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The world's most expensive weapons are auctioned at millions
Each of them has their own story - and a story sells!

The most expensive weapons in the world: They’ll kill you... or your wallet

Kristina Vacková
25.May 2021
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9 minutes to read
Uma Thurman, mistryně boje v Tarantinově kultovním filmu Kill Bill

Who wouldn't want to own the film weapon held by Uma Thurman in Kill Bill? And let’s not even mention old weapons, whose stocks or handles can tell the stories of as many as hundreds of people who held them in their hands. Antique weapons always attract enthusiastic collectors, incredibly wealthy men and women who "fight" over them in the most prestigious auction houses in the world. Most of the world's most valuable swords are the property of private or museum collections. And it’s not just the value of the weapon itself that sells, but also its story. Whether it’s a tale about revolutionaries, the builders of the Taj Mahal, or the Japanese samurai.

Uma Thurman uses a number of weapons in the movie - she’s a professional killing machine, and the fact that she looks stunning only helps. She’s a great gunwoman, apt at wielding both katanas and knives. There’s no doubt that her weapons could be auctioned off for a nice round sum of money. And what if Napoleon's weapons were offered at an auction house? Or weapons that had once been owned by the builder of the Taj-Mahal?

When such items appear at auctions, it always causes a racket.

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Nezapomenutelná Uma Thurman ve své parádní roli ve filmu Kill Bill
Nezapomenutelná Uma Thurman ve své parádní roli ve filmu Kill BillSource: Miramax/Courtesy Everett Collection / Profimedia

Stories sell

Most of the auctioned weapons belonged to the most impressive figures in history, or were made by the most famous swordsmen or armourers, masters of their craft. We’d like to show you a few rare pieces - swords, pistols and others weapons that entered history for the second time due to their extravagant price tags.

Historic weapons are mostly the property of museums or private collectors. Sometimes you find an article about them, typically on the rare occasions when they appear at specific world auctions. Swords, or weapons in general, sign praise about the heroic deeds of their owners, whether they belonged to samurais (here we speak of katanas), warlords, or world-famous warriors - any man who marked the course of history.

Luxusní penthous na Praze 1 - 226m
Luxusní penthous na Praze 1 - 226m, Praha 1

The most expensive weapon in the world: Napoleon's sword from the Battle of Marengo, CZK 137.5 million

For years, this sword with a curved steel blade was the most expensive weapon in the world. It is beautifully crafted with lots of amazing details. The weapon with a handle of ebony and gold sold for $ 6.5 million at a 2007 auction in Fontainebleau, France.

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Napoleon Bonaparte v bitvě u Marenga - zbraň, kterou zde použil, je nejdražší vydraženou zbraní světa
Napoleon Bonaparte v bitvě u Marenga - zbraň, kterou zde použil, je nejdražší vydraženou zbraní světaSource: Profmedia

Although the estimated price of the sword was set at about a quarter of this amount, the fact that it once belonged to Napoleon himself catapulted its value well above the original estimate of "mere" $ 34 million.

The sword was auctioned off for an astronomical sum to an anonymous woman, who purchased it for her husband, likely one of Napoleon's direct descendants. We believe that the reason why the auction was held were disagreements between members of his family.

The owner of the sword, world-famous military leader and revolutionary Napoleon Bonaparte, fought with this weapon in 1800 at the Battle of Marengo, before becoming the emperor of France. After the battle, the sword remained in the ownership of his family for almost two centuries.

The most expensive shotgun: F-GRADE A.H. FOX 12 GAUGE, CZK 18 million

Theodor Roosevelt’s Fox shotgun, which he brought from an African safari in 1909, became the most expensive shotgun ever sold at an auction.

In 2010, the James D. Julie Auction House sold the firearm to a private buyer for $ 862,500, making it the world's most expensive auctioned shotgun to date. This buyer was Jason Roselius, a Texas-born lawyer and lifelong admirer of history and weapons.

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Theodor Roosevelt na koni - se svou zbraní objel kus světa
Theodor Roosevelt na koni - se svou zbraní objel kus světaSource: Profimedia

The double-barreled rifle was made to order for Roosevelt and it features an inscription from the AH Fox Gun Company from 1908 on the right barrel.

In a letter to founder Ansley Fox, Roosevelt wrote shortly after receiving the gift: "I really think it's the most beautiful weapon I've ever seen."

The president took great care of his weapon, took it with him wherever he went and regularly cleaned it using a couple of his old pajamas. This, too, was mentioned at the auction. The weapon is now on display at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) in Canyon, Texas.

The most expensive dagger: Personal dagger of the Indian Shah Janan, CZK 50.3 million

Shah Jahan's dagger was made in the 17th century, when this sovereign, the fifth Mughal emperor - and the creator of the Taj Mahal - ruled over India. Only a handful of items have survived from this time, which made the price of the dagger even higher. The reign of His Imperial Grace Shah Jahan, originally Shahab-ud-din Muhammad Khurram, is considered the culmination of the golden age of India, and coincidentally the time when the emperor had the Mumtaz Mahal Taj Mahal built for his wife.

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Dáka Šáha Jahana, jenž postavil pro svou manželku Taj-Mahal
Dáka Šáha Jahana, jenž postavil pro svou manželku Taj-MahalSource: Profimedia

The dagger is richly decorated with gold, slightly rounded and adorned with lotus and poppy blooms.

Forged in 1629 for the ruler's thirty-ninth birthday, the dagger was fitted with the emperor's name, title and date and place of manufacture. It was part of a collection of a late Belgian collector by the name Jacques Desenfans and in 2008, it sold for more than double the initial bid during an auction in Bonham. It was auctioned off for £ 1.7 million (now $ 2.4 million).

The most expensive pistol: Lafayette - a pistol for Bolívar and Washington, CZK 38 million (at a 2016 auction) and CZK 41.7 million (2002)

Simón Bolívar was a Venezuelan general and politician, one of the main representatives of the South American fight for independence from Spain. He owned a unique collection of firearms, of which only five pieces have survived. From time to time, one of them appears in an auction hall sparks a conflict between collectors. The last time it happened, the weapons in question were the pistols he had received as a gift from Lafayette. Incidentally, Lafayette as also the man behind another auction gem - the pistols he made for George Washington.

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Set pistolí vydražených na aukci za 1,9 mil. dolarů
Set pistolí vydražených na aukci za 1,9 mil. dolarůSource: Profimedia

The unique weapons tell the stories of two revolutionaries - Marquis de Lafayette and Simon Bolivar - and are associated with a third influential man, George Washington.

The pair of silver pistols was made by the French rifleman Nicolas Noël Boutet in 1824.

In 2002, another pair of saddle pistols - the French general’s gift to - George Washington, sold for an incredible $ 1,986,000 at Christie’s. After the auction, the buyer was revealed to be the Richard King Mellon Foundation, who later donated the Fort Ligonier pistols to Pennsylvania.

According to the description, the weapons are equipped with octagonal and round steel drums, silver and gold wires and a base made of European walnut wood.

In 2016, the weapons once again appeared in a New York auction, namely in the auction block Exceptional Sale, on April 13, 2016 at Christie’s New York Hall. Their estimated price was set at $ 1,500,000-2,500,000 and they were sold for $ 1,805,000.

The most expensive knife in the world: "Gem of the Orient" by Buster Warenski, CZK 44.5 million

The most expensive modern knife in the world, the Gem of the Orient, was originally sold for $ 1.2 million, but the buyer repeatedly put it up for auction, and finally sold it for $ 2.1 million.

Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9, 123m
Prodej rodinného domu, Praha 9, 123m, Praha 9

Buster Warenski is a top American manufacturer of custom knives, whose rose to fame after having created a perfect replica of King Tutankhamun's dagger. Today, he is considered one of the largest knife manufacturers of the last century.

In 1966, 20-year-old Buster Warenski decided he would like to make his own knife. At the age of thirty, he became a member of the Knives Guild, and eventually its president.

His Legacy Series of four knives made of 18k gold includes the most expensive modern knife in the world - the Gem of the Orient.

Warenski created the Gem of the Orient for a Japanese customer. The knife’s handle, made of stainless steel and gold filigree, is adorned with 153 emeralds (10 carats) and nine diamonds (5 carats). In total, 28 ounces of gold were needed to make the knife. Its blade is similar to that of Damascus steel, the hilt is made of jade, and although the knife isn’t made of pure gold, almost a kilogram of this precious metal was used in its production.

Warenski spent over ten years working on this piece, and as the only one of the ten most expensive weapons, the knife is famous for its talented manufacturer, not a wealthy ruler or general.

The most expensive rifle: The Winchester Model 1886, CZK 26.4 million

Winchester rifles are indisputably the icon of the Wild West, and therefore the most expensive type of rifle ever sold at auction. The Winchester Model 1886, whose replicas are still in production, was developed at the same time as induction coils, at the very beginning of automotive technology. It has become the new standard for rifles word-wide. Thanks to its lever, the unprecedentedly stable rifle became a symbol of the changing West.

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Puška Winchestrovka je symbolem Divokého západu
Puška Winchestrovka je symbolem Divokého západuSource: Profimedia

According to the website Popular Mechanics, the Winchester rifle brought in more than a million dollars at the 2016 auction for a number of reasons: First, it was the very first Winchester model made that year, and second, there was also a story behind it. The rifle had once been given as a gift to Captain Henry W. Lawton, the man responsible for tracking and capturing Geronimo.

The Winchester Model 1886 became the most expensive stand-alone weapon ever sold at auction, at a cost of $ 1.26 million, thanks to fact that it had assisted in capturing Geronimo, leader of the Apache Wars. This fearless warrior, who may have very well been a model for Vinnetou, kept eluding the army. He didn’t want to be locked up in a reservation and played a cat-and-mouse game with his pursuers, and thereby the American government, for thirty years. He was eventually captured and officially "surrendered to General Nelson Miles" in 1886. But that was just a story for the protocol: in fact, Geronimo refused to surrender to the man who had tracked him down and captured him, Captain Henry W. Lawton. Because Lawton wasn’t a man who longs for fame and recognition, he was happy to simply accept a gift for his achievement. This gift was a new weapon from a friend who happened to be working in Winchester.

This very weapon was sold at the Rock Island Auction Company in Illinois, which specializes in old weapons, in 2016.

General Grant's sword, auctioned in 2007 for CZK 33.9 million

The eighteenth President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant, was called “the greatest general of his time” by historians. In 1864 he was promoted to general of the highest possible military rank. On this occasion, a unique weapon was made for him, which later become his symbol - a silver and gold diamond sword, "from the grateful citizens of Kentucky to his appointment as General of the United States Army," as described by Curator Dennis Lowe of the Heritage Auction Galleries. The sword was auctioned off 13 years ago for $ 1,673,000.

Grant's sword is adorned with twenty-six glittering diamonds and features his monogram in blue-violet, decorated with amethysts and crystals. It is made entirely of silver and gold, decorated with the goddess of Victory, the American eagle and battle scenes.

Boateng sword of the Chinese emperor Qianlong, CZK 167 million

The S-shaped sword boasts a hilt made of very hard white stone and jade. The blade is made of the three most expensive materials, namely copper, gold and silver.

The Boateng sword has appeared in the auction hall twice, at first in 2006 and then again in 2008, when it was auctioned off for a 1/3 higher amount than at the first auction. The reason for its high value is its exceptional quality, expensive materials, but also the unrivalled way in which this unique weapon was manufactured.

The sword was made for the Chinese king between 1736 and 1795, in the era of the sixth Qing Emperor, Qianlong, who was one of the longest-reigning rulers in history and lived to a respectable eighty-nine years.

Replicas of this sword can also be bought on the web, ranging from a few hundred to thousands of dollars.

The most expensive katana: Kamamura katana, 13th century, CZK 8.9 million

Traditional single-edged swords have been used by Japanese samurai for hundreds of years. They are made of the best materials and are considered the sharpest and most beautiful swords in the world. The production of the katana took several years, the most respectable masters of their trade participated in it, and the price of some katanas can be compared to the prices of luxury houses and the most luxurious cars. Alone the replicas cost up to a thousand dollars.

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Japonská dívka se samurajskou katanou
Japonská dívka se samurajskou katanouSource: Profimedia

127 of these weapons were even declared Juyounkabazai - culturally significant - in Japan. This means that prized katanas are illegally sold or exported from Japan.

In 1992, about 1,100 Japanese swords were put up for sale in the auction from the collection of Dr. Walter Ames Compton. The collection was sold for $ 8 million in a single day. It included a unique 13th-century Kamamura katana, which was sold for $ 418,000 to an anonymous private collector. To this day, it remains the most expensive katana ever sold in a private auction. The katana had been used by an infantry soldier during the Kamamura period.

From time to time, katanas of different qualities and prices appear at auctions.

The Kamamura katana is slightly curved with one blade and, in comparison with most swords, it’s famous for its high sharpness. The weapon was made using the highest quality materials. Its blade is 60 to 80 cm long, it weighs between 1.1 and 1.5 kg and the hilt is made of lacquered wood.

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Indická svatební dýka (ilustrační foto)
Indická svatební dýka (ilustrační foto)Source: Freepik

And, before we part ways, here’s a little something to think about: The world's most expensive weapons sell for millions of dollars. There is always an interesting story of an individual or a whole nation behind them. But we shouldn’t forget that in history, weapons were typically used for much more personal reasons than today. Modern technology enables us to develop terrifying weapons of mass destruction capable of killing thousands of nameless people in one short moment.

A great number of historical weapons have become a model for cult movies or literary adaptations. Many weapons even surpassed their owners in glory, others became part of mythology, such as the legendary King Arthur and his Excalibur.

As you can see, it is the story that sells, not just the flawlessness of the weapon itself. It is, therefore, no wonder that many of the world's most expensive weapons are commonly sold online as replicas. Meanwhile, the original pieces constitute gems of museum exhibitions or private collections of the richest enthusiasts and collectors.

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