STRANGE ANCIENT WEAPONS - PALM PISTOL
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)
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.
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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
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
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
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
The date of this pair of pistols is from around 1820, and signed by Sherwood of London.
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 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.