University Archives


Extremely Rare 1st Edition Copy of "Authentic Mask of Napoleon," Examining the Death Mask Controversy, Ex-Nicholson Napoleon Collection

An extremely rare, privately printed copy of a book discussing the controversy surrounding the various death mask impressions taken of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). Including the author's calling card, hand-inscribed "Avec les compliments de" above her printed name, "Mr. & Mrs. Alfred Day Pardee." From the Nicholson Napoleon Collection.

The French language book is Marie-Antoinette Ruelle-Pardee's "Le Masque Authentique de Napoléon, son Étrange Histoire de 1821 à Nos Jours, Les Possesseurs Successifs de Cette Précieuse Relique" (1933). (The translated title is: "The Authentic Mask of Napoleon, Its Strange History from 1821 to Our Day, the Successive Possessors of this Precious Relic."] The author was an authority on this subject since her husband, an American businessman named Alfred D. Pardee (1873-1942), was a collector who had recently acquired one of the coveted original death mask impressions of Napoleon, called the Arnott or Cannes version, in 1932. ("Arnott" refers to the person who took the original impression; "Cannes" refers to where the Pardees once lived; to be further elaborated below.) Today, this mask is on long-term loan to the Musée Masséna in Nice, France.

Original red leather boards with gilt embossed spine and front cover gilt embossed with the imperial seal. The original pastedown endpapers are a vibrant red with gilt bees, Napoleon's favorite emblem. The book includes 20+ full page black and white illustrations, all with original tissue guards, and facsimiles of original documents. Scattered foxing within the inner pages. The inner binding is broken and fragile. Gentle rubbing to the spine. Enclosed in its original chipboard case, which has expected wear. Else very good to near fine. 25pp. 9.875" x 12.75" x .5" excluding the case.

The debate around the truest Napoleon death mask--raging since Napoleon's death in 1821--hinges on two critical points: first, the time at which the impression was taken; and second, the material comprising the mold. Both affect our understanding of what Napoleon Bonaparte truly looked like.

The Pardees owned the Arnott or Cannes death mask. This was the wax impression that Scottish surgeon Dr. Archibald Arnott (1775-1855) took of Bonaparte's visage during the night of May 5-6, 1821, less than twelve hours after the exiled Emperor had expired. This was one of the first impressions taken after death, and Pardee contrasts it with another death mask taken by Dr. François Carlo Antommarchi (1780-1838), who served as Napoleon's personal physician 1818-1821. Dr. Antommarchi's plaster cast was taken of Napoleon's face on May 7, 1821, a full 48 hours after his death. The resulting death masks are very different, and beg the question of which mask more accurately depicts the physiognomy--as well as the spiritual essence--of the dead Emperor. The question is further complicated by the existence of copies of the originals.

A fascinating discussion of a subject at the heart of Napoleonia, and offered in a rare French language original.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


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