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Diplomatic Gifts Signed with "N" for Napoleon

On 26 October 2021, by Anne Doridou-Heim

Objects of vertu and curiosities have the wind in their sails, riding the auction seas to great success.

Diplomatic Gifts Signed with

Moulinié Bautte & Cie. Gift snuffbox in yellow-gold guilloché, the lid decorated with Napoleon I’s monogram set with antique-cut round diamonds on a polychrome enamel ground, 1809–1815, 8.8 x 5.2 x 2 cm/3.5 x 2 x 0.79 in.
Result: €101,600

Several pieces in this important auction, whose total proceeds came to €946,248, had been highlighted in the magazine. First was a gold snuffbox (7.4 x 5.8 x 4 cm/3 x 2 x 1.5 in, net wt. 257 g/9 oz) which had made the cover of La Gazette. The chinoiserie snuffbox inlaid with mother-of-pearl and Burgau lacquer opened the sale with a result of €76,200. Next followed a gift box in yellow-gold guilloché, the lid adorned with Napoléon I’s monogram, which was spotlighted on page 40 of La Gazette No. 35. It was the object that attracted the most attention, at €101,600.

We must admit that in this anniversary year—the bicentenary of the emperor’s death—collectors of this imperial era are especially on the lookout, their attention focused on his keepsakes. This item, with its setting of round diamonds, was particularly precious; because if the “French Caesar’s” diplomatic gifts to his distinguished guests were not lacking, thus reviving the conventions of the Ancien Régime, those adorned with the white gems were rarer, it is by way of the number of diamonds (fifty-two in this example) that one might guess at the recipient’s level of prestige. This snuffbox is the work of a Swiss house founded in 1793 by Jean-François Bautte (1772–1837) before becoming  Moulinié, Bautte & Cie in 1804, as a result of new partnerships. Beginning modestly, the workshop rose to the summit of watchmaking before branching out to other crafts and expanding elsewhere in Europe—most notably in Paris—and setting out to conquer new promising markets, first in Turkey, then in China and India. Its stamp place the snuffbox precisely between 1809 and 1815, the boom years before the fall, when the empire at its apogee aimed to rule all Europe.

There was another curious object on offer: a spice jar in the shape of a ship, in Meissen porcelain. It was crafted c. 1740 in the workshop of Johann Friedrich Eberlein (1695–1749), a sculptor turned manufacturer in 1735 who, alongside Johann Joachim Kändler, took part in the life-sized menagerie project commissioned by Auguste le Fort and his colleague Johann Gottlieb Ehder—assistant to the same Kändler from 1739. Other examples of the ship are mentioned in the Prussian factory’s registers. Towards the middle of the 18th century, it was enhanced with a gilt-bronze mount so as to transform it into an inkstand. This blending of originality and refinement carried it safely to €52,705.

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