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This is most obviously true with the finest French and other continental European presentation cases, which were always intended for display rather than aggression, and frequently show little or no sign of use.

However, in an age when a gentleman was almost obliged to own a good quality pair of pistols against the day when he might be expected to defend his honour, if he most sensibly avoided this outcome then fine London pistols can still be found in almost unfired condition.

These will always command a premium, especially when accompanied by a good selection of original accessories.

One step below the duelling or officer’s pistols come the generally more compact weapons that a gentleman might use to defend himself against more ungentlemanly attacks on his person from robbers and ruffians. These too can be of high quality and little used.

At a time when misfires were not uncommon, a pair of pistols could be a lifesaving combination and a pair of double-barrelled pistols offered even better odds.

Multi-shot weapons and rare mechanisms offer further enticements for collectors today.

In each case a buyer will weigh the original quality and complexity against its current condition, taking into account the eminence of the maker and any historical associations that might make a difference to value.

Recent sales have turned up good examples in all these categories and a selection is illustrated here.

“An age when a gentleman was obliged to own a pair of pistols against the day when he might be expected to defend his honour