Peter Finer

A Pair of French Flintlock Pocket Pistols by Blanc, St. Etienne, c. 1763-5

Item Ref: 2489 Price on application

2489 4
2489 5

France, St Etienne. Steel, gold.


Private collection, France

The maker of this exquisite pair of pistols is almost certainly Honoré Blanc of St. Etienne (active circa 1759-1803). Said to have begun his gun-making career in Avignon, in 1759 Blanc was appointed controller of the production of gunlocks at the military firearms manufactory at Charleville. In 1763 he was appointed controller of the manufactory at St. Etienne and in 1778 Blanc was promoted to the overall charge, as contrôleur general, of these two important arsenals, together with the large firearms manufactory at Maubeuge. Blanc held this extremely significant position until 1782, with overall charge therefore, of all firearms produced for the French armed forces. In addition to the achievement of this high office, Honoré Blanc had responsibility for the development and introduction of the then very advanced model 1763 flintlock for regulation pattern firearms. He was also director of the gunlock manufactory at Roanne. 

With his significant appointment in 1763 it is appropriate then that Blanc would oversee the creation of a pair of pistols of extraordinary quality with which to commemorate his success. Blanc undertook to decorate these pistols to the peak of the fashionable rococo style of the Louis XV period, precisely as set out in the published engraved patterns of the leading Paris designer Gilles De Marteau. On these pistols the lively flourishes of rococo scrollwork (rocailles), flowers and imaginative trophies are arranged within finely engraved borders of imbricated leaves and are easily located within the repertoire of De Marteau’s engraved sheets. Not surprising then that to these pistols Blanc added not only his name but his proud title ‘Cont.leur des Armes pour Le Roy a St.Etienne’.

The pistols made entirely of burnished steel, are chiselled in bas-relief, a process much more difficult and costly than mere engraving. The work is executed to the highest principles of the day and set off against a stippled and brilliant gilt ground. In short, these pistols are a masterpiece in all senses. 

Gilles De Marteau (1722-76) was the pupil of the greatly influential designer of ornament for firearms, De Lacollombe, who had probably died within the period 1737-43. De Marteau’s name first appears on the title page of a series of De Lacollombe’s engraved designs published in 1730 under the title ‘Nouveau Dessins D’Arquebvseries  Dessiné & Graué par De Lacollombe à Paris 1730. Se Vend Chez De Marteav Elève De Feu Mr De Lacollombe’. Despite being described here as “the late”, De Lacollombe’s name later appears on a sheet from another series dated 1736. 

De Lacollombe’s designs embraced the newly fashionable carefree rococo style with great vigour and elegance, but De Marteau takes the rococo in his own subsequent engravings to a higher, even less formal and more fluid height, the surviving sheets dated 1743 and with another series dated 1749. A copy of the latter sheet was formerly in the Livrustkammaren, Stockholm; another, of the same sheet together with a number of De Marteau’s other engravings for firearms ornament is preserved in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. An undated title page for a further series of De Marteau’s firearms ornament is in the Staatliche Kunstbibliothek, Berlin. This album contains twenty-three sheets, the title page included, and is said by Torsten Lenk to expand upon the rococo themes set out in the previous editions. 

Made entirely of burnished steel, with turn-off short cannon barrels signed in full over the underside of the breeches, box-lock actions and flat-sided butts finely chiselled over their respective full surfaces with bas-relief designs of  rococo scroll-work after the original engraved patterns of Gilles De Marteau of Paris, involving small bouquets and elaborate trophies-of-arms on a stippled gilt ground, all between segmental narrow strips of imbricated leaf ornament, the trigger-guards chiselled and gilt en suite, the pans lined in gold, and preserved in exceptionally fine condition throughout.

Size: Length of each pistol 13.8 cm / 5.43 in