“I am a true Roman Emperor; I am of the best race of Caesars – those who are founders.”
—Napoleon Bonaparte, 1812.
The Charles J. Ricard Collection, scheduled for May 27, features a A Napoleonic Medal Collection Kept Together for Over 200 Years. In consists of 131 medals (128 different) in a contemporary red leather case. Amazingly, this A Napoleonic Medal Collection was assembled and purchased in 1814, over two hundred years ago, while the Napoleonic Wars were still ongoing. It has remained intact ever since!
An immense offering, this medal collection tells the tale of the entire history of the Napoleonic Wars.
Beginning with the Battle of Montenotte in 1796, the viewer is taken on a journey through the most significant events of Napoleon’s military career, through the Egyptian campaigns of 1798-99, the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, the Peace of Tilsit 1807, the Russian Campaign of 1812, and many more battles and commemoratives besides. Alongside this narrative one is also provided a glimpse into the personal life of the Emperor: his 1810 marriage to Marie-Louise; the 1811 birth of his son, Napoleon II, the “King of Rome”; and medals featuring his younger sisters Caroline and Pauline.
Although the A Napoleonic Medal Collection case itself is somewhat worn and the lid weak, the medals themselves are brilliant, impressively high-relief and each a deep chocolate-brown with bright reflective fields, only extremely minor verdigris on a few and light brushing on others. Their execution is nothing short of superb, dynamically illustrated and supremely detailed. For the full visual effect of this collection viewing in person is recommended, if possible.
Besides the historical significance and beautiful preservation of the A Napoleonic Medal Collection , perhaps the most striking aspect of this assemblage is embodied by the quote above: the clear influence of Roman symbolism in Napoleon’s image of himself, and his military exploits. Dubbing himself ‘Emperor’ and portraying himself as Caesar bearing a laureate crown, Napoleon was a great admirer of the Roman Empire. This could not be made more evident than in the designs of these medals, which range from such Classical depictions as Herakles in battle with the Hydra and Vulcan seated on a mountain to outright copies of Octavian denarii commemorating the capture of Egypt. These specimens each speak of an avid admiration of Rome and its imagery and accordingly demonstrate the beauty and intricacy of Classical art. For the collector of historical medals, lovers of neo-Classical design or admirers of Napoleon Bonaparte himself, this is simply an unmissable opportunity to obtain a contemporary and visually stunning account of the Napoleonic Conflict depicted in gleaming, pristine bronze.
Accompanying this A Napoleonic Medal Collection is a handwritten receipt dated the 27th January 1814, detailing the purchasing of the original 131 medals in a ‘red Morocco leather case’ by a Mr. George Smith in Paris. Each medal is listed and priced individually, their cost totaling 423 francs, and with the addition of the case and packaging the total sum for the group amounted to 428 francs.
Amazingly, this early date shows that this collection was assembled whilst the Napoleonic wars were still ongoing.
Also included is a later seven-page handwritten guide to the contents of the chest, each page relating to one of the trays of medals. The papers each bear the header “W. C. HAMILTON & SONS, Riverside Paper Mills.”, dating them to c.1865-70; the Riverside Paper Mills were founded in Pennsylvania, 1746 by Anthony Newhouse and taken over in 1865 by Mr. Hamilton, soon after which the name changed to simply W. C. HAMILTON & SONS (Bulletin of the Historical Society of Montgomery County Pennsylvania, Vol 5, No. 4, April 1947, 278). This is a great connection to American history, Newhouse’s paper mill being one of the earliest established in the USA.
Assembled and purchased in Paris in 1814, this collection had found its way to America before the end of the 19th century. These papers form an enviable antique provenance, and prove that these medals have been together for over two hundred years, even before the Napoleonic conflict had ended.