Fine Antique Arms & Armour

Fine Pair of Scottish Lobe Butt Pistols by Thomas Murdoch of Doune Third Quarter 18th Century Ref: 005.16


Price:  £18,250

Item Description:


A fine and rare pair of 28 bore all steel Scottish lobe butt pistols by Thomas Murdoch of Doune dating to the third quarter of the 18th century, presented in fine 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 comparable to similarly high quality scroll butt pistols of the mid to third quarter of the 18th century made in Doune by the other key craftsmen working in the town at the time that 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 the working life of Thomas Murdoch when he worked in Doune.


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 "T" with "MURDOCH" beneath, with a downward pointing scroll 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 on the spine of each, between the barrel tang and the vertical sear, inside a roundel and is engraved with a coat of arms formed from a crooked right arm rising from a floor and holding a battle axe aloft.


The fore ends are engraved with scrolls, acanthus leaves, linear designs and chevrons on four planes. The button triggers are formed from 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 fine linear engraving of scrolls and further chevrons to the steel base. The base of each butt is covered with a silver cap engraved with scrolls similar to those on the lock plates. The belt hooks are each attached to the stock with a roundel pierced and decorated with designs similar to those found on the guard panels of contemporary 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 over 7 inches (just over 17.5 cm).


Thomas Murdoch's baptism is recorded as of 9th May 1735, son of John Murdoch and Margaret McMien in Tenemon. His marriage is recorded 18th December 1766 to Ann Buchanan in the Parish of Port of Menteith. Both events are detailed in the Kilmadock Parish Register (an administrative area recoed of births, deaths and marriages in the Doune region of Perthshire - Kilmadock burial ground where many of the Doune gun makers are interred is a short distance from Doune).


In 1774 Thomas Murdoch is recorded as "Gunsmith in Leith" and presumably moved his business to this port near Edinburgh sometime between 1766 and 1774 as demand for high quality and expensive Doune pistols started to shrink. The later pistols made by Thomas Murdoch which by style or signature (sometimes incorporating the place of work as "Leith") are less elaborate, less well finished and most certainly less expensive to produce and sell compared to the best earlier Doune pistols, most likely made so to compete with the lower quality, cheaper, plainer pistols increasingly coming on to the market at that time.


However, there was still the occasional opportunity for a quality commission in the later 18th century. According to the Scottish Statistical Account a pair of pistols were made by a T. Murdoch "a tradesman taught in Doune" for the City of Glasgow and presented to the Marquis de Bouille in 1784 (see "Scottish Arms Makers, Charles E Whitelaw page 43). Thomas is recorded as active in Leith in 1774, 1780, 1782 and finally in 1790. It seems he was succeeded in the family business by his son William first recorded in 1793.


The pistols are presented in a later wooden lockable pistol case with bullet tin containing wad patches and three bullets, a bullet mould, screwdriver and powder flask. A small envelope with a similar coat of arms to those on the pistols embossed on the flap contains a small hand written note stating:


"This pair of pistols belonged to my late uncle Peter McFarlane Esq ........ made in Doune by T Murdoch Presented to me by his Grandchildren John, Peter and Jean Syme, Children of the late John Syme of Alloa in 1842". The letter is signed "John Stewart".


Provenance: Christies sale of 20th November 1991 lot 265

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