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10 extraordinary Antique Guns | Amazing Old Bangers

Posted by Think Extraordinary on 9:21 AM 1 comments

Even when it comes to weapons, man’s creative and dare I say artistic, ingenuity comes to the fore. If it is possible to have one weapon, then why not turn that weapon into two by fixing a blade or a club on it? As for pistols – let’s have six barrels, a muff pistol, a palm pistol, or a ring pistol. This is a look at some interesting and some unusual antique guns that gunsmiths have created in the past.
Also here, is the gun described as “the most beautiful gun in the world” and the story of how it came to be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Cased Percussion Pepperbox Pistol
(Cased Percussion Pepperbox Pistol)

The Development of the Firing Mechanism

In simplistic terms, the earliest forms of firing mechanism involved manually placing a burning ember or flame to a hole in the top of the barrel of a “gun”. This was replaced by a matchlock, which basically was a method of securing a very slow burning fuse (known as a match) to the side of the gun, which was introduced to the touch hole to explode the powder in the gun.

Of course wet conditions or an ember in close proximity to the powder were not the most favourable of situations and accidents with muskets were not uncommon

The breakthrough came with the invention of the Wheellock.

This involved mechanically moving a scored disk of steel against a piece of mineral called pyrite to cause sparks. The easiest way to understand this is to look at a modern flint cigarette lighter. This works in basically the same way.

The mechanism of the Wheelock was rather complicated and there were attempts to simplify it. There were several variations but one of the most popular was a Dutch invention called the Snaphaunce. (Derived from the Dutch “snap haan” meaning snapping hen, a reference to the movement of the arm containing the flint.) There were problems because of a need to have a moveable cap over the ignition hole, to stop accidental ignition and to keep the powder dry.

However it was not until the invention of the Flintlock in France by Marin Le Bourgeoys that a far more reliable mechanism came into being. This involved an arm containing a piece of flint striking a metal L shaped plate. This not only caused a spark but forced the plate to uncover the touch hole at the same moment.

This was a system that would last for around two and a half centuries until the development of percussion methods of firing took over.

Of course as well as working on the firing mechanism, gunsmiths were also looking at ways of developing the guns themselves

Combined Pernach Mace and Wheellock Pistol

Combined Pernach Mace and Wheellock Pistol

The oldest weapon here is a combination of a pistol and a mace. It is from Northern Europe, from Saxony, from the last quarter of the 16th century (1575-1600). It is on display in The Military Historical Museum of Artillery, Engineer and Signal Corps (founded in 1703 in St Petersburg, Russia by Peter the Great.)

This gun/club almost signals a time of transition from knight in armour to cavalryman or infantryman. It is interesting to note the straight stock-style handle and the intricate decoration. The decoration indicates that the weapon would have been made for a member of a wealthy family and not a “commoner”.

Over and Under Flintlock Pistol

Over and Under Flintlock Pistol

The problem with a muzzle loaded gun is that once it has been fired it is necessary to pause to reload with ball and powder. Not very helpful if you are being attacked by more than one assailant. One alternative would be to have more than one gun. Again not very comfortable for a man about town wanting to protect himself from a mugging. Much lighter would be one pistol with two barrels. Several companies began manufacturing double barrel pistols such as the one shown above made by the gunsmiths Hill of London.

Six Shot Percussion Pepper Box Revolver

Six Shot Percussion Pepper Box Revolver

If two barrels were useful, how much more useful six barrels would be. Like this one manufactured by Blunt and Syms of New York.

The pepperbox or pepper pot pistol has appeared with all the various firing mechanisms previously mentioned. The principle has always been basically the same. A solid unit consisting (in this case) of six barrels rotates around an axis. Each pull of the trigger caused the barrels to rotate through 60 degrees thus lining the next barrel up for firing. Because of the problem of weight, the barrels were usually no longer than three inches (3.5cm) long. It is easy to see from this, how the potential for reducing the size of the barrels to form chambers and putting one barrel in front of the chambers would lead to the development of the revolver.

The example shown above has a ring trigger.



An alternative to being able to shoot multiple shots from more than one barrel is to fire multiple projectiles from one barrel with one shot.

Rather than sending a single bullet to one target, the blunderbuss was designed to send multiple bullets over a given area. Its muzzle is wider than the rest of the barrel, intended to spread the shot over a given area. The early flintlock versions of the gun were very popular with guards on mail coaches and with householders for home defence.

Some of these weapons were issued to the army and the navy. It can be imagined that they would have been used by the navy in close combat, possibly to repel borders, or in boarding. It is probably for that reason, that the example above is fitted with a sprung over bayonet, as is the pair of pistols shown below.

Also note the ramrod held under the barrels for loading.

Blunderbuss Pistols with Bayonets

Blunderbuss Pistols with Bayonets

The date of this pair of pistols is from around 1820, and signed by Sherwood of London.

Ladies Muff Pistol

Ladies Muff Pistol

From the 18th century small concealable pistols for self protection, were manufactured in Europe in large numbers. The picture shows a flintlock example manufactured in 1820 from Birmingham England.

Measuring just over 4 inches (11.8cm) these lightweight guns were intended mainly for women. As they could easily be concealed in a Ladies hand warmer, they gained the name of Muff pistols.

Like many of this type of weapon it is fitted with a sliding safety catch to prevent accidental discharge.

A Palm Pistol

A Palm Pistol

A palm pistol is one of the latest weapons shown here.

Patented around 1883 the earliest was known as the Chicago Palm Pistol. This percussion weapon was able to be concealed in the palm of the hand and operated by holding the fingers over the lugs either side of the barrel and squeezing with the palm of the hand.

The photograph above is of a unique design called “The Protector” from 1891-1892 by the Minneapolis Firearms company.

According toFlaydermans Guide to Antique Guns,9th edition, these were actually built by James Duckworth of Springfield, MA. It features a 7-shot cylinder which is really more like a rotating turret.

Ring Pistol

Ring Pistol

This weapon made in the late 19th century is a rare six shot pin firing revolver. It is a silver ring that fits the finger and features a hand rotated pepperbox barrels locked by a bar catch. The ring is engraved with the words “La Petit Protector”

Duelling Pistols and “The Judas Pair”

Duelling Pistols and “The Judas Pair”

Should a “gentleman” feel that his honour had been offended, he would call on the offender to take part in a duel to remedy the offence. Formerly fought with swords, with the advent of the gun, duels would now take place with pistols. The wealthy families would be able to commission fine sets of duelling pistols which would be passed on from father to son.

The duellists would meet discretely, usually just after dawn. With them they would each have their own “seconds.” (A term which is now carried on in the boxing world.)

The duties of the seconds were several fold. Firstly they were there to try to settle the dispute verbally before the parties resorted to the duel. They were also to attend to any injuries resulting from the duel.

Another duty was that they were supposed to check that neither of the weapons contained rifling. (Grooves manufactured into the inside of the barrel to make a bullet travel more accurately.) This was supposed to be “ungentlemanly”. It has been suggested that on some occasions one of the pair may have been rifled and the other not.

It is possibly this that led to the story by Jonathan Gash called the “Judas Pair”. A pair of duelling pistols that, where one fired honestly, the other pistol had a mechanism which released the shot backwards to kill the person using it. But that’s just a story…isn’t it?

Duelling was finally banned in England in 1810.



A tschinke was a light hunting rifle used mainly for shooting birds. It takes its name from Teschen in Poland (where this type of weapon was developed) and was a popular hunting weapon among the north European nobility during the seventeenth century. The nobility were able to afford to have, beautifully, ornately inlaid decoration on their guns, like some of the examples shown below.

It can be seen that there is not a great distance between the trigger and the end of the stock. This is because the gun was not used by cradling into the shoulder. The stock was placed against the cheek. The gun itself absorbed most of the recoil.

Tschinke gun



“The Most Beautiful Gun in the World”: Louis XIII Fowling Piece

Louis XIII Fowling Piece

Louis XIII Fowling Piece
(Detail: Louis XIII initial can be seen inlaid.)

An Obituary from the New York Times, June 7 1999, by William H. Honan.

“Randolph Bullock, a curator emeritus of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art……

“As a curator, Bullock was frequently involved in acquisitions. One of the most extraordinary of these was the museum’s long effort to acquire the fowling piece of Louis XIII of France. That legendary long gun was then owned by William G. Renwick, a reclusive gun collector who kept his prizes hidden from sight in his home in Tucson, Ariz.

“The Louis XIII hunting weapon is not only considered the most elegant 17th-century long gun in existence, but it is also one of only three flintlocks known to have been made in the workshop of Pierre and Marin Le Bourgeoys of Lisieux, the gunsmiths who invented the flintlock ignition mechanism.

“Bullock was one of three Metropolitan curators beginning in the 1920s who tried to acquire the weapon, which they called “the most beautiful gun in the world,” before it could be snatched away by the Smithsonian Institution, another museum or a private collector.

“Several times it appeared that Renwick had been wooed and won, but he always backed off at the last minute. Then, after his death in 1972, his collection came up for auction at Sotheby’s in London. Bullock pounced, and an agent for the Metropolitan bid $300,000 and gained the prize.”

1 Response so far:

C. Jordan said...

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