Peter Finer

A German (Saxon) Small Wheel-lock Holster Pistol Made for a Boy, Almost Certainly a Young Noble of the Electoral Court, with Fruitwood Stock Inlaid with Engraved Staghorn and the Lock with Fire-Gilt Brass Mounts, c. 1600

Item Ref: 2266 Price on application

2266 3
2266 5
2266 10

Germany, Dresden. Iron, gilt-brass, fruitwood and staghorn.


The former armouries of the Prince Electors of Saxony, Dresden
The Antique Firearms Collection of Arthur G. Cummer, Michigan (1873-1943), Sotheby & Co., London, part IV, 12th October 1970, lot 77, sold £ 7,500
Private collection, USA

Peter Hawkins, Antique Guns & Pistols, Woodbridge 1973, p. 14, with reference to the exceptional quality and fine condition of this pistol; reference is also made to the price for which it sold in 1970, , lot 77, sold £ 7,500 an exceptional figure at that time

The decorative treatments and high quality finish of the barrel and the lock are each typical of Dresden workmanship at the turn of the 17th century, a period in which the lavish patronage of the Electoral court had ensured Dresden gun-makers a level of distinction within the German lands paralleled only by the Munich makers to the Dukes of Bavaria. Equally distinctive of Dresden work is the imaginative and finely detailed inlay of the stock, a design so densely packed as to almost prevent a view of the natural wood, but remaining sufficiently balanced as to allow the rich colour of the wood to project the white of the inlay. In common with many of the surviving early firearms from Dresden this pistol is preserved in very fine untouched condition, a feature also indicative of its original placement within the former Electoral armouries there.

Comparable full-sized pistols and guns made for the Electors, their courtiers and elite retainers are now preserved in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden; the museum, however, no longer possesses any wheel-lock firearms from the original Electoral armouries made for the children of the court and barely a handful from the 17th century in general are known to have ever come to the international art market.

Of these very few, we have been recently privileged to handle the sale of two Dresden wheel-lock pistols made for a boy, coming to us as single pistols but in fact forming the only extant pair from this period. Dating from the latter years of the 16th century these pistols parallel this present example in many respects, their features in common suggesting closely related Dresden workmanship, a point we made in citing the present pistol from the Cummer collection. The present pistol is therefore the third, and almost certainly the last, small pistol from this highly distinctive school of gun-making that is known to survive.  

Of uniform small proportions in keeping with this pistol’s intended use by a boy or young adolescent. The barrel formed in three stages, the forward section rounded and lightly swamped at the muzzle, the median transitioning from round to octagonal by a pattern of angular ribs diverging from a band of circles recessed at their rear, and the breech section also octagonal, cut with a beaded linear band at its head and terminating in a raised moulded band over its base. With flat lock-plate fitted with domed gilt-brass wheel-cover engraved with a pair of female Herms, the pan engraved over its outer wall with a demon mask and fitted with engraved sliding cover with gilt-brass release, engraved pivot safety-catch with engraved and gilt baluster-shaped bridle, and the dog decorated in the form of a snarling monster’s head issuant from the mouth of a cornucopia, and with its top-jaw extending to a spirally fluted gilt-brass finial. The interior of the lock unusually fitted with a steel bridle entirely enclosing the wheel and its linked joint with the mainspring. With fruitwood full stock profusely inlaid over its entire length with a contrasting pattern of finely engraved white staghorn. The pattern formed as a ground of ball-flower tendrils spiralling on larger flower-heads, involving hounds in pursuit of hares, a pair of human grotesque masks over the spine of the grip, a squirrel beneath the lock and a pair of grotesque lions’ profile masks opposite the lock. With horn rollwerk plaques inset about the barrel tang and over the length of the ramrod channel. The whole inlaid scheme arranged within leafy horn border panels and both plain and cabled segmental lines, and the pommel inlaid with a repeating pattern of formalised foliage capped by a horn demonic lion mask boss. With iron trigger-guard, engraved horn ramrod-pipe, engraved horn fore-end cap and original ramrod with horn cap engraved en suite.

Size: Length 33 cm / 13 in