The dueling pistols kit of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza

Modern History
1862 - 1864
ebony wood, steel, gold, metal
chiseling; engraving; polishing; carving

    The dueling pistols kit of Prince Alexandru Ioan Cuza

    Text: Oana Ilie; photo: George Nica

    Within the patrimony of the National Museum of Romanian History, a gift of great value can be found: the duelling pistols kit received by Alexandru Ioan Cuza from Napoleon III.

    It is no secret that, for the accomplishment of the Union of the Principalities, the support of France – especially the support coming from Napoleon III – was decisive. The French sovereign intervened personally in solving the Romanian cause. The Emperor and the government in Paris showed the same positive attitude towards the double election in 1859, towards the reforms during Cuza’s reign, as well as towards his successor, Carol I.

    Napoleon III was, thus, seen as some kind of “protector” of the United Principalities and of Ruler Cuza. And, in such situations, the courtesy gestures, coming from both sides, could not be missing. These gestures also materialized in sending some “gifts”. Such a “gift” of a great historical value can be found in the patrimony of the National Museum of Romanian History: the duel pistol kit received by Alexandru Ioan Cuza from Napoleon III. 

    The moment when the Romanian Ruler received the pistol kit lies in uncertainty. It may have been sent by the Emperor of France in 1859, after the moment of the double election, as a symbol of acknowledging the act that took place on the 5th and 24th of January. But there is also the possibility of Cuza receiving this kit in 1862, at the moment when the French military mission, led by Eugene Lamy, reached Bucharest, or in 1864, when a weapon order was made in France, in order to equip the Romanian army. 

    The kit, which contains 11 pieces, was crafted at the renowned workshop Gastinne-Renette in Paris, as the inscription on the inner side of the lid informs us: “Gastinne-Renette Arg. De l’Empereur”. The box with a rectangular shape, worked from ebony wood, with floral motifs, has the monogram of Alexandru Ioan Cuza and the French emblem engraved on its lid (from which it results that it was created especially for the Romanian Ruler, following an official request). The interior of the box is lined with dark-blue velvet. 

    The two duel pistols are made of ebony wood and metal, the slides and handles being decorated with floral motifs. The monogram of the Ruler Cuza and the princely crown are engraved on the handle. 

    The other pieces are: a hammer made of ebony wood, tongs made of white metal, screwdriver with an ebony wood handle, measuring instrument in the shape of a teaspoon, made of gilded metal, flask made of white metal, with a gilded upper part, containing several pellets; cylindrical ebony wood box and rods for cleaning the pistol. All the pieces have floral ornamentations.

    Beyond the historical importance, the kit has a remarkable artistic and collectable value, due to the materials that have been used, the special way in which it has been crafted and its rarity. We must also keep in mind the place where it was crafted, Gastinne-Renette being one of the most notable French armories (created in 1812, it knew its golden age during the rule of Napoleon III, honoring many orders coming from the Imperial Court).

    The Gastinne-Renette workshop

    In 1793 there is a mention of Master Henri Rennet’s workshop on rue Popincourt, in Paris. In 1812 he moved to Champs-Élysées and signed a partnership agreement with Louis Gastinne, a former military who fought in the army of Napoleon I. Their workshop specialized in crafting duel pistols, which were going to be appreciated for their artistic and technical quality. Among its customers, there are personalities of the French politics. The workshop also becomes the official provider of the Court of Napoleon III. At the Universal Exhibition in Paris, in 1855, the Emperor bought all the weapons that were on Gastinne-Renette’s display. 

    The workshop appears even in literature. The character Georges Du Roy, from the novel “Bel-Ami”, written by Maupassant, receives Gastinne Renette duel pistols from his friend Rival. 

    In the following decades (including the 20th century), the company will diversify its production (target shooting guns, hunting guns and even bicycles – during World War II).