Thing from the Vault: Double Barreled Percussion Pistol

Today, we have another mystery pistol, this one from the collection of Your Humble Blogger. Like all guns it comes with a story: it was a “broken gun” that was offered for sale by an Afghan villager, and it then inspired an intelligence operation that ran for some months.

It is of perceptibly higher quality than most of its contemporaries from Darra Adam Khel and other local forges, but neither the fit, the engraving nor, especially, the checkering, resemble the 19th Century British over/under pistols on which it is modeled.

Double barrel firearms offered the 19th Century combatant, or sportsman, the prospect of a second shot without having to depend on what was not yet called the New York Reload. As a result, double-barreled percussion and pinfire pistols are common, until they are eclipsed by all sizes of revolvers.

There is a trap in the grip, presumably for holding percussion caps. Its spring is broken or absent.

It is engraved with some gibberish along the top rib, possibly in an alphabet of some kind completely unknown to us. Or perhaps they are numbers,  (apologies for photo quality, and for the fact we can’t tell which side is up).

There is worn-off inscription on a silver disc on the grip. (Apologies again for poor focus).


As mentioned, it is broken and in poor condition. Some rich bluing remains. The springs are still strong and the hammers still move, but one has lost its spur, and neither sets the trigger.

There is one trigger for each lock. At least, that was the smith’s intention — neither one works properly now.

Some metal nubs near the muzzle and a partial ramrod slot underneath the pistol suggest that, at one time, this firearm featured an articulated ramrod.

Here’s the other side:

Caliber is measured at about .52-.54″ (roughly 13 mm) by caliper. There are traces of quite fast right-hand-twist rifling visible in the lower barrel, in the right light.

The grip is noticeably cruder than the rest of the gun, so it may be a replacement. But as mentioned above, the metal parts do not have the fit associated with European and American gunsmiths of this era.

It’s always interesting to speculate about the provenance and history of firearms. Our Afghan seller claimed that this pistol was “very old” and had hung on pegs on the wall of their family’s cob house “since the time of Abdurrahman Shah,” but then, Afghans do say stuff and everybody’s family, everywhere, has legends and tall tales in it.

But along with the tale told here, this pistol played a part in one story that can’t be told — not yet, and possibly not ever. So perhaps it’s a good thing that guns are mere objects, and can’t talk.

15 thoughts on “Thing from the Vault: Double Barreled Percussion Pistol

  1. jim h

    now *that* was a tease of a story, Hog. it is interesting how guns develop a story. certainly there’s usually a more interesting one than say, the old china cabinet sitting in the corner.

    thanks for sharing.

  2. Ray

    That is a “fake antique” manufactured in Pak-E-stan or india . The “Script” on top of the weapon is a fairly common attempt by local gunsmiths to “fake” western alphabets and is commonly seen on Indian and Paki firearms from the “Kyber pass” (spell?) regions. It is made up of old shotgun parts and whatever, with a sandalwood grip. Probably from the 1960’s or 70’s as there was a fad running at the time for fake “Indian” weapons used for decoration. I had one for a long time that my brother gave me along with a fake Tullwar around 1976. That’s just a “Kyber pass” fake of a 19th century Britt “howda pistol”. If it could talk it would say YOU GOT ROOKED!

    1. Aesop

      Au contraire.

      It looks like exactly the thing to take to some inner city gun buyback, where there’s real cash money on offer – to spend on something nicer, and functional.

      With a bit of work in the shop, you could probably even turn out a matched pair, wooden case optional.

      Hey, wait a minute…where did you get a pair of Ho Chi Minh sandals?!
      I made ’em myself. G’night Sarge.

    2. Mike_C

      >attempt by local gunsmiths to “fake” western alphabets
      Good to know that sort of thing is not limited to east Asia then. I have a collection of T-shirts with, for example, the Adidas logo and the word “Abibas” and the Playboy bunny logo with the caption PLAVBOY and so forth. However, I do not (yet) possess a bottle of fake Johnny Walker whiskey with the coveted “Red Labial” label.

      In one sense yes. But then again, there are so many Leica (camera) fakes (usually made from Russian known copies as the base camera) that there’s a subgenre of fake-Leica collectors. No reason why someone couldn’t deliberately amass a collection of fake antique guns, I suppose. (Curiously many of these fake-Leicas have Luftwaffe markings. But it’s not clear how many fake Leicas were the personal camera of Hermann Goering. A distinction that would surely endear it to most any collector.)

      *** But what about the intelligence operation, dammit? ***

      1. Hognose Post author

        Guys in 3rd Group enjoy collecting things like Super Bowl Championship t-shirts of the team that lost. The NFL prints both shirts before the game and afterward, the losers’ get donated and takes a yuuuuuge tax deduction.

  3. Sixgunner

    That’s finer “checkering” than on the mahogany gripped Willys steering column barreled pistol in my own collection. Interesting to see the imitation of the diamonds in general layout, but executed via a fine saw instead of the correct checkering tool. Whether mid-19th or 20th century is irrelevant, it is a fascinating piece of backwoods (back mountain?) gunsmithery.

  4. archy

    It is engraved with some gibberish along the top rib, possibly in an alphabet of some kind completely unknown to us. Or perhaps they are numbers, (apologies for photo quality, and for the fact we can’t tell which side is up).

    Pretty hard to tell from the pics, but maybe an offshoot of Nepalese Sanskrit नेपाल or one of the regional derivitives or antecedent Prakrit Indo-Aryan dialects, प्राकृत prākṛta, Shauraseni, Magadhi, or the half-Magadhi Ardhamagadhi Prakrit. The piece probably does not predate the British incursions into Nepal and the surrounding area that date back to around the 1816 flintlock era, and some of the British military arms just after that period and the early percussion cap ignition followon were fitted with the sort of articulated ramrod you mentioned; the weapons of the Navy’s Marines in particular, for whom the loss of the rod overboard turned a firelock into an overlong club.

    I’m no expert in either the languages [illiterate in Sanskrit and Gurung Nepali] or the weaponry of the era and region, but if so, the engraving may be more akin to a trademark or stylized family name than ‘a manufacturer’s marking. And if it’s a lawyer’s product liability warning [firelock may be discharged with ramrod in bore!] we’re in deep trouble.

  5. nick

    Judging from the butcher paper, I’d say it may have come from the Winter Hill gang of South Boston.
    Hard to get “Rooked” when spending the Guberment’s money.

  6. raven

    Did you happen to see any real antique British arms over there? Martini’s, swords, etc? Given the long British history and several disastrous campaigns, they must have left a lot of stuff behind.

  7. TRX

    > articulated ramrod

    That caught my eye, not having seen such a thing before. Interestingly, Google sayeth bupkis, other than a link back here… but I did find a couple mentions of “captive ramrod”, but no pictures.

    1. archy

      Right here you go. I couldn’t get the pic to load from my laptop cache, so here’s a google link to an example of a single-barrelled version by Clark of London from around the same period. It or a cousin could even have served as the prototype for Hognose’s camel killer copy.

  8. Joe

    Her’s hoping that one day the classification rules allow the story to be told. With a teaser like that, it just has to be a good story.

  9. JHP

    If you had only been a SEAL we could have had the book already. Provided the PR guy hadn’t done a news briefing 24 hours post-op.

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