The Snaphaunce, Queen Anne, and other Antique Pistols

Once a collector or someone interested in becoming a collector gains a basic understanding of the evolution of firearms from hand cannons, to matchlock, to flintlock they are ready to begin accumulating more specific knowledge. It is now time to learn about the in between steps in gun development as well as the permeations on the famous types of antique pistols.

Antique pistols did not simply move from stage to stage leaving the older type abandoned and antiquated. Nuances were added to wheel locks and flintlocks and they varied somewhat from year to year and area to area. Below is some information on some of the variations on flintlock and wheel locks to help the collector better understand books and articles on the history and collecting of antique fire arms, as well as the jargon used by dealers.

The Snaphaunces- Amongst the rarest of surviving antique firearms. The snaphaunce was a technological improvement on the wheel lock; it had a simpler design and was more reliable.

The majority of surviving snaphaunce pistols that survive are Italian in origin, usually made around Brescia in the northern part of the country. The Italian snaphaunce pistols are recognizable by their sloping butt and round pommels. The date of manufacture is often inscribed on the inside of the locks. There is also a number of surviving Scottish made snaphaunces, but these are very rare and incredibly expensive.

Queen Anne Pistols- Despite their name Queen Anne pistols were in manufacture for far longer than the reign of Queen Anne. The English monarch’s reign lasted until 1723 but the Queen Anne pistol was made well into the 1780s. The classic signs of a flintlock pistol of the Queen Anne type are, a plain or silver wire-inlaid butt fitted with a silver cap at the end depicting a human or animal face or heraldic device.

Nearly always the lock is mounted directly onto the breech. The lock, barrel, and breech are made as one piece. It is also common to find Queen Anne pistols with a barrel that unscrews from the breech for loading. One of the first signs of an unscrewing barrel will be a lack of a ramrod. The unscrewed barrel allowed the powder and shot to be loaded directly into the breech eliminating the need for the rod.

Pocket Pistols- One of the beautiful things about wheel lock and flintlock pistols was that the mechanism could be manufactured in just about any size. Expert gun makers could produce surprisingly small pistols that could be carried hidden on person for personal defense. Pistols of this type invented the concealed weapon and are called pocket pistols.

Most pocket pistol were merely smaller versions of the larger pistol we are familiar with. However, most lacked trigger guards and were normally less ornate than their larger cousins.

The obvious problem with such a weapon would be it becoming caught on clothing when being pulled quickly from its hiding place. To alleviate this problem gun makers began placing the lock centrally above the breech.

Another problem with carrying a loaded flintlock in your pocket was accidental discharges. This potentially disastrous problem was addressed in a number of ways, many pocket pistols were constructed with two or even three safety devices. A common safety mechanism was a trigger that set flush against the butt of the weapon that had to be moved into an exposed, half-cock position. On many there was a mounted pin that fit into holes in the flash pan that would prevent the weapon from firing. Of course all of these safety mechanism had to be removed before the gun could be fired and limited the pocket pistols value as a quickly drawn and fired weapon.

Loretta Crawford is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Collectible Antiques Etc. She can be reached at Content and Solutions.

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