Q &A from Barnebys Magazine
Did This Talisman Belong
Napoleon’s Talisman, c. 1802, silver, crystal quartz, ruby and emerald. Image © Napoleon’s Talisman
A mysterious sphinx talisman unearthed in the Netherlands is now rumored to have once belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte himself. Barnebys sat down with the team at Napoleon’s Talisman to discuss their research as well as their ‘decoding’ of the esoteric symbolism in the piece.
In 2004, Glenn Randall ‘Randy’ Jensen was browsing eBay when he happened upon a listing for an unusual talisman that Pieter E. Hegeman II’s father had found while digging a trench in the Netherlands. Intrigued, Randy traded a set of PING golf clubs for the antique and began doing independent research to discover the talisman’s true origins.
While studying the talisman, Jensen stumbled upon coded symbology that changed his perception of the piece forever. Rosicrucianism, a spiritual movement that arose in the early 17th century and proposed a previously unknown esoteric world order, frequently referenced ancient Egyptian symbolism and numerology, including a ‘tarot code’ in which certain numbers stand for specific cards in a tarot deck. Napoleon was a member of the Rosicrucian Order and would have been familiar with this symbolism, a fact that inspired Jensen to devote years to decoding the talisman’s history.
Barnebys: Once the talisman was purchased on eBay by Glenn Randall Jensen, how did he first start to suspect it may have belonged to Napoleon?
Napoleon's Talisman: Randy realized the Talisman had tarot coding 45 minutes into his initial examination. He was searching for a ‘lost’ ruby in one of the panels where there was an empty hole instead of a ruby, but discovered that the design was intentional because all four panels of rubies have 21 stones (the panel with a missing ruby should only have 20 stones). The 21 stones and empty ruby receptacle correspond to the 21-card tarot deck plus the ‘fool’ card, representing an initiate who does not yet possess the tarot knowledge and so is ‘empty’ or ‘blank’.
It took Randy three years of intense research to discover that the Talisman belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte. The inspiration for this discovery was a comment from the Egyptologist Stephen Mehler, who mentioned that the style of headdress used on the sculpted sphinx of the Talisman was distinctly 19th century. Randy had previously thought that the Talisman may have been from an earlier era, so this helped narrow the historical timeframe.
Glenn Randall Jensen is very passionate about the talisman's history and has invested a lot of travel and resources into researching the object. Was there a revelation that inspired this? The initial revelation was that the talisman was tarot-coded, and the fact that it was coded for ‘Emperor’ 21 times with the number four (corresponding to the ‘Emperor’ tarot card) was so intriguing that it fueled Randy's research.
What is the timeline of the talisman's history, as far as is known?
The talisman was inspired by Napoleon's trip to Egypt in 1798, and its ingeniously coded design is attributed to Napoleon himself with input from famed mathematician Gaspard Monge, the father of descriptive geometry. Its creation is attributed to Napoleon's official silversmith, Marie Foncier, and the famed sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1802. We estimate that the talisman was buried in Noordwijk around 1811, before it was recovered by Pieter E. Hegeman in 1938.
What is the estimated value of the talisman?
There are a number of experts who have privately estimated this ‘priceless’ Talisman's value at between $150-250 million.
This is an incredible sum. Who, or what kind of buyer do you think would pay that kind of money to own the talisman?
Napoleon Bonaparte is perhaps the most historically famous, and fascinating, person in the history of humanity. His rise from middle-class obscurity to virtually ruling the world is a story that has captivated the imagination of humankind over the last two centuries.
Ask someone right now: who is the prime minister of (name a country) and they probably won’t know! Ask them who was the most famous emperor in the history of France and you’ll get an immediate answer!
This Talisman is unique. There is only one like it. And it has a personal connection to Napoleon that has no equal. Only one person, museum, organization or society on this planet will be able to lay claim to this incredibly rare antiquity. It’s an investment that can only increase in value.
With a face value of $20, a US Double Eagle gold coin, which sold for a record $18.9 million, was the last gold coin produced for intended circulation in the United States. Yes, it’s rare, but has no emotional attachment to an historical person.
Whereas Napoleon designed and created his Talisman with an ingenious secret coding and it’s likely that, following tradition, he kept it on his person. It was found near the famous Battle of Waterloo buried deep in the ground (15 feet).
Lost for over 100 years, the fact that the Talisman was dug up and found is beyond astounding. And perhaps even more astounding is the fact that the Talisman was then offered for sale on eBay – with no initial takers!
It took an almost mystical path to finally be traded for, of all things, a set of golf clubs to G. Randal Jensen who had the genius and desire to decipher and decode this incredible piece of history following six years of research and traveling the world in search of answers.
The story is priceless, as is the Talisman itself, with numerous historians and antiquities experts describing the Talisman as a ‘priceless treasure.’ Hats, tables, boots, clothing, nothing comes close! Unlike any other object belonging to Napoleon that has ever been found or sold (usually at multiples of the asking price), the Talisman expresses Napoleon’s persona and passions to a much stronger degree than any other object in existence.
Why was it decided that the talisman would be appraised by mathematical probability and legal consul, rather than an official appraisal? Has the jewelry been appraised?
Determining the value of the Talisman of Napoleon is an involved undertaking for several reasons. In a typical appraisal, the value of an item is determined by the price achieved by the piece in a previous sale, taking into account inflation and other contributing factors. If the piece has never come to market, the appraisal is made by determining the value of similar items that have sold, factoring in the differences in condition between the two pieces.
If neither of the above two conditions occur, as in this case, a conventional appraisal that organizations like the ISA (International Society of Appraisers) or ASA (American Society of Appraisers) might provide cannot be made. Instead, an estimate of the value can be determined by a comparative analysis of items that in some way share characteristics related to the item in question.
For example, an engagement ring that Napoleon gifted Josephine with in 1796 sold for just over $1 million in early 2013, more than 47 times the auction estimate. This simple engagement ring had one sapphire and one diamond of less than a carat each, so its high price reflects the historical premium that the buyer was willing to pay for an item related to Napoleon. Of course, the Talisman of Napoleon contains not two, but 114 precious stones plus the sculpted quartz crystal sphinx.
This intimate, personal possession of Napoleon not only connects to the emperor and Josephine, but also to the Mona Lisa (the sphinx's face references the masterpiece), ancient Egypt, Empire style art and architecture, the fascinating world of esoterica and secret codes, Jean- Antoine Houdon, who is considered one of the greatest sculptors of all time, exceedingly rare ‘Consulate-era’ royal jewelery, and, of course, the love shared between the emperor and empress. This is not an exhaustive list, and the talisman represents a staggering lineup of connections to a wide range of amazing people, places, organizations, things and concepts, all contained in a unique item that could easily be displayed in as small a space as a painting.
Susan Jacques, who served as CEO and President of Borsheims Jewelry Company and the Secretary and Director of Jewelers of America, and who is the current CEO and president of the Gemology Institute of America, examined the Talisman of Napoleon in detail and called the piece “fascinating”. The celebrity antique appraiser, Dr. Lori (Verderame), a syndicated columnist, TV personality and one of the world’s leading experts in antiquities, has publicly gone on record to say that examining the Talisman was one of the highlights of her career, and described the talisman as “priceless”.
Is there anything specific you'd like a potential buyer to know about the talisman?
We suggest anyone interested in learning more about the fascinating history of the Talisman of Napoleon read our 120-page research document, available on our website as a PDF.
We have also achieved irrefutable provenance through Napoleon's second Talisman and are 100% confident that the coded dates and initials are more than mere coincidence. Dr. Shih-Chuan Cheng, a prominent math professor at Creighton University, determined that there are 27 separate factors within the piece that indicate a connection with Napoleon. After calculating a probability analysis, he found that the odds of every single factor being unrelated or coincidental is one in 44,100,722,636,800. The evidence is compelling, and the bejewelled sphinx is a beautiful work of art in its own right with a mysterious and intriguing history.