Napoleon III and the NSPA

Lomi Kriel of the San Antonio Express-News has an interesting account of the FBI’s confiscation of a carbine rifle owned by Napoleon III which was stolen from the Musée de l’Armée during WWII. French authorities saw an advertisement for the weapon on the internet. French authorities contacted interpol, which later involved the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

Napoleon III served as the emperor of France from 1852-70, and this carbine was one of the earliest breech-loading arms produced. Ralph Diaz, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Antonio Division said “In the big picture, the FBI doesn’t typically get involved in the pursuit of a rifle… But this weapon is of great historical value to the country of France.” One wonders how the rifle was stolen. I wonder if it was perhaps an American soldier, as was the case with the Quedlinburg treasures.

The FBI did not identify the seller, and it seems he did not know the weapon was stolen when he acquired it for his collection. Federal prosecutors are reviewing the case, but charges are probably unlikely. The rifle was listed for sale at $12,000, a sum which is likely far below what it would have fetched at an open auction.

There are a few interesting things about this case. First, it reveals the extent to which the National Stolen Property Act can impact the trade in art or antiquities. In this case, charges probably will not be filed, but the NSPA allowed authorities to seize the weapon and return it to France. Also, collectors of any object which might have cultural value would be wise to conduct a thorough provenance check, and if a seller cannot or will not provide one, red flags should be raised.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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