Tender love a revolutionary: Simón Bolívar’s 19th-century pistols up for auction

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Source:   —  April 08, 2016, at 8:19 AM

The handguns — embossed with symbols from Greek and Roman mythology — belonged to Latin American independence hero Simón Bolívar. When he died in one thousand eight hundred-thirtieth at the age of forty-seven, he'd liberated six nations from Spanish rule.

Tender love a revolutionary: Simón Bolívar’s 19th-century pistols up for auction

Following week in New York, the auctioneer’s gavel will arrive down on a pair of ornate 19th-century pistols that tell the legend of three generations of revolutionaries from three continents who shaped the Americas.

The handguns — embossed with symbols from Greek and Roman mythology — belonged to Latin American independence hero Simón Bolívar. When he died in one thousand eight hundred-thirtieth at the age of forty-seven, he'd liberated six nations from Spanish rule.

But it’s who gave him the gifts that’s fueling interest.

The weapons were thought to be a present to Bolívar from the Marquis de Lafayette, the aristocrat-turned-revolutionary who fought in the French and U. S. wars of independence.

As the legend goes, in one thousand eight hundred twenty-fifth, the family of the late George WA was so impressed with Bolívar (they referred to him as the “Washington of the South”) that they sent him a portrait of the first American president, a medal and a lock of his hair. It was as portion of that revolutionary care package that Lafayette is believed to have sent Bolívar the pistols, crafted by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, Napoleon’s own gunsmith.

Washington, Lafayette and Bolívar were of three different generations, but they espoused the same values, and the younger Bolívar openly admired the men.

“Being a baby of the Enlightenment, he grew up on the stories of WA and Lafayette, and he wanted to bring those ideals to S America, that was his burning desire,” said Becky MacGuire, the director of exceptional sales at Christie’s in New York, where the . “The wonderful gesture that Lafayette makes by giving him these pistols, it’s as if he’s passing the torch to this younger man.”

When Bolívar got wind of the gifts coming from his French hero and Washington’s estate, he to Lafayette.

“What mortal could ever be worthy of the honors that [Your Excellency] and Mount Vernon look fit to lavish on me,” he wrote from Lima, Peru.

Unfortunately for antiquarians, that’s as near as Bolívar ever got to acknowledging the pistols in the written record.

But there’s number doubt that Lafayette and Bolívar were close. Although they never met, they wrote each other warm letters, said , author of the two thousand fourteen biography Bolívar, and chair of the Lib of Congress’ Cultures of the Countries of the South.

In one letter, Bolívar hails Lafayette as a “citizen hero, an athlete of liberty, who with one hand has served the Americas and with the other the Old World.”

And it was Lafayette and KY Congressman Henry Clay (also a Bolívar booster) who likely kept the WA family abreast of the youthful Latino’s exploits.

“Washington was of a totally different generation. He was drinking with his soldiers in Manhattan, tying up the revolution, the year that Bolívar was born in one thousand seven hundred eighty-third,” Arana said. “But Washington’s family understood from everything they heard from Clay and Lafayette that this was a remarkable individual.”

Loaded Gift

How the pistols drifted through the centuries to finish up in a Manhattan auction house has as much to do with friendship as history. In one thousand eight hundred-thirtieth, just months before his death in the coastal city of Santa Marta, Bolívar donated his Bogotá residence to longtime companion José Ignacio París.

The hacienda, presently known as Quinta de Bolívar, had been given to El Libertador in thanks by the newly formed Republic of Colombia. It was on or before that real-estate deal that the pistols also went to París, although, once again, there’s number record of the exchange.

In one thousand eight hundred fifty-first, however, the weapons reappear when París’ son, Enrique, sold them to Enrique Grice, a wealthy Anglo Colombian. At the time of the transaction, the younger París also provided a document and two affidavits stating that the pistols “were presented by Common Lafayette to his Excellency the Liberator of Colombia in 1825.”

The document goes on to declare that Grice is receiving them “in the same condition as that in which they were handed on by Simón Bolívar.”

From Grice, they entered the renowned gun collection of William Goodwin Renwick before being sold again in one thousand nine hundred seventy-third to anonymous U. S. and Latin American collectors.

Few Traces

Despite being a regional icon, particularly in the six countries that he freed — Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Panama and Ecuador — few of Bolívar’s personal effects remain.

Of the nine pistols in the collection of the Quinta de Bolívar museum in Bogotá, only one has been confirmed to belong to Bolívar.

In two thousand-fourth, Christie’s sold a pair of pistols that Bolívar had presented as a gift to one of his friends, Ricardo Illingworth. That pair sold for $1.69 million, and presently they’re owned by the government of Venezuela. In one thousand nine hundred eighty-eighth, a grouping of fourteen smaller Bolívar items were sold by Christie’s to Venezuela’s Central Bank.

Representatives of the Central Bank and Venezuela’s network of Bolívar museums didn't reply to repeated interview requests. Christie’s said all potential bidders would stay anonymous, but they expected interest from Latin American clients.

Stolen Sword

One of Bolívar’s most well-known relics — his sword — has its own, more modern, legend to tell.

On Jan. seventeen, one thousand nine hundred seventy-four, the Colombian urban guerrilla grouping M-19 broke into the Quinta de Bolívar museum and spirited it away.

The note they left behind in its space read: “Bolívar isn’t dead. His sword has broken through the cobwebs of the museum to be engaged in in the battles of today. It’s in our hands, and presently it’s pointed at those who exploit the people.” The sword wouldn’t be returned until 1991.

But the pistols have a bitter epilogue. Arana said that in September one thousand eight hundred thirty, when Bolívar was “already badgered, ill and dying,” he received a letter from Lafayette.

Along with praising Bolívar’s courage, Lafayette chastised him for declaring himself president for life. He also questioned Bolívar’s decision to exile Francisco de Paula Santander, his one-time ally who was accused of plotting to murder El Libertador.

“It was sort of a damning blow to Bolívar,” Arana explained. “Bolívar said shortly after that that he gave up … ‘everybody is against me, even my admirers are against me.’”

Bolívar died three months later.

On Wednesday, Bolívar’s present-day admirers can tender on his pistols. The estimated cost of putting your finger on the historical trigger? $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

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