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LePage-Moutier shotgun

In this monthly blog series, our collections team will write about their Object of the Month, chosen from our collection. This month, Mark Murray-Flutter, Senior Curator of Firearms, tells us about a fantastic presentation shotgun.

155 years ago, in the spring of 1862, the Great London Exposition, or International of 1862, was held in South Kensington, London. Its 11-acres of pavilions were where now two of the great museums of London reside; the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. It was a world’s fair, an exhibition of art, manufacturing and technology, and gun makers, like all manufacturers, were keen to showcase their wares.

Michel Louis LePage-Moutier, the great Parisian gun maker, designed for the exhibition a display of his most ornate and luxurious sporting arms decorated in the latest style. One of the weapons LePage-Moutier built for this display is a stunning presentation double barrelled shotgun now in the collection of the Royal Armouries. Its purpose was no less than to astound, to amaze, and to overawe the visitor with the complexity and richness of its decoration.

Flintlock gun showing a decorated lock plate and trigger guard
Almost certainly the work of a group of talented Parisian craftsmen, the gun displays the wood carver’s skill, the engraver’s art, and the designer’s vision.

The two bright steel percussion locks are heavily chiselled with hunting scenes of dogs attacking a roe deer on one lock face and a boar on the other, a frightened wolf having climbed up a tree stump forms the hammer.

The half stock of dark polished walnut is deeply carved in low relief with floral scrolls. The bright steel butt plate is cast and chased with an allegorical scene of Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, surrounded by naked female attendants preparing for the chase, the trigger guard with a cherub blowing a hunting horn. The steel fore-end cap is wrought in the figure of a stag’s head. The double side-by-side barrels, by the renowned Paris barrel maker Leopold Bernard, are of bright steel with the breeches and muzzles carved with an intricate pattern in oak leaves, work that is both difficult but beautiful.

Highly decorated embossed butt plate showing hunting scenes
It was J.B. Waring’s view in his 1863 catalogue: Masterpieces of Industrial Art and Sculpture at the International Exhibition that:

‘The gun of Lepage Moutier yielded in no respect to the rest.’

The entire weapon is a tour-de-force of the gun maker’s and gun decorator’s art and was designed to be so. The only other similar gun, also made by Lepage-Moutier slightly earlier in 1860, was presented by the President of France, M.Jules Grevey, in 1879 to the President of Mexico, Don Manuel Gonzales – although the quantity and quality of decoration of that gun is not quite to the same standard as that of the exhibition gun.

The LePage-Moutier exhibition gun was bought by the Royal Armouries for the nation in June 1979 from a private collector for the sum of £25,000, then one of the highest prices paid for a 19th-century percussion shotgun. It can be seen in the Self Defence gallery of the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds.

Visit our Collections Online to discover more about this object.

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