More interested in his new people than in his brother, Louis contrived to offend Napoleon and abdicated in 1810.
Louis Bonaparte loved luxury, and he certainly appreciated the ceremonial gilt sabre that Boutet made for him. Nicolas-Noël Boutet, director of the Manufacture Impériale de Versailles, was the most renowned French gunsmith of his time. His honor weapons, swords, sabres, firearms, are masterpieces. Louis' sabre is finely carved.
It is presented in its scabbard in red morocco in Paris (Hôtel Drouot) on November 18 to be auctioned by Thierry de Maigret. The estimate is not published yet, but I have no doubt that this lot is outstanding.
POST SALE DISCUSSION
There was no doubt about the high quality of this piece. The result confirms : 292 K€ including premium.
In the same sale, the very rare "habit de grand uniforme" of Maréchal Davout was sold 298 K € including premium.
<1830 The War Dagger of the Native American Chief
2009 SOLD 480 K$ including premium
This is an object both beautiful and impressive, measuring over 50 cm overall. This is a great dagger manufactured in northern British Columbia between 1790 and 1830. Its long blade of iron or steel is double-edged. It ends with a handle with a wrapped rope and with a pommel. The pommel is in itself a work of art: it shows a strong stylized eagle head, the beak upwards.
This weapon had a war name. It was called "Eagle overlooking the Skeena River" and is known to have belonged to a wealthy native chief in the middle of the nineteenth century.
So usual that every man of these clans owned one, the knife was a sign of prestige and power when it reached the beauty of this one.
I had not seen in auctions similar items from this region. So I do not comment directly the estimate of K $ 400 announced by Bonhams and Butterfields. I note however that the estimated range is very open (50%), which often attests to the rarity of an object. The sale takes place on June 1 in San Francisco.
POST SALE COMMENT
This lot was sold for exactly its low estimate, 400 K$ before fees (K $ 480 inclusive).
1909 Happy Hunting Mr President !
2016 SOLD for $ 415K including premium
During his presidency, Roosevelt was active in the protection of wild nature and the hunting regulation. Everybody knew that after the completion of his term the United States would not suffice to this keen outdoorsman. After the election of Taft in November 1908, Roosevelt prepared for the following year a gigantic safari in Africa under the scientific banner of the Smithsonian Institution.
This strong personality had friends across the political spectrum. On September 10 in Rock Island IL, RIAC sells a magnificent hunting knife presented to Roosevelt by judge Gerard, a member of the Democratic Party, on March 4, 1909, the last day of President Teddy at the White House. It is estimated in excess of $ 150K, lot 1020.
This knife is a piece of jewelry with its carved grip made by Dreicer and Co in New York in yellow gold and white gold on a platinum background. The pommel is a big eagle head with eyes in red garnet. The guard is decorated with bear heads also in the round. The blade is signed by the cutlers J. Russell and Co.
Arms linked with the 1909 safari are appreciated by connoisseurs. The Fox shotgun used by Roosevelt was sold for $ 862K including premium by James D. Julia in October 2010.
The knife offered by Gerard certainly did not follow the former president in Africa. It brought some concern to the security services in 1976 when Mrs. Ethel Roosevelt Derby aged 85 wanted to board it in a plane to Seattle. This weapon was returned to the old lady after landing and given by her two days later as a wedding present to her granddaughter. It was used to cut the cake.
Please watch the video shared by Rock Island Auction Company :
1932 The Saudi Sword
2013 SOLD 975 K€ including premium
From 1901, Abdulaziz bin Abdul Rahman al-Saud endeavoured to conquer Arabia. A series of successful operations granted him separately the titles of king of Hejaz and of Nejd. To go further, he run in 1932 an intense diplomatic program that allowed him to create the unified country which now bears the name of his family, Saudi Arabia.
On the occasion of signing a treaty on May 5, 1932, King Ibn Saud presented a sword to an Afghan prince. It is a gorgeous piece : the blade is 79 cm long and the frame and handle are brightened up with gold and ivory respectively. It is shown in the article shared by Le Figaro.
In the twentieth century, the sword is still a symbol of Arabia as a tribute to the former military conquests of Islam. It was difficult to imagine a more prestigious gift.
This exceptional Arabian sword is estimated € 800K, for sale by Osenat in Fontainebleau on November 17.
Remember that Osenat is also a leading auction house for the memories of the French Premier Empire. They sold for € 4.8 million including premium on 10 June 2007 the sword used by Napoléon Bonaparte at the battle of Marengo.
POST SALE COMMENT
The result, € 975K including premium, is consistent with the estimate.