Sainsbury, Napoleon Museum

A Napoleonic collection in the heart of London

John Sainsbury was a Napoleonic sympathiser who amassed a large collection of Napoleonic memorabilia. Mogg’s New Picture of London (1844) described him as a clerical agent. The reason for his amassing a collection of Napoleonica was in order to give a reply to the “unmeasured abuse” which many Britons heaped on “the Greatest Hero of both Ancient and Modern Times”. In the 1820s, he began collecting “every thing worth notice in a portable form relating to Napoleon”. On suffering financial difficulties, Sainsbury published a catalogue in an attempt to try to sell his collection. The first catalogue of his pieces is entitled Catalogue of a collection…Collected on the Continent and in England, during the Last Fifteen Years and dates from 1834. In 1835, Sainsbury offered the collection to Sir John Soane for £6,000 for inclusion in the British architect’s museum house. When Soane did not leap at the chance, Sainsbury then put the collection on show (for 1 shilling) at the Egyptian Hall (also known as the London Museum, an exhibition space in the capital). The exhibition presumably opened in 1840 as another publication describing the works, entitled Sketch of the Napoleon Museum, appeared in that year. The exhibition would appear to have run for several years, Sainsbury later publishing Particulars of the Exhibition Now Open at the Egyptian Hall in 1843. However the magnum opus of the most complete manifestation of the collection appeared in 1845, entitled The Napoleon Museum. The History of France. Sainsbury however continued in financial difficulty. In 1860 he was the defendant in an action in the Rolls Court, Chinock v Sainsbury, in which a firm of London auctioneers attempted to recover a loan to him, on a ‘collection of manuscripts, coins, and other works of art, and objects of historical interest and curiosity, upon the formation of which he told the plaintiffs he had expended 40,000l.’ (Law Times, 10 November, 1860)

Details from Stuart Semmel, Napoleon and the British, New Haven and London. Yale University Press, 2004, pp. 226-227 and notes 26, 27.


The Napoleon Museum. The History of France, illustrated from Louis XIV to the end of the reign and death of the Emperor, comprising: marbles, bronzes, carvings, gems, decorations, medallions, drawings, miniatures, portraits, pictures… etc. … collected… and described by John Sainsbury. London, 1845. – In-fol., 692 p., plates.
Cote : N C Nap. Museum (Coll. réservée)