The sale held by Italian auction house Czerny (25% buyer’s premium) in Sarzana on June 25 included two significant examples of this ongoing obsession: one dating from the early 18th century, the other from the late 19th century.
The earlier of the two was a pair of Italian Berselli/ Lorenzoni system flintlock pistols which combined the rarity of this early rapid-fire system with decorative mounts linking it to the Grand Dukes of Modena.
Pistols of this type are identified by a lever on the left side which points backwards when the weapon is ready to fire. To reload, the lever is pushed forwards with the barrel pointed at the ground. The lever rotates the circular breechblock and a ball is loaded into the chamber. As it is pulled back powder drops in behind the ball. Once the cock has been set and the pan primed and closed, the next shot can be fired.
The system did away with the need for a ramrod, but very accurate machining was essential to prevent hot gas leaking back into the powder reservoir and igniting its contents.
In this case, the magazines for both balls and powder were concealed inside the butt and accessed via a screw-off butt cap in the form of a grotesque mask.
The pistols were heavily decorated overall with motifs including the eagle and crown of the Dukes of Modena and the possibility of original ownership by Grand Duke Francesco II was a contributing factor in a government export stop being placed on the lot. Despite this possible damper on its value (and the need for considerable restoration including the repair of one broken stock), the pair sold for €36,000 (£30,770).
Elaborate decoration was also a feature of the later repeater in this sale which turned out to be a rather special example of the ‘harmonica’ pistol patented by Jarre of Paris.
These weapons were so-named because of the long rectangular magazine which does indeed resemble a mouth-organ. In the Jarre system this magazine moved horizontally across the pistol as each shot was fired.
The pistol offered in Sarzana was exceptional in being in its original leather-covered case stamped Jarre Armurier Paris along with three magazines. It was also deeply incised with leaf motifs over all surfaces, including the ebony grips, hinting at a possible exhibition or presentation intention.
Several versions of this system were issued by the Jarre company. This one was equipped with 11-shot magazines to take 9mm pinfire cartridges. Its double-action trigger system meant that the magazine was automatically moved across as each shot was fired.
Estimated at €2500-4500, it sold for €19,000 (£16,240).
Among the early firearms in the sale, the gem was an 18th century wheel-lock Tschinke or hunting rifle with a wooden stock decorated with inlaid hunting scenes surrounded by foliate scrolls in bone and mother of pearl. This sold for €20,000 (£17,095).