Two different pistols with very different stories sold at provincial auctions in the UK in October.
One was a silver-mounted Daghestani miquelet lock pistol,
c.1850 - highly decorative and damascened in gold and silver with
an Arabic inscription on the barrel. This translates as:
The day of Genghis Khan has come upon the enemy, Apologise to me,
O enemy, For I have fire in my mouth! Remember I have no mercy on
But some of its appeal relates to a framed handwritten note
describing the weapon and adding: Belonged to Robert Browning to
whom it was bequeathed by his friend Ernest Benzon. Presented by
Florence L. Barclay.
Pamela Neville Sington of the Browning Society describes Benzon as
a rather enigmatic figure. A German-born steel magnate, his
elaborate parties at 10 Kensington Palace Gardens in London from
1862 to 1873 drew guests such as Felix Mendelssohn and George
Eliot. Robert Browning and his son Pen were also Benzon's guests at
his estate at Loch Tummel in Perthshire.
"In 1889 Benzon's dissolute grandson, also called Ernest,
described what happened to the family fortune in his book, How I
Lost £250,000 in Two Years.
As for Florence L. Barclay (1862-1920), she was the Barbara
Cartland of her time. Daughter and wife of a clergyman, and
dedicated mother of eight children, Florence was a very successful
novelist, writing largely about the benefits of a sin-free life and
the joys of wedded bliss. She was a great admirer of the Brownings
and in May 1913 she attended Sotheby, Wilkinson & Hodge's
six-day auction of the Browning collection, making a number of
purchases, including a writing table, Browning's wife, Elizabeth's
favourite chair and this pistol.
Gorringes thought it might make £3000-4000 at auction and they
weren't too far wrong. In Lewes on October 23 it sold at £4300
(plus 17.5 per cent buyer's premium).
The other item was a pepperbox pistol is by Edwin Beard Budding
(1795-1846). The mill machinery engineer from Stroud is perhaps
best known as the inventor of the lawn mower in 1830, but it was
not his only moment of brilliance. Among his other inventions were
the screw-adjustable spanner (it was not patented), a machine for
cutting vegetables (1840) and this very early pepperbox.
His pistol, designed some time between 1825 and 1830, was
revolutionary for its five .30" calibre rotating barrels and a
concealed percussion firing mechanism. Interestingly, these
revolvers were produced well before a patent for a similar design
was taken out in America in 1836. Probably less than 50 were made
but one came to light at Nigel Ward & Co. of Pontrilas,
Hereford on October 27.
The pistol - a so-called second model - was in exceptional
condition and sold complete with its original green baize-lined
walnut case, a blued metal turn-key for removing the rotating
barrels, a cleaning rod and a wad-cutting punch. Inside the lid is
a label giving full directions for use, printed locally at the time
by J.P. Brisley, Stroudwater.
The auctioneers thought it might make anything from £1000 to
£4000. In the end it took £5000 (plus 10 per cent premium).
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