University Archives

Lot 141

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Hemingway's Spectacular Gun, From the Collection that Brought his Downfall. Impeccable Provenance

This superb piece, originally owned by Ernest Hemingway, was a part of his spectacular gun collection. Known as a Kabyle Musket, and per the accompanying provenance, the gun was obtained during his famous trip to Africa during the winter of 1953-1954. This piece is estimated to be circa 1850 but we are not gun dealers and cannot be sure or warrantee date of manufacture. The barrel appears to be wrought iron, artfully wrapped in wood and heavily decorated brass strips. The gun is over 6 feet tall, and over 4" wide at the stock. The stock once broken, now crudely repaired, is also heavily decorated, and has a bone inlay in the shape of a diamond, several of which are absent. The gun does not appear to be functional but we were not in a position to try to determine this fact. Being sold as-is. Ex: A.H. Hotchner, then to his son Timothy by descent and will be accompanied by a signed and notarized letter of authenticity which is identified in more detail below.

Hemingway was a man's man. He lived hard, loved hard, was unafraid to fight, and womanized without apology. He had been a swashbuckling, hard-drinking adventurer, a hunter, a pugilist, a war hero and a world renowned writer who defined his time and mastered his craft. He lived a rugged high-mileage, hard drinking and accident prone life. He also loved guns, collected many and used most. His mother wrote a note “Ernest was taught to shoot by Pa when 2½ and when 4 could handle a pistol.” When he was 10 or so, Hemingway’s grandfather gave him a single-shot 20-ga. shotgun. He was also a member of his high school gun club. By the time Hemingway was 5 until the day he died, he was constantly photographed proudly holding one of his guns which he employed for everything from hunting game, birds, and personal self-defense/protection. 

The steel that helped shape Hemingway speaks a lot about the man; we must realize that throughout his life Hemingway bought, sold and gave away many guns. From Idaho to Africa, Hemingway became one with his adventures which would then seep into his prose shaping him as a big-game hunter and outdoors-man. Guns were a part of his life and therefore were a part of his writing. To him, like the Spanish fighting bulls he also loved, guns were real; they are actual physical things that demand we treat them maturely and with poise in motion, as real consequences come with the pull of a trigger or a step in front of the horns. In classic Hemingway style he was known to have said, “[i]n the ethics of shooting dangerous game is the premise that the trouble you shoot yourself into you must be prepared to shoot yourself out of.”  

This fantastic piece was obtained during his trip to Africa during the winter of 1953-1954. It is known that the conclusion of this particular safari trip was full of trauma, and Hemingway and his wife had barely survived two near death plane crashes. Presumed dead, several newspapers reported their death until a wounded Hemingway and his well-suited wife allegedly walked out of the jungle in high spirits. Life Magazine reported that he emerged “carrying a bunch of bananas and a bottle of gin", and was quoted, possibly even correctly, as saying: "My luck, she is running very good." However it was discovered that "His skull was fractured, two discs of his spine were cracked, his right arm and shoulder were dislocated, his liver, right kidney and spleen were ruptured, his arms, face and head were burned by the flames of the plane, and his vision and hearing were impaired…" Most likely these injuries would become the catalyst to the demise of Hemingway's health, leading his body and his mind into a downward spiral until on July 2, 1961, Hemingway took his own life using one of his guns from his treasured collection.

Provenance: The gun offered here was gifted to Hemingway's friend and his biographical author, A.E. Hotchner. In the spring of 1948, A.E. Hotchner as a 20-something journalist, was assigned by Cosmopolitan to get, from Hemingway, an article on "The Future of Literature". He never did manage to finagle the predictive think piece from Hemingway --it burgeoned into two substitute short stories and came out "Across the River and Into the Trees", which Cosmo ran in three parts -- but "Hotch" got to know "Papa" and "Papa" came to respect "Hotch." They drank together. And how they talked! Hemingway trusted Hotchner and opened up to him in Cuba, New York, Paris, Venice, on the Riviera, in Madrid, Sun Valley, and finally at the Mayo Clinic.

Upon Hotchner's death this gun was passed to his son, Timothy. A signed and notarized letter of provenance from Timothy Hotchner will accompany this gun and is shown in part below with the entire letter offered for view as an image within this listing:

" My name is Timothy Hotchner. I'm the son of A.E. Hotchner, who passed away on February 15, 2020 at the age of 102. The item photographed below is known as a Kabyle Musket or Mukalla. It is a type of musket used in North Africa and produced by many native tribes and nations. This particular example is over 6 feet tall, and over 4" wide at the stock. The barrel appears to be wrought iron, artfully wrapped in wood and heavily decorated brass strips. The stock once broken, now crudely repaired, is also heavily decorated, and has a bone inlay in the shape of a diamond, several of which are absent … the gun doesn't appear to be functional from the ravages of time ...

Hemingway was very connected to Africa and several of his writings were influence the time he spent there, including Green Hills of Africa, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, and his classic work, The Snows of Kilimanjaro. It is apparent that Hemingway obtained this gun on the trip he took to Africa in the winter of 1953-54…

My father proudly displayed this gun in his study, where he would tell people, including me, about its storied history. He liked to say that it probably took two people to fire it: one to pull the trigger and the other to have the barrel rested on his shoulder …"

This superb piece of history comes from one of the most famous gun collections owned by one of the most famous accomplished and admired civilians in the field of literature; and is accompanied by impeccable provenance. A true rarity.

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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August 19, 2020 10:30 AM EDT

Westport, CT, US

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From: To: Increments:
$0 $99 $10
$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000