Peter Finer

A Pair of German Wheel-Lock Holster Pistols Bearing the Arms of Friedrich Wilhelm I, Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Administrator of the Saxon Electoral Regency, Maker’s Mark of Christoph Dressler, Dresden, dated 1596

Item Ref: 2092 Price on application

2092 0644m
2092 17
2092 54

Germany, Dresden. Wood, staghorn, steel, brass, gold.


The armoury at Schloss Hartenfels, Torgau, princely residence of the Electors of Saxony and governing seat of Friedrich Wilhelm I, Duke of Saxe-Weimar (b. 1562, r. 1573–1602), Administrator des Sächsischen Kurstaates 1591–1601
Private collection, Germany

Friedrich Wilhelm I, for whom these important pistols were made, was the second Duke of Saxe-Weimar, the duchy having been created in 1572 upon the enforced division of the Saxon Ernestine duchies by the Emperor Maximilian II, known as the Division of Erfurt. Friedrich Wilhelm I succeeded to the title in the following year. A striking full-length portrait of Friedrich Wilhelm in his decorated armour and with his baton of office was painted by Zacharias Wehme in 1597. The portrait additionally bears a painted inscription giving his full titles, including that of Duke of Saxe-Weimar, together with his coat of arms quartered as they appear on the present pistols (Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden, no. h.205). 

In September 1591 the Saxon Elector Christian I died suddenly and was succeeded by his son as Christian II, then a child and unable to reign. A regency was jointly assigned to Friedrich Wilhelm, as Administrator of the Electorate and to the Duchess Sophie (1568–1622), widow of Christian I and mother of Christian II; the regency was dissolved when Christian II came of age and succeeded to the title of Fürst, in 1601. The entire period of the Saxon regency was characterised by an Orthodox Lutheran purge of Calvinism within the ranks of Saxon notables and theologians, which commenced immediately upon the death of Christian I, driven by Sophie and enacted by Duke Friedrich Wilhelm, a zealous Lutheran. The primary victim of the religious proscriptions was Dr Nikolaus Krell, a member of the Electoral Privy Council who had been appointed Chancellor by the sympathetic Christian I in 1589. Krell had sought to gradually instate his own religious and political convictions in place of the reigning Lutheran Orthodoxy in Saxony. In January 1591 Krell had invoked the ire of the Princess Sophie by his persuasion of the Elector to forego the Lutheran rite of exorcism within the baptism of their daughter Dorothea. On the day before the Elector’s funeral seven months later, Duke Friedrich Wilhelm arrested Krell and imprisoned him in Königstein Castle, where he remained until his public execution in Dresden in October 1601.

The specifically drawn and detailed trophies of armour, instruments and weapons engraved on the locks and wheel covers of the present pistols are taken from the original designs of Hans Vredeman de Vries; the work entitled Panoplia sev armamentarium ac ornamenta cum atrium ac opificiorum tum etiam Exuuiarum Martialium, qua Spolia quoque alijs appelari con sueuere, and published by Gerard de Jode, Antwerp, in 1572. The armour alla antica engraved on the locks is a relatively unusual subject and it appears twice, together with musical instruments, within the design on the title page of the published sheets; the lances and wheel-lock pistols are included on subsequent sheets. Examples of the 1572 edition are preserved in a number of institutional collections, including the Rijksmuseum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

The engraved decoration on the locks of our pistols is related to the engraving on the locks of an important pair of Saxon wheel-lock holster pistols retained within the former Electoral Collection in Dresden (Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlung Dresden hmd.12). The engraving is additionally related to that on the lock of a Dresden wheel-lock sporting gun in the von Kienbusch Collection, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (von Kienbusch catalogue no. 634). The barrels of each of these comparable examples are also struck with the maker’s marks of Christoph Dressler, each is dated 1589, and the wheel covers on the locks are engraved with the arms of Christian I, Elector of Saxony, together with those of his wife, Princess Sophia, daughter of the Elector of Brandenburg.

The engraved horn inlay on the stocks of the present pair of pistols also compares very closely with the inlay on the stocks of the aforementioned pistols in Dresden, the personal pistols of the Elector. On the basis of the largely shared characteristics of the respective inlaid schemes, prominent among which is their propensity to closely similar bird subjects, it would seem very likely that the stocks of both pairs of pistols originated from the same Dresden workshop, perhaps that of Hans Fleischer. Christoph Dressler, or Tressler, was a maker of gun barrels and mechanical instruments in Dresden who followed his father Lorenz Dressler in this trade. From the evidence of surviving firearms he also made gun locks, and is recorded working in the years 1571–1624. He was succeeded in the business by his son, also Christoph. His brother Baltasar, who was also a gun-maker worked with Christoph in 1598 on a five-barrelled ‘carriage gun’, a gun mounted on a wheeled carriage, for Duke Johann Friedrich of Pomerania. In 1587 Dressler made a hunting rifle for Duke Wilhelm V of Brunswick, and in subsequent years he experimented further with unusual and multi-shot systems; the Dresden archives record ‘Two treble [barrelled] carriage guns’ made by him; and in 1603 the archives record Dressler having forged a barrel to fire star-shaped bullets. Christoph Dressler was a highly regarded figure, as evidenced by his appointments as Gun-maker to the court of Christian II and Administrator of the Royal Gun Apartment. He was also a prolific maker; further examples of his work include a magnificent two-shot wheel-lock rifle with superimposed-load barrel made in 1604 and stocked by Hans Fleischer, which is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle (no. l.347). A wheel-lock rifle in the Wallace Collection (no. a.1088), which is struck with Dressler’s marks and dated 1611, is the more notable within the context of this brief appreciation in that in this case, the larger surface area of the stock is inlaid with a superb replication of the trophy designs of Hans Vredeman de Vries. Within the former Saxon Electoral armouries, now the Rüstkammer, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, there are seven pairs of wheel-lock pistols and two single over-and-under wheel-lock pistols all bearing Dressler’s marks. He also made a number of wheel-lock pistols, or puffers, for the Saxon Electoral guard. 

The barrels are formed in three stages, with swamped muzzles, each cut over its median stage with a pattern of three flutes tapering acutely to join at their base a band of three corresponding recessed circles. The breech sections are framed at both ends by chiselled beaded bands enclosing further bands of small decorative marks, with the date 1596 cut in minuscules, each struck twice with the shield-shaped maker’s mark of Christoph Dressler (Neue Støckel 259), and each struck on the underside of the breech with the barrelmaker’s mark I b (Neue Støckel 3206/3213). The locks are finished bright, each with engraved guilloche borders and decorated over the greater part of their surface with engraved trophies of war, inspired by the original designs of Hans Vredeman de Vries published in 1572, involving armour alla antica, instruments of martial music and a variety of weapons including wheel-lock pistols. They are fitted with gilt-brass wheel covers, each engraved with differing trophies of war en suite with the lock-plates, and strips of engraved brass, one restored, cover the paths of the closing pan covers, the latter each having a button release faced by a gilt-brass lion mask cast in relief, and with sliding safety catches and dog-spring bridles each also of gilt-brass. The fruitwood full stocks are inlaid over their length with a profusion of engraved staghorn plaques on fields of interlaced scrolling tendrils, the latter carrying both ball flowers and conventional flowers. Each has a predominance of birds throughout, including a swan and a heron opposite the lock and an owl forward of the trigger, a demon mask together with a pair of profile grotesque masks about the barrel tang, differing human masks at the rear of each of the ramrod channels, the latter each enclosed by an elongated plaque engraved with strapwork panels of flowers, and the entire inlaid scheme arranged within engraved horn cabled lines and slender panels of border ornament. The ball pommels are decorated en suite with the stocks, each on an engraved silver collar and each inset with a silver roundel engraved with the quartered arms of the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar. They are fitted with gilt-brass trigger guards, engraved horn ramrod pipes and fore-end caps, and original wooden ramrods with engraved horn tips; the ramrod pipe, fore-end cap, small border plaques and the tip of the ramrod of one pistol are engraved by a different hand, in the Dresden fashion, and certainly within the original period of use.

Size: Overall length 63.5 cm / 25⅜ in, Barrel length 41 cm / 16⅛ in