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An extremely rare and splendid Algerian set of silver and red coral inlaid pistols and a toe-lock gun


Late 18th century, the gun dated 1182AH in Arabic (1768)

L. 48 & 48.5 cm (pistols) / L. 174 cm (gun)

Red coral was prized for its rarity and a prominent decorative technique used on arms in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in Algeria. Similar coral-decorated firearms were amongst the gifts offered by the Dey of Algiers to George IV, the Prince Regent of Great Britain, in 1811 and 1819. They can now be found in the Royal Collection in Windsor Castle (inv.no. CH2075) and the Royal Armouries in Leeds. Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States of America, too was presented one by the Tunisian Ambassador Mellimelli on behalf of the Bey of Tunis in 1805-6 and is now in the Smithsonian (inv. no. 2000-6339).

The background to this last presentation was Ambassador Sidi Soliman Mellimelli’s highly colourful diplomatic mission to Washington D.C., of which as a result he successfully averted the impending threat of war between Tunis and the United States. When the USS Constitution captured Tunisian vessels, a crisis ensued. Threatened by war, Tunisian representative Ambassador Mellimelli was sent to the United States to negotiate a diplomatic solution. He told the Americans that coming home without solving the matters wasn’t an option because he would be beheaded upon his return. This way, and perhaps with the splendid guns, he was able to gain the empathy of the Americans, resulting in a peaceful solution.

Literature:
- D. G. Alexander, Islamic Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015
- N.A. Andersen, Gold and Coral: Presentation Arms from Algiers and Tunis, 2014, pp. 104-7 (ill. 132-35)
- R. Elgood, Firearms of the Islamic World in the Tareq Rajab Museum, Kuwait, 1995
- E.S. Brown, William Plumer’s Memorandum of Proceedings in the United States Senate, 1803-1807, New York, The Macmillan Co., 1923, pp. 487-48

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