Fine Antique Arms & Armour

Pair of Mid 18th Century Scottish Lobe Butt Pistols by John Murdoch of Doune Ref: 006.16


Price:  £18,250

Item Description:


A fine and rare pair of 25 bore all steel Scottish lobe butt pistols by John Murdoch of Doune dating to the middle period of the 18th century, presented in good original condition, with mechanical parts in good working order. These pistols are fine representations of the Doune gun making craft at its hiatus just before Scottish all steel pistol manufacture went into decline.


The size, form and style of engraving on this pair of pistols is very similar to the high quality scroll butt pistols of the mid part of the 18th century made in Doune by other key craftsmen working in the town at the time that like John Murdoch manufactured both lobe butt and scroll butt all steel pistols. This is particularly pertinent in the barrel decoration, the scrolls on the lock plates behind the cocks, and on the fore ends and undersides of the pistols. These features, combined with the evident high quality workmanship, places the date of manufacture of these pistols to the early period of lobe butt pistol production and to the early part of working life of John Murdoch.


The locks are of typical "Highland" form with a horizontal sear extending through each lock plate which holds the cock in the half cock position, and a vertical sear is present extending from the top of each trigger plate which protrudes through a small oblong aperture in the centre of the upper surface of each butt behind the barrel tang. The lock plates are each signed "IOHN : MURDOCH" with a downward pointing extension to the right hand leg of the letter "R". Both cocks and the areas behind them on the lock plates are engraved with two roundels of scrolling foliage.


The spines of the butts are inlaid with delicate silver Celtic ropework and engraved and parallel sets of lines infilled with chains of chevrons and waves. A silver oval escutcheon is inlaid inside a roundel on the spine of each, between the barrel tang and the vertical sear, engraved with the arms of Drummond. The words around the top of the oval read "MARTE ET ARTE" and the design is a crooked left arm rising from a floor that looks like a length of furled rope holding a bow in the hand of a left arm. The right arm is pulling the bowstring back and an arrow mounted in the bow is pointing upwards.


The fore ends are engraved with scrolls, acanthus leaves and linear designs on four planes. The button triggers are formed from two cups of silver brazed together and engraved with four petals which radiate from the trigger tang ends. Underneath the stocks, near each lock, the space is decorated with three silver bands engraved with chevrons and further fine linear engraving of scrolls and chevrons to the steel background.


The base of each butt is centred with a silver circular plate and surrounded by a silver ring either side of which two bands are cut formed from squares with a dot in the centre of each. Above this the butt is inlaid with five silver triangular plates which point upwards and are decorated with patterns of incised lines. Between these five silver dots are inlaid and engraved with concentric rings above which a further narrow silver band extends around each butt. The metal spaces between the patterns of silver inlay are further decorated with chiselled foliage. The belt hooks are of fully developed Doune form each attached to the stock with a double roundel pierced with designs similar to those applied to the guard panels of contemporary high quality Scottish basket hilted swords.


The four stage barrels have fluted sections near each base and flared muzzles with octagonal sides engraved with detailed scrolls. The middle sections of the barrels are rounded and boldly engraved with foliage. The overall length of each pistol extremity to extremity is just under 12 inches (just over 30.0 cm). The barrel lengths are fractionally under 7.5 inches (19cm).


It is not known when John Murdoch started work but a single record from the Scottish statistical account refers to him in 1798 and shows that he had a long working life in Doune extending from its hiatus as a gun making centre through its complete decline:


"The trade is now carried on by John Murdoch, also famous for his ingenuity in the craft and who has likewise furnished pistols to the first nobility of Europe. These pistols were sold from 4 to 24 guineas a pair ......when Mr Murdoch gives over business, the trade, in all probability, will become extinct."


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