Artifact of the Day

1997.02

Puffer (wheel-lock holster pistol) for the mounted guards of Elector Christian I of Saxony (r. 1586-91)

Saxony, Germany (dated 1588)

Full-length near straight walnut stock, carved with a textured surface and covered with a thin layer of parchment, pressed to resemble natural staghorn, & stained black-brown. This parchment covering is absent from the underside area of the barrel and around the lock.

Large ball butt & ramrod slot. Horn fore-end cap, rectangular inlays, all engraved with foliation & stained. There is a repair to the interior of the stock near the muzzle, executed with reinforcing buckram patching.

Butt has horn plaque of combined Saxon arms & archmarshallship of the Empire. Original wood ramrod with horn cap & blued steel terminal, threaded for tools.

Blued steel barrel of 15 mm bore (.59 caliber) in 2 stages, circular section from slightly swamped muzzle, to mid-length, then octagonal to breech, stages set off by a low raised molding. Facets decoratively stamped and engraved at ends & marked as noted in "marks." There are no sights. Barrel fastened to stock by pair of wooden pins & screw that passes through fore-end of trigger guard into tang. There are deep hammermarks on the muzzle face, possibly the result of efforts to extract a bullet from the bore. A shallow transverse recess across the barrel just forward of the faceted section suggests a former configuration with a cross-strap here. A mandala-shaped section has been ground and/or filed out of the barrel at the breech to accommodate the lock mechanism, but an additional section has been gouged out adjoining this, apparently by the action of the wheel axle and chain. The violence of the damage here makes one wonder about the functionality of the piece.

Flat, polygonal lockplate, cusped at end. Plate blue steel with fine, scratched line following perimeter. Wheel cover similarly decorated. Lock has pivoted safety, pan-cover with release-button, & large, flat cock. Straight, circular-section trigger in horn-inlaid slot, with deep u-shaped trigger guard of half-round steel stock. The fit of the lock in the stock is a bit off, especially at the cusp toward the butt. The fit of the trigger guard is also off. Both of these features may suggest alteration, possibly during the working life of the piece. The finish on the interior surfaces of the lock is quite varied, possibly suggesting repairs and/or replacements.

There are pronounced longitudinal striations on the barrel; the non-exposed surfaces have some transverse striations, and the marks of a vise can be seen on the hidden surface of the barrel at the breech.

There could be something odd going on with the barrel, which interferes with the lock mechanism, and has the unexplained transverse recess; both suggest the possibility of association.