September 15, 2022
By Kurt Allemeier
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You don’t see Han Solo’s blaster every day, but it was sold this year at Rock Island Auction. The same goes for an amazing pair of Remington revolvers owned by Ulysses S. Grant, or last year’s sale of John Wayne’s revolver and Alexander Hamilton’s pistols.
You also don’t run across a vampire killing kit or a jailer’s percussion pistol very often either, but both items and other weird weapons like a duckfoot pistol, a percussion knife pistol, and Roakuoh-Sha Type 89 aerial gunnery trainer are among the weird guns and curiosa offered at Rock Island Auction Company.
Curious, rare, and weird guns are found in every Rock Island Auction event, including blade guns, cane guns, pen guns, and even book guns like the example below. The first 112 pages of the book are normal, and the remainder are glued together to form a solid body around the metal case for the pistol. Hopefully, it would only be needed once as a small explosion going off within a paper book and a muzzle flash right next to paper seems like a recipe for a fire akin to that time Aaron Burr lit himself on fire trying to light a candle with his flintlock.
It looks like a gun — if you watch old Buck Rodgers or Flash Gordon serials, but really it’s a camera used for training Japanese airplane gunners in World War II. The Roakuah-Sha (or Rokuoh-Sha) Type 89 was made by Konishoruko — that later became Konica — and mounted in airplanes to train gunners.
Lot 4579 is a Japanese Roakuah-Sha Type 89 Aerial Gunnery trainer that was a camera that allowed trainers to review the film of trainees firing to point out their failings. It could be mounted inside a plane or on a wing.
When the trigger was pulled, the camera began taking 18x24mm photos, showing where the “gun” was firing. Reviewing the film gave trainers the opportunity to point out failings on where to aim and lead time to improve accuracy. An optical stopwatch went into the yellow tube atop the mechanism and was recorded onto the film via a prism.
The gun/camera could be mounted inside or outside of an airplane. Mounted inside, it was controlled by the gunner, but when mounted outside it was controlled remotely by cables. Offered as Lot 4579, the Roakuah-Sha Type 89 is matte black and includes a ring mount, six film canisters, cord, and an extra set of detachable sights. A similar version is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum collection.
A jailer has to be ready for trouble, so for a time, they carried keys that also served as guns. They were often fairly primitive, requiring a cigarette or cigar be touched to the flashpoint in order to fire them. That didn’t make them very practical in times of trouble or discord with prisoners.
Used between the 17th and 19th centuries, these key/gun hybrids were often made by lock makers and had flintlock or percussion firing mechanisms. They were also offered to armories and banks. Lot 2261 has a 2 1/2 inch barrel with a bronze finish offering firepower that easily hid in plain sight.
Lot 2261: This jailer key pistol could be filled with gunpowder and a cigarette or cigar touched to the flashpoint to fire it. These type of guns while also serving as keys could have flintlocks attached to them, too.
John Blissett was a gunmaker and jeweler in London in the 19th Century with patents for an air gun walking stick and loading lever for a revolver to his name. As a gun maker, with a royal appointment to the Duke of Sussex, it only makes sense that he’d make a knife pistol since they enjoyed some popularity in mid-Victorian England before breech-loading guns or Samuel Colt’s revolvers that offered a higher rate of fire came into vogue.
The United States Navy developed a .54 caliber single shot smooth bore pistol with an 11 1/2 inch bowie knife blade in 1938, well after such weapons peaked in popularity. The Navy had modeled it after an Elgin “cutlass pistol,” that was patented in 1837 by George Elgin. Lot 2260 doesn’t offer Bowie knife-like length, but has a blade matching the 4-inch long gun barrel.
Hybrid weapons made sense before repeating firearms came into popularity. The Sporting and Collector Auction also offers a French boarding axe/flintlock pistol as Lot 199. Sweden and Germany employed these with their navies.
Before repeating firearms, the only way to increase the rate of fire was to add barrels to your gun that fired singularly or all at once. The more barrels, the more the gun weighed, so that was an important consideration.
Consider this, a four-barrel gun with its barrels splayed out in the form of a duck’s foot — hence the name. A single gun, with one shot might not hit its target, but with a four-barrel duckfoot gun, the chances of hitting a target are four times greater. A volley gun, the duckfoot was best for use in a crowd or in a confined space where it would achieve its greatest effect.
The widest barrels tend to be at about a 60 degrees angle. To make it work, the breech plate was broadened. The barrels would be detached for loading the ball, gun powder and wadding. Powder would go into a central pan and then the gun was shaken to distribute the powder toward each barrel’s chamber so that when fired, the sparks would ignite the powder and send flame down each cylinder to fire the ball.
A prototype doesn’t make something a weird gun, but it does make it unique. LeMat revolvers, designed by Jean Alexandre LeMat, had a nine-chamber cylinder like this carbine. As muskets were waning and repeaters were on the horizon, revolving long guns were finding their way to market, like the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company “Paterson” First Model Ring Lever revolving rifle, and the Colt New Model revolving rifle.
This prototype, Lot 2182, has a .52 caliber rifled upper barrel and a .38 caliber lower barrel compared to the carbines produced for the confederacy that were chambered in .44 caliber for the nine-shot cylinder and 20-gauge for the lower barrel. It is unmarked and a possibly one-of-a-kind weapon.
Based off the LeMat revolver, this unmarked carbine, Lot 2182, could hold nine shots in its cylinder.
LeMat revolvers were used by a number of Confederate generals, and approximately 200 of their revolving carbines of various calibers were made for the Confederate army and given serial numbers. The Confederate government eventually rejected the LeMat carbines because of the price.
Vampires, real, right? A kit for killing vampires featuring a percussion pistol might be about as weird as it gets, especially when you start looking at their contents — a crucifix, silver bullets, a wooden stake, brimstone, garlic powder, and holy water, all housed in a wooden box.
Vampire Killing Kits like Lot 2269 include an "efficient pistol with its usual accoutrements."
Supposedly, these kits, created by Ernst Blomberg were acquired by people headed to Eastern Europe in the mid-1800s, and "Ripley’s Believe It or Not," that claims to have the largest collection of Vampire Killing Kits, promotes that idea. The kits follow a consistent list of tools, with “an efficient pistol with its usual accoutrements” always at the top of the list. A label states that “Professor Blomberg wishes to announce his grateful thanks to that well known gunmaker of Liege, Nicholas Plomdeur whose help in the compiling of this special items, the silver bullets etc., has been most efficient."
The "efficient pistol in the Vampire Killing Kit of Lot 4235 is a cross-shaped underhammer pistol.
These kits, Lots 2269 and 4235, were assembled in the 20th century using a mix of original, antique, modified and modern components. They became popular likely following the rise of England’s Hammer Studios. Its gothic horror films of the 1950s featured actors like Peter Cushing, who played Victor Frankenstein six times, and Christopher Lee who portrayed Count Dracula seven times.
A variation of the vampire killing kit is Professor Blomberg’s Assassin Kit, Lot 2262, that includes a small dagger, a blowpipe, one poison dart, a vial of Professor Blomberg’s five-second paralyzing serum, and vials of arsenic, belladonna, and hemlock though the true contents of the vials are unknown.
Professor Blomberg's Assassin Kit in Lot 2262 is a variation on the Vampire Killing Kits.
The assassin kit is for use against “anarchists, traitors, and anti-religious zealots.”
Talk about a weird gun! One Vampire Killing Kit on offer, Lot 200, is slightly different, offering a Lebeda Engineering LLC percussion ring gun, and a cane tipped with iron and a hand grasp that serves as the case for four glass vials, a copper cross, and two “silver bullets.”
Lot 200 is a slightly different Vampire Killing Kit that features a percussion ring gun encased in the hand grasp of a cane that can be used against vampires.
The Trap Gun, also called “chicken thief” guns, were the high-tech security system of their day. Though weird guns to our modern eyes, these rare historic pistols were typically mounted on a base and camouflaged from plain view, then rigged with tripwire. Legal through the mid-1800s in much of the United States, trap guns were also used with bait as a hunting tool, but probably the most infamous example of their deployment was in fending off grave robbers. Cemetery guns, as some trap gun variations came to be known, were one of many creative solutions used against the rising threat of corpse thieves seeking to exhume newly buried bodies and sell them to doctors and universities for medical research.
This weird gun type was rigged so that intruders would hit the tripwire, swinging the pistol toward them and touching off a charge of buckshot or a blank intended to scare them off and alert anyone nearby.
Patented in 1856, this Savage & North black powder revolver is as distinct as it is rare. Its name stems from the figure 8 shape made by the cocking lever and trigger guard. Using the operator’s middle finger, the ring-style cocking lever is pulled after each successive shot to advance the six-shot cylinder, automatically cocking the hammer.
As crime grew in cities prior to the Civil War, E. Remington & Sons found a dandy way to slyly arm the fine gentleman of the 19th-century, by introducing these unique and weird guns. The firing mechanism in the single-shot cane gun was hidden within the cane, typically firing a .31 caliber ball using black powder ignited by a percussion cap. The lead ball fired down a short, rifled, iron barrel within the shaft of the cane before moving through a smooth brass tube. The cane gun's muzzle could be plugged with a piece of cork for walking and to prevent a potentially disastrous barrel blockage.
The single-shot capping breechloading rifles and carbines manufactured by Westley Richards were dubbed the “Monkey Tail” due to the lift up lever that was hinged to the rear of the barrel used to open and close the breech, thought to resemble a simian’s tail. A similar carbine design was offered in America by A.H. Waters of Millbury, Massachusetts, as pictured below.
Far from today's conservation-minded hunters, turn-of-the-century market hunters often used the punt gun - a mega fowler designed to take down ducks and geese on a massive scale. A punt gun is essentially an enormous shotgun that was mounted to the front of a shallow draft duck boat called a punt, hence the name of the weapon. Being custom firearms, the first punt guns were fairly crude compared to some later examples, usually hand-built muzzleloaders designed to spray hundreds of pellets over a wide area. Out of all the weird guns designed for the sporting arms pursuit, the punt gun might be the strangest.
The first Smith and Wesson handgun was not a revolver, it was the Volcanic pistol, a lever-action design with a self-contained cartridge that would serve as the blueprint for the Henry rifle and a generation of Winchester rifles to follow. “(The Volcanic) used a lead bullet with the base hollowed out,” firearms historian Jim Supica explains. “Powder was packed into the bottom and you bought the bullets pre-loaded. The problem was, the amount of powder loaded was not great and so the Volcanic fired a low-power round.”
Talk about a weird gun design! The Gyrojet pistol uses a 13mm solid fuel rocket in place of a standard cartridge. As the rocket does not need a solid chamber or extractor equipment, the entire pistol can be greatly simplified and made from lightweight materials. Their unconventional design, low muzzle velocity, poor performance, unreliable ignition, and high cost of ammo (around $3 each) proved too much for the company to bear. They folded in 1969.
Weird guns with weird ammo. A product of the 1960s, the Mark I Gyrojet uses a 13mm solid fuel rocket in place of a standard cartridge. As the rocket does not need a solid chamber or extractor equipment, the entire pistol can be greatly simplified and made from lightweight materials.
A weird gun for the gadget lover. Palm guns were popular with gamblers in the Old West, and nothing illustrates the desire for a covert concealed firearm more than this Lebeda Engineering LLC. Elgin pocket watch percussion pistol.
Subject to much speculation as to origin, this custom-made "SS Belt Buckle Pistol" was reportedly intended to be a last-ditch weapon for an SS man caught off guard by an opponent. The wearer would make as though they were removing their belt to surrender their holstered sidearm, only to instantly deploy a concealed pistol. The heart of the weapon is a spring loaded barrel assembly that doubles as the cocking lever for a set of four independent strikers.
Originally patented in 1944 by Stanley M. Haight, the Sedgley Fist Gun, also known by the nomenclature "Hand Firing Mechanism Mark 2," has been the subject of great speculation and a certain amount of fantasy about its intended purpose and end users; some sources describe it as an assassination weapon or attribute it to the Office of Strategic Services (to the point of actually being listed as "OSS Glove Pistol" in the ATF's Curio & Relic List), and in fiction, they were featured in the film "Inglorious Basterds" being used by two of the titular commandos to eliminate a pair of Nazi sentries during their attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler.
The U.S. Navy Sedgley Mark Two "Fist Gun" hand firing device ranks as one of the weirdest 20th century military guns. Haight designed the weapon to be ready at all waking hours, so even if a soldier was caught unaware or while separated from his regular service weapon, he could simply ball up his fist and make a good, loud response.
The Dardick Model 1500 discarded the conventional arrangement of multiple chambers in a cylinder in favor of giving each round its own disposable chamber, or “tround,” loading them into an internal magazine, and cycling them through with a triple-spaced rotor assembly. An unquestionably weird gun, the resulting weapon sat dead in the middle between the semi-auto and the revolver in terms of attributes, while also bringing in some very novel features like a capability for near-instant caliber changes and an option for rapid conversion to a stocked carbine, which foreshadowed a number of modern products.
The U.S. Military had the Liberator pistol manufactured during WW2 to be dropped to resistance fighters in occupied territories. However, few of these crude pistols were actually issued and their use was not well documented. In the late 1950s, the CIA decided they wanted a similar gun, but since almost all Liberator pistols from World War II had been destroyed by the government, they had to find an alternative.
Thus, the CIA Deer gun was born. Despite its name, the weapon has nothing to do with hunting or deer and the choice behind the name is still a mystery. Some speculate it is actually a DEAR Gun, representing the CIA DEnied ARea pistol. This would be a valid argument considering their intended use as this weird gun was meant to be crucial in CIA operations overseas or across enemy lines.
The Deer Gun was commissioned by the CIA that won't confirm it existence. Similar to the Liberator single shot gun of World War 2, the Deer Gun is lighter, simpler -- with only 12 components to the Liberator's 23, and fires 9mm ammunition. The Liberator and Deer Gun are two of the weirdest guns in the collecting pursuit.
"A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox!" Lt. Col. George Vincent Fosbery wanted a gun capable of firing both rifle rounds and shotgun rounds, but that left him in... a bit of a paradox. Rifle rounds need rifling and shotgun shot requires a smooth bore. What's a creative Brit to do? The answer is Fosbery's Paradox gun. Patented in 1885 and produced quickly thereafter by London gunmaker Holland & Holland, the weird and unusual gun would see use against small upland game birds, the mighty African elephant, and even German Zeppelins in WW1.
Pen guns are a classic in the AOW ("Any other weapon") category, defined by the National Firearms Act as “any weapon or device capable of being concealed on the person from which a shot can be discharged through the energy of an explosive." In short, a weapon that can be hidden in plain sight. Any firearm that can be disguised as a pen certainly fits the weird gun designation.
The ring gun is another great novelty firearm to fulfill the impulses of gun owners who watched one James Bond film too many in their formative years. Developed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, by Lebeda Engineering LLC, a firm which has created props for multiple movies including the cyanide-injecting silver dollars used in the movie "Bridge of Spies". The ring itself features a bright brass band with the remaining parts finished in nitre blue, including the five-shot, hand-rotated cylinder. The revolver is chambered for a 4.5mm (.177) caliber brass pinfire cartridge.
The Calico has always been a pretty odd bird. Using a helical magazine located on top of the frame and coming in a variety of shapes and sizes, the firearms from Calico Light Weapons Inc. have always had a very distinct, futuristic appearance. It’s this very appearance that has placed them in many movies such as Spaceballs, Total Recall, RoboCop 2 & 3, Bad Boys, Star Trek: First Contact, and even the Bond flick Tomorrow Never Dies. In addition to its weird gun aesthetic, the Calico's big helical mag on top will either hold 50 or 100 rounds of .22LR or 9mm, making it one darn good plinker.
Peculiar. Unique. Awe-inspring. Exclusive. Magical. A “March King” autograph, a Japanese gunnery training camera, a duckfoot pistol, or a kit for killing vampires, all are interesting and valuable collectables no matter how you label them. Visitors, collectors, and bidders will find something that will speak to them, whether it was a lot featured here or a Colt Single Action Army or a Winchester Model 1873 at Rock Island Auction Company.
Another weird gun candidate that falls into the AOW category, a six-shot .22 LR revolver-knife. The blade is approximately 6 5/8 inches long, with an overall length of 11 3/4 inches.
From the pen gun, the cane gun, the gun knife, to the bizarre punt gun megafowler, subscribe to the Rock Island Auction newsletter for weekly gun blogs and gun videos that take a deeper look at these unique historic firearms.
How the Bizarre Duck’s Foot Pistol Came into Being, by Bill Harriman, Shooting UK
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