The Great Master —- Nicolas Noel Boutet (1761 -1833)
For all gun enthusiasts out there, think of some of the greatest gunmakers in history; John Browning, John Garand, Mikhail Kalashnikov, Eugene Stoner, Ronnie Barret, Samuel Colt, perhaps Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson. One gunmaker that I would definitely put in my top five, one who is sadly forgotten to modern enthusiasts, would be Nicolas Noel Boutet, the master gunsmith of Versailles.
Born in France, Boutet started his career as a gunsmith working for King Louis XVI in 1788. Originally he would have worked on bread and butter projects, such as making military muskets for the French Army. However during the French Revolution his remarkable craftsmanship, eye for detail, and revolutionary designs caught the eye of several leaders of the republican government. In 1792 he was made artistic director of the Versailles Armory. There he specialized in finely crafted, highly artistic, high end firearms. We are not talking about simple muskets here, but extremely ornate and finally crafted works of art, exhibition pieces, and decorative pieces. Most of his work was done for diplomats, nobles, kings, queens, and emperors. All of his works are meticulously handcrafted utilizing the finest materials available. Eventually Boutet’s reputation spread all across Europe and the Boutet name came to symbolize luxury and unsurpassed quality. In his career he made some of the finest flintlock muskets, rifles, and pistols ever produced in human history. It could be said that only the works of Boutet could be fit for an emperor.
Fortunately Boutet’s work caught the eye of one future French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon made Boutet the general manager of the Versailles Armory in 1798. Napoleon also made Boutet his personal gunsmith, and from 1798 until Napoleons final defeat in 1815, Boutet made scores of highly decorated hunting rifles, shotguns, and pistols for the Emperor. After the fall of Napoleon Boutet continued his work as master gunsmith, creating pieces for affluent nobles and royalty all over Europe. He worked even up to his death in 1833.
Today Boutet pieces are among the most highly prized by antique firearm collectors. Most known pieces can be found in art and historical museums. On the rare occasion that a Boutet piece makes it to the open market, they can sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.