The sword in question was an Indo-Persian shamshir of typical pattern, with a long, curved Damascus blade, 3ft 3in (1m) long overall.
Less typical was the quality and richness of the decoration. The blade itself was gilt inlaid just below the hilt with the first verse of the Koran, the name of the maker, Asadullah Isfahani, and a dedication to one of the greatest Middle Eastern military leaders, Nadir Shah Afshar (1688-1747).
Nadir Shah was heralded as the ‘Second Alexander’ and at the height of his power his dominion stretched from the Caucasus to the Indus and to the south bank of the Persian Gulf.
The blade was matched by an enamel hilt with a pommel in the form of a tiger’s head and with tiger’s head terminals to the quillons and chappes. This was decorated overall with raised gilt foliate motifs, inset with diamonds and cabochon rubies. The scabbard was decorated en suite.
Not surprisingly this tour de force of the sword maker’s art was expected to be a sale leader, but the €160,000 (£134,455) price was several times the published estimate.
Some choice examples of early Western arms and armour also featured strongly in the same November 23 sale.
Armour is not all about helmets and breastplates. A very delicately conceived wrought iron horse muzzle, dated 1547, was one of the stand-out lots of the day. Made up of intricately worked sections riveted together, it incorporated several petal motifs and was topped by a winged dragon with an upturned serpent’s mouth. It sold for €21,000 (£17,650).
Among the Western weapons, a south German crossbow of c.1560 with a steel bow and a fruitwood stock elaborately inlaid with bone made €22,000 (£18,490), while a South German ‘langes Messer’ sword of c.1530-40, with a triple-fullered blade and a bird’s head pommel, reached €34,000 (£28,570).
On the following day several significant firearms were on offer including an outstanding wheel-lock rifle from the armoury of the Princes Esterhazy, signed by the maker – Mathias Staper in Wienn – and decorated on the lock with engraved classical scenes.
The full walnut stock was exceptionally well figured and applied with gilt open-work panels depicting Perseus with the head of Medusa as well as the arms of the Esterhazy family. This rarity sold for €42,000 (£35,295).
Equally interesting, though without the illustrious provenance, was a pair of self-priming flintlock repeater pistols by Emanuel Wetschgin of Augsburg, c.1715.
These pistols were of high quality with slender cannon muzzle barrels and were fitted with highly distinctive serpentine-coiled reloading and cocking levers.
They sold for €23,000 (£19,330).
Firearms make big bucks
Though there is a healthy and steady market for arms and armour in the UK and the rest of Europe, there is no doubt that when it comes to firearms all the really big money is in the US.
On December 3 the Rock Island Auction Company (15% buyer’s premium) rounded off a record year with a $25m (£18.8m) sale, bringing the total for the 21 auctions it held in a 12-month period to $121m (£91m).
Generally it is fine and rare American firearms that attract the really big bucks but last December the saleroom was offering one truly fine and historically significant lot of European origin and they were rewarded with a price of $2.5m (£1.88m). The lot in question was a garniture of weapons made for presentation to Napoleon Bonaparte by the finest exponent of the gunmaker’s art, Nicholas-Noel Boutet, covered in ATG No 2522.
Containing six pieces in the set – a rifled carbine, a pair of rifled carriage pistols, a pair of pocket pistols, and a “glaive” sword and scabbard, all elaborately engraved, gilded and relief-carved – it was presented to Napoléon by the Directoire of the French Republic in 1797.
Back on more familiar ground, Rock Island offered plenty of exceptional US items in December, including a presentation example of the Winchester 1866 Model lever-action rifle, ordered by President Jose Balta of Peru as a gift for President Mariano Melgarejo of Bolivia.
This exceptional rifle had a solid silver frame and is acknowledged as the masterpiece of the preeminent engraver of his age, Louis D Nimschke. The gun is decorated overall with relief-engraved leaf scrolls around woodland scenes and monograms and bears Nimschke’s signature in seven different places.
The unique position of this rifle in the US firearms Hall of Fame was recognised by a winning bid of $850,000 (£639,000).