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May 9, 2023

The Palm Pistol: Antique Concealed Carry

By Joe Engesser

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Taking the concept of the handgun to its most literal extreme, French inventor Jacques Edmond Turbiaux came up with the palm pistol in 1882. Intended for concealed self-defense, the Le Protector palm pistol and its successors and competitors were offered in numerous variations, finishes, grips, calibers, and even presentation styles that make them an appealing genre for today's antique arms collectors.

An exceptional cased, exhibition quality, gold plated Ames Sword Co. Chicago Fire Arms Co. Protector palm pistol with rare etched pearl panels.

Rock Island Auction Company offers some of the finest known Protector palm pistols ever manufactured, as well as numerous palm pistols produced by competing manufacturers of the era. Click on the images throughout this article to learn more about each item.

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What is a Palm Pistol?

Palm guns, or “squeeze pistols,” are a small type of double action revolver with a barrel that fits between two fingers, typically the pointer and middle finger. To fire, the gun is clasped in the fist, with the shooter’s palm squeezing against a hinged lever at the rear of the pistol. Clenching the hand compresses the lever, rotates the cylinder, and triggeres off the shot.

Excellent Chicago Firearms Protector palm pistol with pearl scales and a scarce original factory picture box.

Palm pistols used small cartridges that were placed in internal chambers arranged around a horizontally rotating disk, like spokes on a wheel. This design was somewhat similar to vertical turret revolvers like the 1837 Cochran and 1851 Porter models that were developed to circumvent Samuel Colt’s patent. The palm pistol’s side plate twisted off with a quarter turn, allowing the cylinder to be removed and reloaded.

An extremely rare, factory engraved, C.B. Allen Cochran patent under hammer percussion turret revolver serial number "60," one of less than 150 manufactured in the late 1830s.

The palm pistol was small and light, comparable to the size of a pocket watch, and its lack of an external hammer or a traditional trigger meant it could be fired from the pocket without obstruction. Advertised as compact, safe, and reliable, the palm pistol was the ultimate concealed carry weapon of its day.

The palm pistol was fired with a grip-squeezed operating handle.

The Turbiaux Patent Palm Pistol

The idea of the pocket pistol had existed since the compact flintlock box lock actions of the 18th century and short-barreled versions of popular revolvers like the Colt SAA "Sheriff's" Model.” In the mid-19th century, small hideaway vest pocket guns like the derringer were in hot demand, and French armorer Jacques Edmond Turbiaux saw an opportunity to bring something new to the table.

A pair of Moore's Patent gilt derringer pistols inscribed to General Abner Doubleday, one of numerous concealable firearm designs that found a market in the mid-18th century.

Jacques Turbiaux first patented his palm pistol concept in France, Germany, Belgium, England, and Italy, then filed a U.S. patent in March of 1883. The first variation of the Turbiaux palm pistol was produced in Paris as “Le Protector.” Turbiaux described his invention as “A revolver which may be held in the hand with no part exposed except the barrel.”

Jacques Edmond Turbiaux considered his palm pistol to be a “revolver without stock or handle.” Today, examples of this unique firearm class are prized by collectors.

The Turbiaux patent palm pistol design offered seven or more shots, depending on the model. The typical derringers, pocket pistols, and cane guns of the period only had a one or two-shot capacity. And unlike many pepperbox pistols of the era, the palm pistol didn’t require manual recocking, operating effectively as a double action weapon. Finally, the palm pistol’s more accessible squeeze trigger provided a more feasible self-defense option for some physically handicapped shooters.

The pepperbox pistol, another popular option for early concealed carry. This exceptional example comes out of the Greg Lampe Collection.

The Chicago Protector Palm Pistol

In 1891, the palm pistol arrived in America, produced by James Duckworth of Springfield, Massachusetts and sold by the Minneapolis Firearms Co. as “The Protector Pocket Pistol,” or “The Chicago Protector.” In 1892, Peter H. Finnegan of the Chicago Fire Arms Company bought the patent and partnered with famous swordmaker Ames Sword Co. of Chicopee, Massachusetts.

Ames Sword Co. of Chicopee, Massachusetts, was contracted to produce these palm pistols in the 1890s for Peter Finnegan and the Chicago Fire Arms Co.

Finnegan contracted Ames Sword Co. to manufacture 15,000 palm pistols in anticipation of selling them during the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Only 1,500 were completed by the deadline, resulting in a lawsuit from Finnegan. Ames counter-sued and continued to produce the palm pistol as litigation dragged on.

This cased gold and pearl palm pistol is marked “AMES SWORD CO./CHICOPEE MASS.” on one side plate and “THE PROTECTOR/PAT. MCH. 6, 83, AUG. 29, 93” on the reverse side plate.

Peter Finnegan ultimately declared his company insolvent. Ames Sword Co. secured the patent rights to the palm pistol and continued to manufacture them into the early 20th century.

Palm Pistol Variations

Though manufactured using the same design, palm pistols sold by the Minneapolis Firearms Co. and the Chicago Firearms Company/Ames Sword Co. have several notable differences. Minneapolis Firearms Co. palm pistols are slightly smaller and are chambered for .32 Centerfire Extra Short. The palm pistols produced by Ames Sword Co. are chambered for .32 Rimfire Extra Short (also called .32 Protector) and were sometimes fitted with a trigger guard that could act as a set of brass knuckles after the pistol ran out of ammunition. The latter feature was touted in advertisements, boasting that the pistol “protects, loaded or not.”

A Chicago Firearms Co. Protector palm pistol manufactured in the 1890s, without the typical floral pattern accents on the barrel and frame. This example shows a very scarce blue finish.

The standard finish for both palm pistol designs was nickel, with a scarce blue option and an even rarer gold finish available. The grips were typically offered in hard rubber, though antique ivory and incised pearl panels are found on some examples manufacturers for high-end clientele.  

An exhibition quality, cased gold and pearl Ames Sword Co. Protector palm pistol.

Another palm pistol invented in France, the Gaulois was initially called the “Mitrailleuse” pistol, a word that had become synonymous with “machine gun” in the region by the late 19th century. They were soon re-branded as “Le Gaulois.” These five-shot, 8mm palm pistols operated on a squeeze fire action with an internal magazine. The Le Gaulois was manufactured from 1893 to 1912 and competed with similar designs like the J. Rouchouse & Co. Le Merveilleux and the Le Vainqueur.

A presentation cased factory gold inlaid Gaulois No. 1 Palm Squeezer pistol.

The “Unique” palm pistol invented by Oscar F. Mossberg and produced by the Shattuck Company of Hatfield, Massachusetts, demonstrates the relative popularity of the genre and the different approaches gun designers were taking with the palm pistol concept even into the early 20th century. Manufactured from 1901 to 1915, these four-barreled guns operated with a rotating firing pin that discharged rounds sequentially. Mossberg’s patent makes clear that his pistol was designed for pocket carry, stating, “The arm may be fired while held in the pocket, there being no parts extending beyond the frame to interfere with this operation.”

An unusual Charles S. Shattuck “Unique” palm pistol chambered in .22 short.

The Twilight of the Palm Pistol

While the palm pistol genre was somewhat popular for a time, these fascinating handguns started to fall out of favor in the 1910s due to the introduction of semi-automatic pistols, some of which were even smaller and more compact than the palm guns they replaced. Small pistols like the popular Colt Model 1903 Hammerless pistol, for example, could be reloaded faster, aimed more accurately, and chambered a more powerful cartridge than their palm pistol competitors.

One of 100 pistols custom embellished by Colt and the American Historical Society to celebrate 100 years of the Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless.

The difference in stopping power was particularly significant. The Chicago Protector palm pistols used .32 Rimfire Extra Short black powder cartridges that delivered a rather anemic charge. In ‘Ammo Encyclopedia’ by Michael Bussard, the Protector palm pistol muzzle velocity is cited at 650 feet per second, with a muzzle energy of 51 foot-pounds, less than half of the 129 foot-pounds of energy delivered by a Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless and its .32 ACP smokeless cartridge.

Development of these scarce pistols began in 1912, with Savage feeling a need to make a pistol to compete with the .25 ACP pocket automatics offered by both Colt and FN/Browning.

Innovation continued in the pocket automatic and snub nose revolver genres, ending the production of most palm pistol designs. The spirit of the concept has endured through oddities like 1944’s Sedgley Fist Gun, famously portrayed in Quentin Tarantino's ‘Inglourious Basterds,’ and New Jersey inventor Matthew Carmel’s recent Constitution Arms Palm Pistol, a single-shot, squeeze-operated firearm chambered in .38 Special that’s specifically intended for seniors and physically disabled users who struggle with arthritis and hand weakness.

A U.S. Navy Sedgley Mark Two “Fist Gun” hand firing device, also called the “Hand Firing Mechanism Mark 2.”

Palm Pistol for Sale

Despite their limited accuracy and stopping power, palm pistols enjoyed a notable production run and offer an intriguing look into the creative attempts to develop concealed firearms that could be carried as personal accessories. Today, palm guns are scarce enough to be desirable pieces for gun collectors and a great find for any history buff, and they won’t take up much shelf space.

Exceptional Chicago Firearms Co. Protector palm pistol with factory picture box.

The palm pistol’s unique shape, diminutive size, and distinctive mechanics continues to enthrall firearms fans around the world. Subscribe to the Rock Island Auction newsletter for weekly gun blogs and gun videos on gadget gun models like the pen pistol, the ring gun, and the watch gun, as well as covert pistols like the WW2 Liberator and CIA Deer gun.

A Lebeda Engineering LLC. Elgin pocket watch percussion pistol, the ultimate in Wild West concealed carry.

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