From a near-perfect American military design icon made by the Singer Sewing Machine Company in Illinois to a superlative pair of classic English flintlock duelling pistols in London, the very best pistols of their kind always seem to find a following. Not that such things always turn up where you expect them – witness the wonderful pair of English carriage pistols with bayonets at James D Julia in Maine.
Huge multi-catalogue sales such as those held by Julia or Rock Island do demonstrate how much bigger the market is in the US, but the equally impressive range of lots offered by Hermann Historica in Munich or the more select London sales show that Europe still has much to offer including a core of discerning but faithful buyers.
It is not unusual to see fine-quality cased pistols taking high prices in the London salerooms, but the pair of silver-mounted duelling pistols which reached £50,000 at the Thomas Del Mar (24% buyer’s premium) sale on December 6 was exceptional, even by the standards of their illustrious maker John Manton.
The finest London pistols tend to display a restrained and functional beauty, but this pair was applied with extensive silver mounts and is thought to have been made for the Second Marquess of Hertford, once of the early collectors in the Wallace Collection dynasty. Having passed through a number of private collections during the 20th century, these pistols are now in new hands.
These Manton pistols were not the only presentation-quality pair in the sale. From the other side of the English Channel came a fine pair of 30-bore flintlocks by the pre-eminent Paris maker of his day, Nicolas-Noel Boutet of Versailles.
Dating from c.1800, they embodied the opulent restraint of Paris fashion in that period. The mounts were of burnished steel, while the barrels were discreetly inlaid with a myriad of tiny gold stars. In a case, perhaps not original, with accessories they sold to a European museum for £22,000.
Completeness and originality were very much the attraction of a cased pepperbox revolver by William and John Rigby of Dublin which rounded off the sale with a price of £24,000.
Still remarkably crisp and retaining much of the original blued finish, this six-shot weapon dating from 1855 was complete in its original case with all accessories, including a brass charging plate and a spare barrel.
It was first seen in the London salerooms in 1964 when Rigbys themselves sold it at Christie’s and the cataloguer speculated: “There is a possibility that this pistol has never left the gunmakers’ hands…”
Dating from only about six years later but already recognisable as the form of revolver that we know today, a fine cased Beaumont Adams five-shot percussion revolver was another of the stand-out lots of the day.
This pistol was engraved over much of its surface with unusually fine flower and scrollwork and the reason for this extra elaboration was to be found on the escutcheon on the case.
An engraved A beneath a coronet indicated that it was made for one of Queen Victoria’s sons. The recipient could have been either Alfred or Arthur, but Alfred seems the more likely candidate given his age. By 1858 he was already a midshipman in the Royal Navy.
The revolver sold to a US dealer for £14,000.