A PAIR OF EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY PISTOLS WITH A PRESIDENTIAL LINEAGE SELLS FOR A HUGE SUM
The Marquis de Lafayette’s father died when he was only a year old, his mother when he was 13, and his grandfather a few weeks later. Perhaps that is why, when he arrived in the colonies to fight for the Continental Army and George Washington took him under his wing, the 19-year-old French nobleman treated the general in a manner that one biographer called “appreciative and almost embarrassingly affectionate.” Last January a token of that affection sold for $1,986,000 at Christie’s: a pair of inlaid, carved, steel-mounted saddle pistols that Lafayette presented to Washington in 1778. Lafayette had bought the pistols while serving with the Royal Army in France in 1775; he wore them into battle with Washington at Brandywine and Monmouth and bestowed them on the general before returning to France. In 1824 one of Washington’s heirs decided to award them to a recently elected senator in recognition of his heroism in the War of 1812. The senator was Andrew Jackson. Jackson showed them to Lafayette when he returned to America that year and, remembering Lafayette’s joy at revisiting the old weapons, bequeathed them to Lafayette’s son, George Washington Lafayette, upon his death in 1845. The pistols remained in the Lafayette family until a French antique-arms dealer bought them in 1958, and they were auctioned for the first time in Paris in 1983. The auction at Christie’s, the first public sale of the pistols in the United States, set a world auction record for firearms.