Note boasts rare signatures of Napoleon, Josephine

Jennifer Kay
Associated Press

West Palm Beach, Fla. — Full signatures from a pair of notorious lovebirds — Napoleon and Josephine — lend an otherwise routine 19th-century French marriage contract a rare prestige among other love notes on display at a high-end jewelry and antique showcase in Florida.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s bold but nearly illegible handwriting graced thousands of letters and military documents over the course of his career, from soldier to Emperor of France. But just a few documents also bore the delicate loops of his consort’s signature, said David Lowenherz, founder of New York-based Lion Heart Autographs, who is selling the May 1804 marriage contract this week for $20,000.

Just weeks after the French Senate declared him emperor, Napoleon and Josephine de Beauharnais were witnesses to the wedding of General Pierre-Augustin Hulin, who took part in the storming of the Bastille, sparking the French Revolution.

“Anything that is signed by both of them is going to have a special purpose or meaning,” Lowenherz said.

The document also is one of the first Napoleon signed with his full name, just as a monarch might today, instead of simply writing “Bonaparte” as he had before, Lowenherz said.

The contract was a kind of prenuptial agreement between Hulin and his bride. Its other signatories include six of Napoleon’s marshals, his brother Louis and Josephine’s daughter. Handwritten in black ink on creamy rag paper, it long outlasted Napoleon and Josephine’s own tumultuous marriage, which ended in 1810.

The document is one of three love stories Lowenherz is showcasing this week at the Palm Beach Jewelry, Art & Antique Show that opens Wednesday.

Lowenherz also has a letter worth $25,000 from Admiral Horatio Nelson, Napoleon’s rival on the high seas, to his mistress Emma Hamilton. Bearing Nelson’s black wax seal, the 1801 letter is a window into the tedious, day-to-day complaints of a couple that scandalized London society for carrying on a public affair, and having a daughter, while each was married to another person.

In the shaky left-hand writing he had to learn after losing his right arm in battle, Nelson signed a closing that’s funny for a naval hero: “your affectionate half sea sick Nelson.”

A third document, worth $1,250, written in Persian and English by educator and author Anna Leonowens alludes to the influence she felt she had on King Mongkut of Siam — a relationship made famous in the Broadway musical “The King and I.”

Leonowens had been hired by the king to tutor his wives and children in what is now Thailand. In a note marking her birthday, she wrote a verse describing the transformation of raw clay into something fragrant and pleasing.

“I think there’s a message in here about the relationship,” Lowenherz said.