An excellent original pair of British flint lock officer’s pistols with a very special feature – THEY ARE .80 CALIBER ( 9 bore/gauge) and were built for a member of the British Nobility. The silver wrist escutcheons on each of these truly rare, possibly unique, pistols bears a Ducal Coronet featuring a shore bird ( crane, swan, stork, egret, etc.) which appears to be eating a frog. The pistols were produced by ‘G. Goodwin & Co., London, 1807-1818, whose factory was in Birmingham. They are high quality officer’s pistols in the style popular at that time with full stocks, 8” barrels, and steel mountings. Goodwin & Company was associated with the British Ordnance Department producing flint lock pistols and guns. They were also suppliers of gun flints and are well listed in arms makers books.
Upon examining such an unusual pair of pistols one has to wonder why a British Duke would have them built to his order. The term ‘Howdah Pistols’ may have been coined in the 19th century or is possibly a more recent collector’s label for handguns, both muzzle loading and breech loading, of exceptionally large bore. Pistols of this genre were intended as an emergency defensive weapon when hunting tigers and other big cats in India and the great majority were built during the Victorian era. Sahibs and Maharajas hunted tigers while riding in ‘Howdahs’ strapped upon the backs of elephants, retainers would drive the tiger to them. Sometimes a Sahib would wound a tiger who would then turn about in a rage and climb the side of the elephant to get at his/her tormentor. In these situations the hunter would try to save himself by firing the most powerful pistol he could hold into the tiger before it could bite his head off. The heyday of the ‘Howdah Pistol’ occurred during the percussion and early cartridge period – 1835-1910 – corresponding with the increase of British presence for business and/or pleasure on the Indian subcontinent.
Flintlock examples of ‘Howdah Pistols’ are true rarities. Large and dangerous game hunting during the flintlock period in the wild regions of North America and India would have been limited to British East India Company people who might unexpectedly meet tigers, etc. and Hudson’s Bay Company personnel operating in the Rocky Mountains and Northwest who might confront grizzly bears and their like (African safaris would be a thing of the future). In reality not many in either trading company would have had the need for a handgun which upon firing would be pretty punishing at both ends. However it is well known that both the British East India and Hudson’s Bay Companies appointed executives and sought patronage from the ranks of British nobility while members of the nobility sought adventure and added prestige from association with those organizations. It is expected a British Duke heading to the wilds of North America or jungles of India – having some knowledge of where he was going – would commission a pair of the most powerful pistols he could imagine and not be adverse to putting himself in a spot where he might need them.
This handsome pair of mega-pistols though in excellent condition do show signs of real use showing some shooting wear on their frizzens and light erosion in their priming pans. The locks are engraved ‘G.GOODWIN & Co.”, snd the barrels are engraved “LONDON”. Their twist-iron barrels retain over 90% period brown finish with some slight fading. The touch holes have platinum bushings and the breeches have platinum bands.The locks retain most of their faded casehardening with excellent function. The steel hardware retains over 90% fire blued finish with some light aging. The fine walnut stocks are excellent with sharp checkering and contours and retain nearly all their original surface and finish with some light handling marks. The pistols retain their original ramrods, one with ‘worm’, the other with threaded end for cleaning attachments. These pistols have been very well cared for during their period of use and thereafter.
This rare and most impressive pair of pistols must have a very interesting history. Given the original owner’s Ducal Coronet atop the pistol’s wrists and knowledge the pistols were built between 1807 and 1817 it should be very possible for one skilled in the study of British heraldry to identify who carried these pistols….or for a collector to get help in this. This excellent and intriguing pair of pistols, found in an American estate, and new to the collector’s market, would stand out in a private or public collection.
Dimensions: overall length 13 1/2”, barrels 8”, bores .80 caliber – 9 gauge
Manufacturer: G. Goodwin & Company
Barrel Length: 8
Metal Condition: excellent
Wood Condition: excellent
Manufacture Date: 1807 – 1817