Autographs of the Napoleonic Era
Another exciting area of collecting for those considering a specialized collection may well be the autographs of major figures of “The Age of Napoleon”. Letters, documents, and even simple frameable signatures of Napoleon, his family, his ministers, his generals and his Marshals have long been collected and prized. What is more important is that they are not egregiously expensive and while an appreciation of French history and language is helpful, it is not essential to your enjoyment of such a collection. While appreciation of the First French Empire is not limited to students of Waterloo, Jena, Lodi and the Russian Campaign, certainly military history is a central focus to typical Napoleonic collections.
There are numerous reference books as well as organizations specifically dedicated to the study and appreciation of the Napoleonic Era. The Napoleonic Society of America and the Napoleonic Alliance are two informative and helpful organizations that also issue magazines dedicated to all facets of the period. Those interested in further information can feel free to contact me.
Letters and documents of Bonaparte as First Consul and as Emperor are available. There are several variants of Napoleon’s signatures, often appearing as endorsements approving or disapproving an official act or recommendation or on his letters to his generals and others from the field. Variant signatures include “Np”, “Nap”, “Napol”, “Napoly” and rarely as “Napoleon”. As First Consul he would sign as “Bonaparte”. A word of caution: there are secretarial “Bonaparte” signature variations. For examples, see Kenneth Rendell’s excellent work “Forging History: the Detection of Fake Letters & Documents”, University of Oklahoma Press, 1994 pp. 90-93. While Napoleon’s letters are not rare, they are very collectable and much in demand. Depending upon signature variant and content, as well as condition, they can typically range from $1,200 – $2,500.
Napoleonic autograph collections can include his wives, Josephine de Beauharnais and Marie Louise of Austria, his mother and father (Maria Letzina Ramolino and Carlo Buonoparte), his brothers and sisters Joseph, Elisa, Lucien, Louis, Pauline, Caroline and Jerome, all of whom were rather well taken care of by their brother the Emperor.
In terms of governmental figures, names such as Talleyrand the wizard of foreign policy, Fouche the master spy, Cretet the builder-administrator, and Maret the diplomat are of interest to collectors.
One of the most exciting areas of Napoleonic collecting is Napoleon’s Marshals of the Empire. Ray Rawlins, in his 1978 “The Stein and Day Book of World Autographs”, states:
“The Marshals created by Napoleon formed the most colorful body of military commanders in history. A motley band of regular soldiers and inspired amateurs – one had been an actor, another a barrelcooper, yet a third a prince – they were a legend in their time, much respected by their enemies.” (p. 178) The 26 Marshals named by Napoleon are:
- Gouvion St. Cyr
The most common are Berthier and Macdonald, the rarest are Lannes and Poniatowski.
And what of Napoleon’s foes? Great names here are Wellington, Blucher, Admiral Nelson and his commanders, Tsar Alexander I of Russia, Kings George III & IV of England, and the rest of the contemporary world that fought and feared “The Little Corporal” for some 30 years until his death in exile in 1821.