From Toulon to Moscow: Great Letters of Napoléon at Raab

As the highly anticipated film Napoléon debuts in theaters, we consider our collection of the French leader’s rare and historically important letters and documents


Napoléon, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Joaquin Phoenix as the famous leader, will arrive in movie theaters tomorrow. It joins a long line of popular historical dramas with big-budget costume design and cinematography.

At Raab, we cherish original historical documents that create the history that makes books and even films possible. We have a powerful and impressive inventory of historical documents and letters of Napoléon–each an original source, each telling a story. 

We can chart his rise and fall using our historical treasures.

Napoleon signed document 1793

Napoléon’s Victory at Toulon

In October 1793, this document finds Napoléon at the dawn of his military career. Written just days after his first-ever promotion, it is an artillery list signed by Napoléon, using the early, Italian form of his name. As the new Chief of Battalion, he would lead the French to victory and be rewarded by Robespierre with another promotion only two months later. 

Napoleon signed letter 1793

Napoléon as General

In a letter from December 1793, Napoléon announces the successful end to the Siege of Toulon and signs this document using his new title, General of Artillery. Public records show no earlier letters of Napoléon as General having reached the market. Together, these two documents from 1793, of very few known to exist from that time period, herald the Napoleonic Era. 

Napoleon signed document

Emperor of the French

In 1804, Napoléon claimed another title: Emperor. In a remarkable autograph document signed just weeks after he gave himself the title and months before his official coronation, we see a key example of his drive to power. It is the earliest document to have reached the market bearing the title “Napoléon I.” 

Napoleon signed letter 1812

Napoléon Leads La Grande Armée into Russia

Three important letters of Napoléon from 1812 find the leader at the pinnacle of his military and political might, as he infamously marched La Grande Armée into Russia, in one of the modern age’s great battle campaigns–which will, no doubt, feature prominently in the new film. 

On September 18, 1812, Napoléon arrived at the Kremlin in Moscow and reported in a letter to advisor Jean-Jacques Régis de Cambacérès that the city still burned: “It was a spectacular city; I say ‘was’ because today more than half has been consumed by fire.”

Less than a week later, in a signed letter dated September 23, Napoléon claims that all is going well with his invasion of Russia, a statement not borne out by the facts. The following day, in another letter to his trusted advisor, he reiterates this statement, writing, “The fires have entirely ceased, and we have established ourselves solidly in Moscow.” 

That, as we now know, was pure Napoléonic swagger. After waiting a month for a surrender that never came, he was forced to lead his starving army out of the ruined city, and when attacked, hastened a disastrous retreat that led to his abdication and banishment. 

Napoléon’s Return to Paris

Raab’s newest Napoléon acquisition is a signed letter to his Minister of War from January of 1814. In it, the French leader makes his last stand, urging that some battalions, national guard, and artillery be sent to the front lines to defend France. But his efforts were in vain; only three months later he would be exiled to Elba.

The Raab Collection’s full collection of rare Napoléon autographs and documents can be viewed here.

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