One lucky collector now owns an interesting piece of history, purchasing the Qianlong Emperor’s musket at auction for 1.985 million pounds ($2.5 million) in London on Wednesday.
Here’s how Sotheby’s London describes the musket:
“This rare and exquisitely produced musket is the first Chinese firearm with an imperial reign mark to be offered at auction. It is also inscribed with a mark ‘Supreme Grade, Number One,’ to assert its status as one of the first and most important firearms produced for the Qianlong Emperor and display his power as the ‘Son of Heaven.'”
A spokesman for Sotheby’s London said that the buyer was a private collector from Asia, but refused to mention his/her name or nationality.
“It marks a very meaningful day for Sotheby’s. It is the first time that Sotheby’s has auctioned a musket with the Chinese imperial reign mark,” the spokesman added. Well, at least someone had a good day yesterday.
The Qianlong Emperor (1711- 1799) ruled during the height of Qing dynasty, but also helped to precipitate its decline. In 1793, he rebuffed a diplomatic and trade mission from the British Empire, writing an infamous letter to King George III:
Hitherto, all European nations, including your own country’s barbarian merchants, have carried on their trade with our Celestial Empire at Canton. Such has been the procedure for many years, although our Celestial Empire possesses all things in prolific abundance and lacks no product within its own borders. There was therefore no need to import the manufactures of outside barbarians in exchange for our own produce. But as the tea, silk and porcelain which the Celestial Empire produces, are absolute necessities to European nations and to yourselves, we have permitted, as a signal mark of favour, that foreign hongs [merchant firms] should be established at Canton, so that your wants might be supplied and your country thus participate in our beneficence.