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On The Block: Gandhi's Spinning Wheel, Napoleon's Last Will

Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi shown using a spinning wheel in 1933 shortly after his release from prison.
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Mohandas K. (Mahatma) Gandhi shown using a spinning wheel in 1933 shortly after his release from prison.

A spinning wheel used by Indian independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi to make "homespun" cloth as a protest against British rule, has been sold at auction in the U.K. for $180,000 – about twice as much as expected.

The portable spinning wheel, known as a charkha in Hindi, was used by Gandhi to spin thread and make his own clothes while he was held as a political prisoner in Pune's Yerwada jail in the early 1930s. Shunning British textiles in favor of homemade cloth was part of a self-reliance campaign that encompassed the larger "Quit India" independence movement championed by Gandhi.

The wheel, being sold at Ludlow Racecourse in Shropshire, England, "folds into a bundle about the size of a portable typewriter and has a handle for carrying. When unfolded for use it is operated by turning a small crank which runs the two wheels and spindle of the device," the BBC quotes American monthly Popular Science as writing in 1931.

DNA India says the spinning wheel was given by Gandhi to American Free Methodist missionary Rev. Floyd A. Puffer.

"Puffer was a pioneer in Indian educational and industrial cooperatives. He invented a bamboo plow that was later adopted by Gandhi.

Gandhi presented the charkha to Puffer for his work in Colonial India."

The independence leader's last will, written sometime after 1921, was also sold for about $32,000.

Meanwhile, a copy of Napoleon Bonaparte's last will and testament, written just 19 days before he died in exile on the southern Atlantic island of St. Helena in 1821, is going up for auction at the Drouot Auction house in Paris.

The original document is in the national archives in France. The copy that's being sold was written by a close advisor to the (by then) ex-emperor of France.

Napoleon, whose military conquests brought years of conflict to Europe beginning around 1800, was exiled twice following defeat. The first time, in 1814, he was dethroned and sent to the island of Elba off the west coast of Italy. He escaped the following year and returned to briefly lead France to its final defeat by British-led forces at the Battle of Waterloo. Napoleon's second exile was to the more remote St. Helena, where he lived out the remaining six years of his life.

In his will, Napoleon asked to be buried on the banks of the River Seine, admonished his son "never to forget that he was born a French prince" and accused others, including the Marquis de Lafayette, who had once fought alongside George Washington in the American Revolution, of treason that led to France's downfall. But he said of Lafayette and the others, "I forgive them."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.

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