Or are you looking for Search the Archives?

Please complete the form to email this item.

Pair of pistols

Pair of pistols

  • Place of origin:

    Paris (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1820 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Boutet, Nicolas Noel (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel and gold mounts

  • Credit Line:

    Purchased from the Funds of the Farquharson Bequest

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Physical description

Pair of pistols with stub twist barrels, with hair-rifling hooked into false breeches. The barrels are stained grey and inlaid in gold with the maker's signature, an arrow and the number 93. The barrels have gold touch-holes, rear and fore-sights. Numbered 1 and 2 respectively on the false breeches. The locks have water-proof gold-lined pans and are engraved with scenes of buildings and signed 'Boutet à Versailles'. The half stocks are walnut with chequered butts terminating in a flat ebony butt-cap with a border of carved acanthus enclosing an oval steel plaque chiselled with honeysuckle ornament. The furniture is engraved steel, with an oval escutcheon plate.

Place of Origin

Paris (made)


ca. 1820 (made)


Boutet, Nicolas Noel (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Steel and gold mounts

Marks and inscriptions

'Boutet à Versailles'
Inscription; decoration; On the barrels


Length: 410 mm, Depth: 50 mm

Object history note

These pistols date from around 1820 and are signed by Nicolas Noel Boutet (1761-1833), one of the last great artist-gunmakers. He was born on 31 August 1761, the son of Noel Boutet, 'Arquebusier des chevaux-legers du Roi'. Nicolas followed his father's trade and also married the daughter of Desainte, the 'Arquebusier Ordinaire du Roi'. Desainte handed Boutet his appointment as Royal Gunsmith. Boutet was certainly equal to the role - his firearms and swords are masterpieces of the art of arms manufacture in the early 19th century.

Boutet worked for the French King, Louis XVI, at Versailles and after the Revolution, was employed the future Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon appointed Boutet as general manager of the Versailles Armoury in 1798 and Boutet made guns for Napoleon's personal use until 1815. After Napoleon's death, Boutet continued to make guns and swords for an international clientele of noblemen and Royalty. When Boutet left Versailles in 1818 he set up at No. 87 Rue de Richelieu in Paris but continued to use the signature, "Boutet à Versailles".

Hayward states: "M. Bottet in Le Manufacture d'Armes de Versailles, Paris, 1903, p.51, suggests that the numbers on the barrels were Boutet's private serial numbers. He states that firearms of this kind which bear the signature 'Boutet à Versailles' inlaid in gold in very large cursive lettering were made after 1818, but they are probably later still." (p. 64)

The Museum bought the pistols at an auction by Sotheby's, 4th April, 1960, lot 127.

Historical context note

The French Revolution and subsequent rise of Napoleon as consul (1799-1804) and emperor (1804-14), heralded a marked change in the design and decoration of French firearms. Gone were the delicate Rococo swirls and scrolls of the previous generation in favour of a simpler classicism known as the Empire style which drew on Greek and Roman motifs. The decoration included trophies of arms and scenes of classical battles and victories that implied France's military glory.

Boutet's firearms and swords are characteristised by their extraordinarily high quality of workmanship with beautifully patterned barrels often encrusted with gold and silver decoration, including Boutet's signature, similar to the decoration practised by the great Russian arms factory at Tula.

Descriptive line

Pair of pistols with rifled barrels and steel and gold mounts, Paris, ca.1820

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hayward, J. F., European Firearms, HMSO, London, 1969, cat. 101, pp. 63-4
Hayward, J.F., The Art of the Gunmaker: Volume Two - Europe and America 1660-1830, Barrie and Rockliff, London, 1963, pp. 189-190

Labels and date

Pair of pistols
About 1820

These pistols are signed by Nicolas Noel Boutet, the most celebrated gunsmith working in the Empire style. His gun and swords are characterised by their extraordinary craftsmanship and simple classical ornament. Boutet had been Royal Gunsmith to Louis XVI and became general manager of the Versailles Armoury under Napoleon. He continued to sign his works 'Boutet à Versailles' after he moved to Paris in 1818.

France, Paris; designed and made by Nicolas Noel Boutet
Steel with walnut stocks and gold mounts
Signed 'Boutet à Versailles'

Purchased with funds from the Farquharson Bequest [05/04/2017]


Arms & Armour


Metalwork Collection

Large image request

Please confirm you are using these images within the following terms and conditions, by acknowledging each of the following key points:

Please let us know how you intend to use the images you will be downloading.