Peter Finer

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A Pair of All-Metal Flintlock Scottish Highland Dress Pistols by John Christie, Tower Private Proof Marks, c. 1820

Item Ref: 2255 Price on application

2255 3
2255 4
2255 15

England, Tower of London. Steel, gold, copper.


Formerly part of the Mackay Collection and were sold at Christie’s, London, on July 27, 1939, lot 24
The W. Graham Lewis Collection, formerly on loan to the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, 1971-2001

John Christie is recorded working in the Small Gun Office in the Tower of London from 1794-1830. The decoration on these pistols compares with that on a silver-stocked pistol made by Christie for George III; see Guy Francis Laking, The Armoury of Windsor Castle, European section, London 1904, pp. 1-2, case A, no. 1, pl.1 

Throughout the greater part of the 19th century a pair of pistols was an essential part of the full Highland Dress costume worn on gala occasions and at high society Highland balls or Reels, all of which were rooted in the romantic Great Highland Revival begun by George IV.  While taking as their inspiration the true Scottish Highland all-metal pistols of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, the pistols used as an accessory to a would-be Highland gentleman’s elaborate costume were invariably made in England, such as in the present instance. These pistols were, however, extremely well made, technically superior in fact to the originals and all fully functioning. 

With bright steel barrels cut with fluted breeches, flared octagonal muzzles and engraved with bands of symmetrical scrollwork on a contrasting matted ground. Locks signed Christie, decorated en suite, the cocks chiselled in low relief, and the top jaws of the cocks and the steels each also engraved to match the barrels and the locks. Tower private proof marks on the barrels. Gilt-copper stocks chiselled over their full lengths with elaborate patterns of delicate scrolling foliage, including false side-plates each involving a neo-classical martial trophy, demon mask pommels cast and chased in relief, and gilt-copper trigger-guards and ramrod-pipes, the former chiselled with further trophies-of-war. Each retaining its original turned moulded steel ramrod and much original finish.

Size: Length (1) 28.3 cm / 11.2 in, (2) 28 cm / 11 in