‘Divine’ 18th-Century Chinese Musket Could Fetch $2 Million at Auction
Alongside two separate Asian art auctions, Sotheby’s is doing a standalone auction for a unique imperial matchlock musket produced for China’s Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799) during the Manchu Qing Dynasty. One of the most powerful “Sons of Heaven”—a title bestowed upon Chinese emperors who were thought to have divine power—the emperor was the longest-reigning in Chinese history. Sotheby’s believes that this is the first gun of its kind with an actual imperial reign inscription on it to be offered at auction.
The gun would’ve been produced by the Manufacture Department of the Imperial Household in very limited production, and its made out of elm wood and cast iron, inlaid with gold. Besides the imperial markings, there is also another inscription on the gun’s interior—only visible when the gun is dismantled—that say it’s “Supreme Grade, Number One.”
The gun rests on a bipod stand, so as to fire with as much accuracy as possible. It wouldn’t have been used in open combat, but during imperial hunting expeditions. While hunting at the time was usually done with a bow and arrow or spear, with the advent of Western technology, the emperor basically wanted to keep up with the Joneses and had his gunsmiths make him Western arms. Late in his life, the emperor referred to one such musket he used during a tiger hunt as a “Divine Tiger Gun”—noting its heavenly power.
Sotheby’s says its musket is closely connected to a sextet of guns on display at the Palace Museum in Beijing. It also bears resemblance to one gifted to the Qianlong Emperor in 1793 by British King George III.
For more on the musket, which has a pre-auction estimate of $1.2 million to $1.9 million, click here. To browse the auctions complementing it, “Important Chinese Art,” click here; and “Fine Chinese Jades from the Thompson-Schwab Collection,” click here.
Take a look at some more detailed shots of the musket below, as well as a painting from the Palace Museum’s collection of the Qianlong Emperor shooting a deer with a similar gun. At the very bottom, watch a short video featuring some of the Qianlong Emperor’s hunting-related poetry.