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College Hill Arsenal :: Firearms :: Handguns :: Engraved Scottish Revival Pistol by Ancell & Salmond

Engraved Scottish Revival Pistol by Ancell & Salmond
Engraved Scottish Revival Pistol by Ancell & Salmond 

The Scottish “Highland” pistol is one of the most recognizable silhouettes of all historical handguns. While the form most often associated with the Scottish Highlander is the all steel flintlock design with a flat, rams horn butt, secured to the Scotsman by a belt hook, and often profusely engraved, it was only one of the variations of the traditional Scottish pistol. This form of pistol was romanticized by the works of Sir Walter Scott during the first quarter of the 19th century, when his novels like Rob Roy (set just prior to the Jacobite uprising of 1715), and Waverly (set during the second Jacobite uprising of 1745) and actually helped to create a wave of Scottish revival during the 1830s, bringing an otherwise antiquated form of pistol back into production. As Scottish firearms expert Claude Blair noted, “the romantic picture of Scotland, first painted by Sir Walter Scott in his poems and novels, has been responsible for many misconceptions about the country and its people. The popular idea that all Scotsmen before the middle of the 18th century habitually wore the tartan kilt and plaid, and went daily armed with claymore, dirk, target and pistols, is totally incorrect.”

However, the all metal Scottish pistol is a traditional form that is almost completely unique to Scottish use, although English gunmakers, particularly in Birmingham, produced plenty of them during the middle of the 18th century. The form originated from the “Fish Tail” butt snaphaunce pistols that first appeared in Scotland during the last decade of the 1500s. The snaphaunce had a relatively simple lock with a lateral sear, but was a significant improvement over earlier ignition systems like the matchlock and wheellock. The final improvement for flint and steel ignition would be the flintlock that would supersede the snaphaunce in most of England and Europe by the middle to latter part of the 1600s. The Scottish snaphaunce pistol had a slab-sided butt that terminated in three lobes, that looked very much like a fish tail; thus, the collector term for these guns. One of the downsides of the snaphaunce lock was that most of the actions did not include a half cock position. The flintlock, with its one-piece steel (frizzen) and pan cover offered the half cock on the tumbler was making strong inroads in England and Europe by the first quarter of the 1600s. In Scotland, the “Scottish Lock”, which would become the heart of the classic Highland pistol appeared sometime around 1670, with the earliest documentable example dated 1678. This lock utilized the flintlock battery, but retained the lateral sear of the earlier snaphaunce. The sear, however, was improved with a hooked extension that passed through the face of the lock, forward of the hammer, allowing for a half-cock position where the hammer body rested against the exposed sear tip. This form of lock would see use in most of the classic Scottish pattern pistols produced in Scotland and Birmingham during the latter part of the 17th century through the end of the 18th century and would be reborn to see service again during the Scottish revival during the first half of the 19th century. Unlike the great English gunmaking centers in Birmingham and London, no such centralized area of major firearms production ever developed in Scotland. The earliest Scottish makers (c1500s) appear to have been confined to the largest towns in the lowlands like Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, and it was not until at least a century later that makers started to appear in towns closer to the Highlands regions like Doune. As Blair notes, “At no time does there appear to have been anything more than a handful of gunmakers working in any one place, including the major towns, and the organisation of the craft was analogous to that of the makers of the Kentucky rifle in its golden age, as were probably the methods of production.” It is quite probable that the rather limited number of makers, and the somewhat isolated nature of Scotland during the 16th and first part of the 17th century might explain why the craftsmen held so tightly to traditional patterns and designs that were somewhat archaic when compared to the work of most of the English gun makers by the end of the 1600s. The Scottish firearms industry was certainly adversely affected by the two Jacobite rebellions during the first half of the 1700s. While the first in 1715 may well have been a boon to the industry initially, the heavy handed English response certainly put a damper on production. However, the Proscription Act of 1746, passed after the failed Jacobite uprising of 1745 and the English “pacification” of the Scots (much akin to American “pacification” of the Native Americans) put a final nail in the coffin of any widespread Scottish firearms production. The Proscription Act of 1746 banned the carrying of arms by regular citizens, in particular ownership of firearms for the average Scotsman was all but abolished. While the Proscription Act of 1746 would eventually be repealed almost four decades later, in 1782, it all but wiped out most of the small Scottish gunmakers. The few remaining plied their trade primarily making pistols for use by the Scottish Highland regiments and various government and law enforcement officials who were still allowed the own and carry firearms.

The Royal Highland Regiment was the only English infantry regiment of the period that actually issued pistols to the rank and file. In most British infantry regiments only the officers carried pistols, and often not on their persons but in pommel holsters or even their saddle bags. However, the Royal Highland Regiment authorized pistols for all the troops. These were invariably of the classic Scottish form and of all metal construction with a “Scottish Lock”, a ball trigger (without a triggerguard) and a belt hook. Two primary forms of the pistol were produced. The most classic was the all steel pistol with the recurved “rams horn” butt motif that usually included a vent pick in the center of the butt. These guns appear to have been primarily produced by the surviving Scottish pistol making families like the Murdoch, Christies, Caddells and Campbells, all based in Doune. While the guns made for the rank and file were invariably only lightly engraved or decorated at best, the guns were workman like arms made to decent standards, though not as good as the finest work from London or Birmingham. However, when a rich or powerful client, or an officer in the Royal Highland Regiment ordered a set of pistols from these makers, very fine work could be done. One of the best examples of the high-grade work of Scottish gunsmith John Murdoch are the pair of Scottish officer’s pistols on display at the Hancock-Clarke House as part of the collection of the Lexington Historical Society. These pistols belonged to Major John Pitcairn who had lead the Royal Marines during their ill-fated sortie to Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. The pistols were in Pitcairn’s saddle bags, and when the column lost their baggage and some of their horses, the guns were captured. They were subsequently carried by Patriot General Israel Putnam, whose descendants would eventually donate them to the Lexington Historical Society. There are some who believe that the first shot fired during America’s war for independence was by Major Pitcairn with one of those pistols. These pistols are very high grade and expertly engraved, but they were the exception and not the rule for the typical Highland regimental pistol. While the all steel Scottish made guns were of reasonable quality, by the mid-1700s a newer, cheaper form of Highland pistol was being produced for the Royal Highland Regiment in Birmingham. The first was a cheaply made version of the steel pistols which was most made by Isaac Bissell. The second type was made of “gun metal”, essentially a bronze alloy with only the lock and barrels of iron or steel. They retained the classic “Scottish Lock”, but had a simpler butt form, with the curving ram’s horns being replaced by a more lobe like, kidney shaped but. Like typical Scottish pistols the ubiquitous belt hook was retained. These cheaply made guns were produced by John Waters. Bissell and Waters were the only two official Board of Ordnance contractors to produce “Scottish Pistols” during the latter part of the 1700s, and it was these cheaply made Birmingham guns by Bissell and Waters that were the primary pistols in the hands of the Royal Highland Regiments when they stepped ashore in America to fight the colonists that were in rebellion. The most famous is certainly the 42nd Infantry of Foot, also known as the Black Watch, had been in North America before, serving during the French & Indian War at the Battle of Carillon (aka First Battle of Ticonderoga), as well as the Second Battle of Ticonderoga. They had also seen service in the West Indies during the Seven Years War, fighting in Havana, Martinique and Guadeloupe. They were returned to the American colonies again between 1758 and 1767, and saw combat during Pontiac’s Rebellion. During the American Revolution, they fought several major actions during 1776, including Long Island (August), the Battle of Harlem Heights (September), and the Battle of Fort Washington (November). During 1777, they saw action at Piscataway (February), Brandywine (September), and Germantown (October). They also fought at Monmouth in June of 1778 and participated in Lord Cornwallis’ siege of Charleston during 1780. There is no doubt that many of the cheaply made Birmingham Scottish pattern pistols of Isaac Bissel and John Waters were witness to many of these events. Although the enlisted men of the regiment were ordered to stop carrying pistols and broadswords during the 1776 campaigns, author, collector and historian George Neumann notes that reports indicate that many of the men retained both their pistols and claymores for use in the later campaigns against the colonists. Examples of Scottish pistols from the Revolutionary War are depicted on pages 244-246 of Neumann’s seminal book Battle Weapons of the American Revolution. Other Highland Regiments to see service during the American Revolution included the 71st Regiment of Foot (Frasers Highlanders), the 82nd Regiment of Foot, the 83rd Regiment of Foot (Royal Glasgow Volunteers) and the 84th Regiment of Foot – the Royal Highland Emigrants. The use of the pistol by the rank and file of the Highland Regiments was officially ended in 1795, and from that point on, the guns were limited to carry by officers. With this order, the era of the Scottish regimental pistol, came to an end, for all intents and purposes, at least for the rank and file. Officers, however, continued to carry their traditional pistols well into the mid-19th century. This fact, and the wave of Scottish revivalism that occurred during the first quarter of the 19th century, spawned by Sir Walter Scott’s writings, caused a brief renaissance in Scottish pistol production. The manufacture of the classic steel pistol with ram’s horn butts was revived, in typically in a very artistic style. The majority of the guns produced from the 1820s to the 1850s are derisively referred to by Blair as “costume pistols”, and with equal disdain he refers to the tendency for the guns to be elaborately engraved as “Victorian Scottish rococo.” Despite Mr. Blair’s opinions, the Scottish pistols produced during their brief revival period are some of the most attractive and finely made of the steel pistols ever produced. Even though the flintlock handguns were as anachronistic as the Claymore (sword) in the period when percussion ignition pistols and the new-fangled revolvers were all the rage, many Highland officers went off to stations around the British Empire with traditional Scottish pistols hung from their belts or sashes. Some, no doubt, even made it to the shores of the Black Sea to see service during the Crimean War.

Offered here is a VERY FINE to NEAR EXCELLENT condition example of a Scottish Highland Revival Pistol, produced circa 1848-1852 by Ancell & Salmond of Perth (Scotland). Robert Ancell had entered the gun making trade around 1820, working on St. John Street in Perth. His products no doubt featured a wide range of firearms, but the fact that he began working at the beginning of the Scottish Revival period no doubt suggests that traditional Scottish pistols became an important part of his product line. In 1837, he moved his business to 44 George Street and in 1848 he partnered with Salmond (first name not shown in any directory), working as Ancell and Salmond for four years, until 1852. The following year his business was acquired by the firm of Paton & Walsh. In 1843 Edward Patton had begun listing himself as a gunmaker at the same 44 George Street address, suggesting that Paton was an apprentice under Ancell, and with the retirement (or death) of Ancell, arranged to take over the entire business and premises with the help of his new partner Walsh.

The pistol is of all metal construction, with the frame, barrel and lock all of steel. The octagon to round to octagon barrel measures 5”, with baluster turned rings at the transitions, and is nominally .40 caliber, about 72-Bore in the English system. The overall length of the pistol is approximately 8 ¾”. The lock of the pistol is nominally 5” in length and is engraved ANCELL & SALMOND / PERTH forward of the cock, under the pan. Although the lock has the appearance of a traditional “Scottish Lock” lock, there is no exposed lateral sear tip that extends through the lock plate at half cock and full cock. The lock has a rounded, unbridled iron pan with a tall fence. The frizzen spring has the expected simple bulbous final at its end, rather that the trefoil finial typical of the 18th century pistols, and retains most of its original bright fire-blued finish. The front of the flat-topped, coffin-shaped frizzen is lightly engraved with geometric lines. The cock is of flat, beveled swan neck form and is engraved with tight decorative foliate sprays en-suite with the balance of the gun. The lock is lightly engraved with delicate foliate sprays at its rear, and with delicate feathers along it upper, leading edge. The pistol remains in its original flintlock configuration and even the top jaw and screw appear to be original to the cock. The lock is in FINE mechanical condition and operates correctly on all positions. The lock has a bright steel patina that shows some very minor surface oxidation and lightly scattered pinpricking on its surfaces. The original ball shaped trigger is in place and functions correctly. The trigger itself is decorated with a cut-glass finial that is roughly pineapple shaped, which is secured to the threaded trigger pin with a handmade nut that has been lightly engraved with a pattern of geometric lines that are found elsewhere on the pistols. The trigger pin is brightly blued like many of the small parts of the gun and retains about 50% faded and dulled blue. The barrel has a 1.5” octagonal breech section which terminates in a group of baluster turned rings, transitions to a 2 ¼” round barrel section that also terminates in a group of baluster turned rings and makes a final transition to a 1” long (including the rings) dodecagonal (12-sided) section at the muzzle. As noted the barrel is approximately .40 caliber and is smooth bore. The top of the rear most octagonal section is engraved in a single line: Makers to H.R.H. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. It was not uncommon for mid-19th century English gunmakers that had ever sold even a single firearm to the prince to mark their guns as if they were his primary supplier of firearms. The rearmost octagonal section of the barrel is engraved with well executed, stylized Celtic knot motifs, while the dodecagonal section at the muzzle is engraved with geometric lines that appear to represent mountains (the highlands?) on some of the flats, interspersed with geometric variants of stylized Celtic knots and arrow fletchings. The barrel was originally brightly blued, and strong traces of the blue remain in protected areas, particularly in the recesses of the baluster turned rings, and on the lower angled flats at the muzzle. As much as 10%-20% of the original blue remains, but is mostly faded and thinned and almost entirely worn off the round section of the barrel, except for the protected crevices along the line where the barrel meets the stock’s forend. The barrel is secured to the metal stock with a single screw to the rear of the breech and single screw on the bottom of the forend. The smooth bore is in about FINE condition and remains mostly bright and quite smooth along its entire length, with some scattered oxidized surface crust and light pitting present here and there. The typical belt hook is attached to the reverse of the pistol and measure 3 3/8” in overall length, including the mounting section to its rear, with the length of the actual hook itself being 2 ½”. The hook secured by a single screw. The belt hook was brightly blued, with either a fire or nitre finish, and retains about 50% of that original finish, which has faded and worn from contact, use and handling. The steel stock has a bright, silvery patina that is very attractive. The stock has the classic, stylized ram’s horn butt, with thin, gracefully curving lobes that point to the vent pick in the center of the butt. The vent pick is brightly blued, like many of the small parts, and retains most of its finish. The pick has a round, cut glass finial tip that is of the same type and style as the trigger finial. The majority of the frame and grip are artfully engraved with tight foliate scrolls with geometric lines providing a shaded background. The engraving covers at least 90% of these areas. The sides of the forend repeat the geometric mountain patterns found on the muzzle area of the pistol, with foliate sprays underneath. A blank oval section on the gripstrap provides an escutcheon-like location to engrave the owner’s initials or coat of arms, but this area has been left blank. The engraving makes this pistol a real work of art, and despite Blair’s condescending “Victorian Scottish rococo” commentary, I find it extremely attractive and well executed. The the original button head steel ramrod is in place under the barrel, secured by a rolled steel pipe, with the end extending into a hole in the frame. The pipe is engraved with geometric motifs as found on the balance of the gun. The rod itself retains about 30%+ of its original blued finish, with raised, two knurled rings on the shaft, knurling around the edge of the button head and a delicately engraved flower on the face of the button itself.

Overall this is an exquisitely decorated, extremely high condition, Scottish Revival Highland Pistol, that was produced circa 1850 for a very well to due customer, either a Scottish lord or a Scottish Highland officer. The pistol is really stunning in person and the photographs do not do it credit. Due to the very short time that Ancell & Salmond were in business, we can accurately date this pistol to a very short period of time during the end of the Scottish Revival era, right before the outbreak of the Crimean War. It is quite possible that this pistol was witness to the Siege of Sevastopol or battle of Balaclava, tucked into the belt of a Highland officer. The pistol remains 100% complete and correct in every way and is a really outstanding mid-Victorian era work of art. While Blair may dismiss such Scottish arms as “costume pistols”, the reality is that it is simply a highly-embellished example of the gunmaker’s craft, no different than an equally highly engraved and decorated Colt revolver of the following decades; I am quite sure that no one would call a Nimschke engraved Colt Navy a “costume pistol”. I am equally sure that you will be extremely pleased to display this pistol with your other fine English handguns and will enjoy owning it as much as I have enjoyed offering it for sale.

Details
 
SKU FHG-1977
Quantity in stock 1 item(s) available
Weight 5.00 lbs
Price: $6950.00

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