Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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M ELEY 26th January 2021 10:49 PM

British officer's blunderbuss pistol
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Here we have a British brass flintlock blunderbuss pistol from approximately 1770-80's. It is designed in the classic Waters patent style, with the lock situated in the middle and the spring-loaded bayonet (released by pulling the trigger guard backwards). This type extremely popular with the naval officers. The barrel is octagonal for part of its length, with minor decoration (splay of weapons, sunburst pattern to trigger guard). One might remember this type in one of the great scenes from "Pirates of the Caribbean". The bottom of the barrel has the V and P proof marks under a crown. The big question is, who is the "S. Wallace" on the side marking? A Birmingham retailer? Previous owner? The barrel's smith? The incredible workmanship of this piece, with all of its individual handmade screws and fixtures, is incredible. The horn-tipped ramrod has a brass tip that unscrews to reveal a lead projectile removing tool.

cel7 26th January 2021 11:45 PM

Probably Stephan wallis, a Birmingham gunmaker from 1807 to 1833.

M ELEY 27th January 2021 12:04 AM

A fellow from another forum long ago mentioned him. The person helping me had come to the conclusion that, although this gun dates pre-1800 based on style, design, proofs, etc, this Birmingham merchant might have re-etched and sold it after market. Or perhaps it really was made circa 1807-10. Who knows?Thanks for the reply!

corrado26 27th January 2021 09:01 AM

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Here is a second Wallis blunderbus-bajonet pistol which is very similar to the above one. Prabably made by the same gunmaker Stephen WALLIS between 1807 and 1833 working at Birmingham. As he signed "WALLIS & SONS" between 1827 and 1833, your pistol must have been made before 1827.

Jim McDougall 27th January 2021 06:02 PM

It seems most entries I find for Stephen Wallis have the lock engraved with his initial and name in script lettering, while this example is in block letters. What might be the significance there. It is also noted his shops were at Vauxhall Road in Birmingham.

Good note on the '&sons' after 1827 and until ending in 1833.

In one set of flintlock box lock pistols I see the overall sectioned style of the lock plate c.1820 has this design with the upper and lower sections having a flared end and the central (with name) simply a rectangular shape. This seems almost characteristic of the Wallis locks, at least in examples I found.

Regarding the 'Waters patent' pistols, gunmaker John Waters was granted patent #1824 on 9 Mar 1781, for this means of attaching bayonets to pistols.
The style of the pistol is the same seen here with Mark's example.
So it seems the 'style' was around since at least then , with the blunderbuss barrel and general appearance.

The earliest 'record' of Stephen Wallis 'officially' was in 1807, but this does not mean that was the earliest date he produced a pistol. He was likely apprenticed prior to that, so it would be interesting to discover more on his personal history.

With the Waters patent in 1781, and Stephen Wallis beginning 'recorded' work' in 1807, I would suggest that perhaps this is an early example with its unusual block letter name style.
The pistol style itself appears to have been in use well into the 19th century and favored by naval officers. This seems understandable with the blunderbuss barrel which seems favorable for close quarters matters as well as the bayonet for use after shot expended,

Other such 'bladed' pistols were also proposed for similar naval use, such as the curious 'Elgin cutlass pistol', though not sure if these were ever largely produced or used.

M ELEY 27th January 2021 06:13 PM

Thank you cel7, Corrado and Jim for your valuable input on this piece. I guess I was thinking pre-1800 simply for the fact of the Waters patent and my (often) mistaken belief that percussion cap/pin-fire and other mechanisms taking over into the 19th excluded continuation of the flintlock system. Fascinating to learn about this maker, his later work with his son and his location in the Birmingham district. In any case, I love this item even though I'm more of an edged weapon fan. As it undoubtedly pre-dates at least the later 1820's, it still falls in nicely with the end of Age of Fighting Sail, so it will remain in my collection. Thanks again to all!
Cap'n Mark ;)

Jim McDougall 28th January 2021 06:47 PM

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Interestingly, here is a Ryan & Watson (Birmingham) pistol with the attached bayonet. They worked 1780-84. Waters got his patent for this in 1781.
Just interesting context.
Their name is on the lock in large block letters.
Wallis did not begin working until 1807 according to official records,could he have apprenticed before that and perhaps made this pistol?

Jim McDougall 28th January 2021 08:05 PM

Looking further I found that John Waters was making this same form pistol with bayonet from the time of his patent , 9 Mar.1781. He wrote PATENT on one side of the lock, and would number each pistol,.
I found No.71; No. 397; No.595.; No.738; No.977

Waters produced 1766-1788.

#71 is silver mounted with Birmingham hallmark 'H' (1780) and CH for Birmingham silversmith Charles Freeth.
Interesting date with the patent issued in 1781.

#595 made in 1781 is interesting as it was apparently reconverted from percussion back to flintlock at some point. This would support the idea that flintlocks were favored beyond the advent of percussion due to the more viable manner of use not subject to availability of percussion caps.

#738 apparently made in 1785 is interesting as the bayonet was made by famed Birmingham sword maker Thomas Gill, and this was the heyday of his beginnings in the sword industry. In this case there is a marking of Waters Gill & Co. suggesting Gill was interested in some sort of partnership.

Jim McDougall 29th January 2021 01:19 AM

So more research in this web of intrigue, as I found some more books:
"British Military Firearms", Howard Blackmore, 1962
"English Pistols and Revolvers" , J.Nigel George, 1938

Blackmore, p.64,
" 1781 the gunmaker John Waters took out a patent for guns with folding bayonets. It was a very old idea- Deschamps published his in 1718 (Machines et Inventions Approuvees par l'Academic Royale des Sciences)- but it seems to have led to a revival in the gadgets, and in 1783, 100 carbines with a joint or folding bayonet were purchased. "
"Eight carbines with spring bayonets were also issued for a 'secret mission' in September, 1794 (W/O 46/24). "

This makes these bayonets sound all 'M' from James Bond.

George , p.66,
describes a bell mouthed brass pistol of the BOARDING PISTOL type sometimes carried by naval officers of this period (late 18thc)and intended for use in hand to hand combat. In the pistol he describes however(which is by Waters) the bayonet is released by pulling a second trigger. The author also errs in stating the year of the patent as 1776 (it was 1781).
He illustrates the pistol in Plate IX but it is not very good.
Another pistol of the type by James Daniel is shown, with bayonet atop the barrel, and dates 1800.
The Waters pistol is dated 1781 by the silver Birmingham mark for that year on the silver butt plate.

on p.95, George notes that the tactics of that time, with Rodney and Nelson , were to close with the enemy by boarding, and bringing the action to a decisive end.

Concerning Stephen Wallis,

Blackmore p.116, describes a shooting contest with the Duke of Cumberlands
Corps of Sharpshooters in August of 1803.
One of the first rifles used, believed to have been by the Great Packington Volunteers, had a hair trigger, a folding aperture rearsight and a bayonet stud under the muzzle. It had a 30" barrel and an unusual style bayonet to attach.

It would seem that our Stephen Wallis was already a quite accomplished gunsmith in 1803.

In another reference (George p.98) he shows a screw barrel pocket pistol which is strikingly similar but smaller, and much smaller bayonet, clearly a novelty. It has the Birmingham Proof Company mark, so is presumed post 1813, and the lock is marked London. There is a blank space for the name of the retailer so appears to have been for the London market, but apparently never sold.

This suggests that apparently there were 'blanks' made in some cases for retailers, so the name could be filled in.

The flared barrel seems indicative of an earlier pistol, or perhaps more to the naval use, as these other pistols barrels are straight.

I just wanted to see if S. Wallis might have earlier presence, which it seems he does, and to have been notably skilled as referenced by Mr. Blackmore, who was one of the most highly regarded authorities on British firearms.

Fernando K 29th January 2021 08:57 PM


My understanding is that the crowned P predates the official establishment of the Birmingham Test Bench in 1813. Therefore the date would be earlier than 1813


M ELEY 30th January 2021 08:09 AM

Thank you, Jim and Fernando K, for this information! I had totally forgotten about the early P/crown stamp! Fernando, you have confirmed what Jim had surmised that the block letter signature for Wallis was, in fact, an earlier mark by this maker. I'm very happy with this, as the pre-1813 date puts this naval piece into the Napoleonic/War of 1812 era! Excellent! :D

corrado26 5th March 2021 03:07 PM

Does anyone have some detailed documentation relative to the 1781 patent of the spring bayonet granted to John Waters?

Dmitry 29th May 2021 03:43 AM

The crowned P and V marks are the private Birmingham proof marks. It's a nice pistol, but I don't see it as "highly popular with naval officers" without proof (no pun intended). The example Jim posted in #7 looks more like a private purchase martial arm, a nice, beefy stock, along the lines of an officer's pistol. I suppose an officer could've bought any kind of pistol his wallet allowed, but I would imagine many of the commissioned officers relied on their ship's sea service pistols, if the need arose.

corrado26 29th May 2021 09:14 AM

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Finally a portrait of George Wallis

Raf 29th May 2021 12:16 PM

So why might Wallis choose to have himself depicted holding an extremely rare German all steel Wheelock pistol from about 1550 ?
Answer George Wallis was a celebrated Antiquary and Gunsmith who established a museum at his Mytonngate premises by 1794 displaying not only weapons but coins, ores and petrifications. The weapons included the all -steel Brunswick wheelock pistol shown in the portrait.

corrado26 29th May 2021 12:33 PM

May be he was not only a gunmaker but also a collector od historic arms?

Dmitry 29th May 2021 10:07 PM

Thank you for discovering the portrait of Wallis. Think of this, flintlock mechanism was already more than 150 years old when the portrait was painted! That wig looks like he put a dead cat on his head. How the fashions change...

M ELEY 30th May 2021 04:09 AM


Originally Posted by Dmitry (Post 263083)
That wig looks like he put a dead cat on his head. How the fashions change...

Hey, I still wear my fezziwig like that today!:D:rolleyes:

Raf 30th May 2021 12:57 PM

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At least George the elder had good taste in antiquarian arms. Here is another item from his collection ; a hunting sword supposedly belonging to Henry V111

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