U.S. officials have recovered an extremely rare gun made in the 1850s for Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew Napoleon III by French gunsmith Gastine Renette, the FBI's San Antonio field office and the FBI's Art Crime Team announced Thursday.
According to the FBI, a collector in the San Antonio area came into possession of the gun in the 1980s and was unaware the gun was stolen. The FBI said the collector acquired the gun during the purchase of a larger gun collection.
It was shortly after this purchase that the collector learned the weapon was stolen from France and was a French cultural treasure. According to the FBI, the French government contacted the FBI after learning it was for sale on the Internet.
The gun was reportedly missing during the German occupation of Paris during World War II, reportedly taken from Napoleon's tomb.
An Internet search about the gunsmith Gastine Renette shows that a gun made by him was for sale on the Web site gunsamerica.com.
The description of the rare gun, which was listed on the site for $12,000 noted, "This carbine was taken from the French National museum (Hotel des Invalides -- Napoleon's Tomb) during WWII. It was most likely made especially for Empereur Napoleon III (1851-1870). It is 37 inches long with a 21 inch, .50 cal. barrel fitted with bayonet lug and double-folding rear sight. The barrel is marked, "Gastinne Renette arqr de S.M. Empereur a Paris." It is one of the earliest breech-loading cartridge arms produced being patented by Louis Julien Gastinne in Paris on 5 March 1853."
The FBI recovered the weapon Wednesday.
In a statement, Ralph Diaz, special agent in charge of the San Antonio field office, said, "The FBI is pleased to be able to be involved in the recovery of this valuable piece of French cultural history. This is an example of the FBI's commitment to being at the forefront of investigating crimes involving high value, significant, or historic artwork."
Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney in the western district of Texas, is reviewing the case. The collector, whose name has not been released, could face prosecution for violating laws on the sale of stolen antiques and artifacts.