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Historic pistols bring almost $2 million

By FREDERICK M. WINSHIP

NEW YORK, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- A pair of saddle pistols owned by successively the Marquis de Lafayette, George Washington, and Andrew Jackson were sold Friday in an auction at Christie's gallery for $1,986,000.

The pistols were sold to an unidentified bidder, Christie's spokesman, Joel Gunderson, said. The gallery's pre-sale estimate of the pistols' value was $1.5 million.

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The firearms were included in an auction of Americana also highlighted by the sale of three silver beakers made by American patriot and silversmith Paul Revere in 1753, the earliest known examples of his work.

Two of the beakers sold -- for $116,000 and $105,000 -- but the third failed to get a bid meeting the seller's reserve price and remained unsold, according to Gunderson. They had been consigned to sale by the Arlington Street Church in Boston along with several other superb examples of Colonial silver that were sold to finance restoration of the church. The pre-sale estimate of their value was $100,000 to $150,000 each.

The 18-inch pistols, made in France, were in the possession of Lafayette when he arrived in South Carolina in 1777 to join Washington's Continental Army in its war for independence from Great Britain. The young French nobleman wore them in battle at Brandywine, Pa., and Monmouth, N. J., and during the grueling winter with Washington at Valley Forge, Pa.

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Before returning to France briefly in 1778, Lafayette gave the pistols to Washington, who had become a father figure to him and after whom he named his only son, born in 1779. Lafayette returned to America in 1780 and took part in the battles of Newport, R.I., and Yorktown, Va., where the British suffered their final defeat.

The pistols remained in the Washington family at Mount Vernon, Va., after the first president's death in 1799 and were eventually inherited by William Robinson, the widower of a granddaughter of Washington's half-brother, Augustine Washington.

Robinson sent them to Andrew Jackson as a gift on the occasion of an 1824 celebration in Washington, D.C., of the anniversary of Jackson's victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, saying Jackson was "the successor of Washington in the Military character of America." Jackson wrote back describing the pistols as "sacred and holy relics."

In 1825, Lafayette visited Jackson at The Hermitage, his home near Nashville, Tenn., on his famous last visit to America on the 50th anniversary of the American Revolution and told the president-to-be more about the pistols. Jackson, who had served under Washington for three years in the Revolution, kept the pistols on the mantel in his parlor.

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Jackson, in turn, bequeathed the pistols to Lafayette's son, George Washington Lafayette, to whom they were sent in 1846. In 1958, the Lafayette family sold the pistols to a French collector whose estate sold them at auction in Paris in 1983 for $37,715. Since then, the pistols have belonged to three unidentified American collectors, the last of which purchased them privately last August for about $1 million.

Christie's did not identify the consignor except to describe him as an under-40 stock market investor who is believed to have taken losses in his investments since the Twin Towers terrorist attack Sept. 11.

The pistols are carved in walnut and fitted with gold and steel mounts in the Rococo style. They are engraved with the name of their maker, Jacob Walster of Saarbruck, then in France and now Saarbrucken in Germany. Lafayette bought them when serving in the French army in Medtz, in northeastern France from 1775 to 1776.

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