M.S. Rau Antiques: A Museum with Price Tags
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
A few months ago, I heard of M.S. Rau Antiques on Royal Street in New Orleans while reading an article about their recent acquisition of the President Lincoln's opera glasses used on the night of his assassination at Ford's Theater on April 14, 1865. Backed by plenty of provenance, the glasses were available to the first person to come up with $795,000. (They sold quickly to private collector.)
Having recently decided to take a trip to New Orleans, I knew that I had to stop in this shop while I was in the French Quarter. After visiting, I can tell you that it certainly didn't disappoint. I had some idea of what to expect ahead of time from perusing their website, but it was far more elaborate in person. If you walked in unaware, it would be easy to mistake the place for a museum. That is, until you see that these priceless objects really aren't priceless - they've got tags on them!
Given my interests, I was on the look-out for long guns, cased pistols, and presentation swords.
The largest piece on display was a blunderbuss used by the British Navy, circa 1820. The pintle mount allowed it to be attached to the ship's deck rail and fired in any direction needed. With a flared muzzle of approximately 2.7" in diameter, large projectiles could be loaded into the gun and fired in an equally large pattern of disbursement, making it easy to clear the decks of advancing enemy sailors. It can be yours for $22,850.
Next in my line of sight was a double-barrel flintlock pistol of French origin from 1750. The twisted Damascus steel barrels were heavily adorned with gold accents from the breech all the way to the muzzle. The carved wooden stock featured elaborate silver accents on the trigger guard, pistol cap, and a decorative escutcheon. I did not see a price listed.
One never knew when the need to defend your honor could arise, so any self-respecting gentleman in the 18th and 19th century would have his own pair of dueling pistols. Made in Liege, Belgium in the early 1800s, this set of 12mm-caliber pistols store perfectly in a fitted leather and velvet case, making them a wonderful conversation piece when not in use. The carved wooden grips are accented with silver and the lock on each pistol is engraved with animals including lions, tigers, and wolves. Bring them home for $16,850.
By far, though, the most impressive guns on display were a cased pair of presentation pistols by Nicolas-Noël Boutet, famed gunsmith under King Louis XVI and the chief gunsmith to Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte.
I cannot find words to adequately describe this stunning pair of pistols. So, I'll let the description from M.S. Rau take care of it for me:
As much works of art as powerful weaponry, these pistols were retailed by Le Page, Arquebusier to the King, and created by Boutet sometime between 1800 and 1805. The walnut stocks are aged to an elegant and desirable patina, adorned with crisp hand-carved Empire elements. The firing mechanism and inlays are formed of superbly chiseled, chased and engraved silver and parcel gilt accents that highlight the immense intricacy of the metalwork that takes the form of the weapons and armor of antiquity, including a pommel cap featuring the helmet of a Roman legionary. The sighted, octagonal steel barrels were created to be both beautiful and precise; their damascened exteriors embellished with regal gilt inlay while the interiors are rifled to ensure shooting accuracy, stability, and increased projectile distance. In every way, these pistols are a marriage of decorative artistry and masterful gunsmithing.
If I had a spare $125,000 in my wallet, they most certainly would have come home with me!
Along the way, I found other tremendously impressive and historically important objects. Some of those items include presentation swords from French Kings Louis XIV and XV, circa 1693 and 1730 respectively, for $198,500 and $295,000.
Sitting on top of a French Gothic Revival billiards table ($128,500) from 1830 was a camel saddle created specifically for Napoleon’s Dromedary Regiment from 1800. It's just waiting for you to snatch it up and place it atop your one-hump camel for just $19,850.
Rounding out the French items is a full-length official portrait of Napoleon wearing his royal ceremonial robes by Michel Martin Drolling in 1808. Measuring 98" high by 66 1/2" wide in the frame, it is an imposing sight. The price tag is equally imposing: $985,000.
If canes are your thing, Rau has almost 200 of them. Prices range from $495 to $48,500. Of course, you'll need a place to keep them all, so how about this inlaid mahogany cane cabinet for a mere $14,500.
I also passed by a small case containing some very big history. In it were pieces of George and Martha Washington's china from Mount Vernon, their porcelain cups and saucers from Mount Vernon, Martha's hair comb, George's wine glass, and more. All of those items are "price on request."
For those of you playing along at home, if you add up just the items listed above that had prices available, the total comes to more than $2,650,000.
So there you have it. Now you can see that I really meant it when I said that M.S. Rau's Antiques is a museum with price tags. If you're ever on Royal Street in New Orleans, you owe it to yourself to stop in and look around.
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