Tell me more! Prior to Colt, was there any civilian market for side arms? (Excluding Derringer.)

Joined
Nov 1, 2018
So now that you have rather irresponsibly gotten me hooked on the Allen and Thurber Pepperbox :playfull: , I'd like to know what they typically sell for (100% original, mechanically perfect function, NRA Antique condition = Very Good to Fine). Sounds like they are quite common...like sand on a beach...will I see many at a major Civil War gun show (e.g. Baltimore, Franklin)?
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
So now that you have rather irresponsibly gotten me hooked on the Allen and Thurber Pepperbox :playfull: , I'd like to know what they typically sell for (100% original, mechanically perfect function, NRA Antique condition = Very Good to Fine). Sounds like they are quite common...like sand on a beach...will I see many at a major Civil War gun show (e.g. Baltimore, Franklin)?

I'm no expert on the market, I've only ever purchased one myself, although I've come across others.

Mine is a six-barrel .31 caliber (I believe earlier in this thread I made a typo and wrote .36), which was one of the more common variants. It bears the 1845 patent date and is marked "Allen & Thurber" and "Worcester". It still has the engraving and the cone shield but has a smoother cylinder than the early models (which tend to have more "segmented" barrels). From this info I'd estimate production date between the late 1840s to mid 1850s. In my non-expert opinion I would describe my gun as "fair" condition. The action still works fine and there's not any critical rust or pitting, but it's definitely seen the passage of time. I haven't checked the cones yet to see if they're worn enough to still shoot caps or not ... that's one issue you can run into with these. It's currently back stateside so I'll have to wait until I can ship it to myself before I can take another good look. It cost me around $550 if I remember right, and I would say that's a reasonable deal for the piece I got.

The rarest variant would be the .36 caliber "Dragoon" model. These command prices well above $1000 even in rough condition, at least in my experience. Most common you will see are the .31 and .32 calibers. If you find variants without the engraving and cone shield, and a smooth cylinder, you're probably looking at a later one (i.e. 1850s onward). Please be aware that although they're often called "Allen and Thurbers" (and I've used that term often on this forum), those aren't always the markings you'll find on them. Depending on when in Allen's career they were produced, you can find other markings like "Allen and Thurber and Co" and "Allen and Wheelock".

If you can find one at an affordable price I would definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Winant's book that I mentioned earlier. It's always good to do a bit of homework before buying. The book provides a decent introductory look at pepperbox pistols and has a whole chapter dedicated specifically to ones made by Allen, so you can at least get an idea of the different models that were made back then, how the company and patent markings changed as time went on, etc.
 

johan_steele

Regimental Armorer
Retired Moderator
Joined
Feb 20, 2005
Location
South of the North 40
I'm no expert on the market, I've only ever purchased one myself, although I've come across others.

Mine is a six-barrel .31 caliber (I believe earlier in this thread I made a typo and wrote .36), which was one of the more common variants. It bears the 1845 patent date and is marked "Allen & Thurber" and "Worcester". It still has the engraving and the cone shield but has a smoother cylinder than the early models (which tend to have more "segmented" barrels). From this info I'd estimate production date between the late 1840s to mid 1850s. In my non-expert opinion I would describe my gun as "fair" condition. The action still works fine and there's not any critical rust or pitting, but it's definitely seen the passage of time. I haven't checked the cones yet to see if they're worn enough to still shoot caps or not ... that's one issue you can run into with these. It's currently back stateside so I'll have to wait until I can ship it to myself before I can take another good look. It cost me around $550 if I remember right, and I would say that's a reasonable deal for the piece I got.

The rarest variant would be the .36 caliber "Dragoon" model. These command prices well above $1000 even in rough condition, at least in my experience. Most common you will see are the .31 and .32 calibers. If you find variants without the engraving and cone shield, and a smooth cylinder, you're probably looking at a later one (i.e. 1850s onward). Please be aware that although they're often called "Allen and Thurbers" (and I've used that term often on this forum), those aren't always the markings you'll find on them. Depending on when in Allen's career they were produced, you can find other markings like "Allen and Thurber and Co" and "Allen and Wheelock".

If you can find one at an affordable price I would definitely recommend you pick up a copy of Winant's book that I mentioned earlier. It's always good to do a bit of homework before buying. The book provides a decent introductory look at pepperbox pistols and has a whole chapter dedicated specifically to ones made by Allen, so you can at least get an idea of the different models that were made back then, how the company and patent markings changed as time went on, etc.
It isn't uncommon to find a pepperbox in the $500-1000 range depending on model and condition. And they aren't that uncommon on the net either. IIRC the last one I saw was on Dennis Fulmers website for the $600 range but I'm pretty sure it's gone now.
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
It isn't uncommon to find a pepperbox in the $500-1000 range depending on model and condition. And they aren't that uncommon on the net either. IIRC the last one I saw was on Dennis Fulmers website for the $600 range but I'm pretty sure it's gone now.
Yah, it really sounds like that design got around.
 

SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021
It also might be worth remembering that pepperboxes weren't just made by Allen, but by other American gunmakers as well as those in Europe. There are many different styles, calibers, etc. that you can find on the collector market. Winant's book gives an idea of just how much variety there was in these types of handguns back in the mid-1800s. So who knows, you might start with Allen's and then expand out into a whole new world of pepperboxes from New-England to Russia. It certainly happened with me :wink:

I know that Sharps (the guy who did the famous rifles) came up with his own pepperbox handguns using rimfire cartridges and a rotating firing pin (rather than revolving barrels)...
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_Sharps#The_Sharps_&_Hankins_4-Shot_Pepperbox_Pistols
 

Greshamian

Private
Joined
May 13, 2020
Location
Scotland
Like this.
Sharps (2).JPG
 

RobertH

Private
Joined
Jan 25, 2019
The videos were excellent...thanks for posting! The only problem is that now I really want to own a pepperbox...heavy sigh........

Yes, you can find them for 500 - 1,000, but you can also pay less if you take your time. It takes consistently watching auction sites. A lot of the listings for $1,000 and up Pepperboxes just never sell. I have 7 or 8 Pepperboxes and the most I ever paid was 600, and it came with a period holster.. I would watch eBay and Gunbrokers.com. You'll eventually find an auction and it will go up to it's true value. Sometimes I'll even contact the seller and very diplomatically tell them they're overpriced for todays market. That's worked a couple of times.
 

RobertH

Private
Joined
Jan 25, 2019
You mind me asking if they're all Allen's, or do you have some by other manufacturers?

All Allen's, except for one Christian Sharps 4-barrel. My two favorites are one with a hand made holster, and a rare "Shotgun Hammer" Allen Pepperbox. Only about 300 of the Shotgun Hammer were made. I'm guessing nobody liked the hammer snagging on everything when you tried to pull it from your bag or coat pocket.

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SeaTurtle

Private
Joined
Jun 14, 2021

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
Not much to add... But do recall that the United States early on was very much a blade culture. Dueling was frequent. Single-shot pistols could be used for duels, and eventually the sword went by the wayside in favor of huge fighting knives.

Travel in the 19th century led to reliance on armed guards or escorts, and a sort of 'golden age' for firepower made portable in the form of simple "boot pistols" and belt pistols, and also for blunderbusses.

Multi-shot weapons covered mostly in this thread also gained in popularity, since after all, the earlier alternative was to carry something like several loaded pistols in a brace or some other cumbrous arms.
 
Joined
Oct 24, 2019
Location
Texas
Not much to add... But do recall that the United States early on was very much a blade culture. Dueling was frequent. Single-shot pistols could be used for duels, and eventually the sword went by the wayside in favor of huge fighting knives.

Travel in the 19th century led to reliance on armed guards or escorts, and a sort of 'golden age' for firepower made portable in the form of simple "boot pistols" and belt pistols, and also for blunderbusses.

Multi-shot weapons covered mostly in this thread also gained in popularity, since after all, the earlier alternative was to carry something like several loaded pistols in a brace or some other cumbrous arms.
Very true, paging Jim Bowie.
 

FedericoFCavada

First Sergeant
Joined
Jan 27, 2015
Location
San Antonio, Texas
Very true, paging Jim Bowie.
Ok then, I'll do something similar, eh? As you know, James Bowie/ Santiago Buy, he of the fearsome knife-fighting reputation after the hideous "Sand Bar Fight" in which the "seconds" of two gentlemen having a duel turned into a grisly brawl--knife-and-pistol-fight, but Bowie survived, albeit stabbed repeatedly and shot... When he immigrated to San Antonio de Bexar, he married his business-partner's lovely 19-year old daughter, Maria Ursula de Veramendi. Unfortunately, while he was ill in Natchez on a business trip in 1833, the second world-wide cholera morbus pandemic came to Texas and northern Mexico. It carried off his in-laws and his recent bride.

Turns out, that a Quaker abolitionist named Benjamin Lundy travelled in Texas precisely during 1833. He had some rather fanciful ideas that perhaps freed slaves could be resettled in Texas. During his trip, he is treating himself for cholera with laudanum and camphor, and every place he goes, people importune him to help treat one or another loved one stricken with the cholera... From his account:
page 40: "Learning ... that some wagons are to start in that direction [toward Bexar] in a few days from a point on the Colorado, twenty-five miles distant from this town [San Felipe de Austin], I concluded to proceed to that point to-morrow. There being no house on the way, and the country being a prairie destitute of shade, except for a small distance, I prepared to encamp out for one night, by providing myself with a pocket pistol and some ammunition. ... When night came on, I laid down on the grass by the road-side, my knapsack serving for a pillow, and my small think cloak for sheets and counterpane, while my hat, my staff, and my pistol smartly charged, lay at arm's length from my person. ...But owing to the attacks of numerous musquitoes, the apprehension of visits from more formidable, though not more ferocious enemies, such as panthers, alligators and rattlesnakes, and the pains of fatigue, resulting from exposure to the hot sun during the day, the very idea, even, of sleep, almost forsook me. ... [p. 43] I took leave of my kind entertainers [6 Indian men, three Indian women, and a Mexican man], went on my way for a few miles, and then laid down to rest under a shady tree. In a short time, two mexicans, armed with swords and guns, passed by. They pointed first to me, then back to the Indians' camp, and hurried on their way. ... As I approached them, one who could speak a little english addressed me with the words: "You no carabina?" (Have you no gun?) Knowing that my pistol would not bear that title, I shook my head. ...[p. 45, going from Gonzalez to Bexar] ... At 2 P.M. we started again, the two armed Mexicans, before named, having joined us, so that our party amounted to seven, all Mexicans, and all strongly armed except myself. ...[p51] ... Not a man ventures into his field, or to a distance of a quarter of a mile to procure wood, without taking his gun along with him. It looks strange to see a man or a boy with a musket on his shoulder, riving an ox-cart. "
 
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