Pepperboxes: Multi-Barreled Pistols of the Past
If you literally translate the word pepperbox from English, you get a “box of pepper”, or “pepper shaker”. At first this word was applied to any multi-shot pistols - even to ordinary single-barrel revolvers. But it took root precisely in relation to historical monsters, reminiscent of either a huge revolver, or a small machine gun.
In the Russian language there are various variants of transcription of the word pepperbox - “pepperbox”, “pepperbox” and even “pepperbox”. Since there is no consensus, we came to the conclusion that the spelling closest to the English original should be used.
Pepperbox is a multi-barrel pistol with a rotating block of barrels. He does not have a drum as such, but the half-revolver is mounted on a hinge. Pepperboxes were usually charged from the muzzle — like old flintlock pistols, but later designs closer to the revolver appeared, with a folding mechanism and access to the breech. Pepperboxes appeared in Great Britain and the USA in about 1780-1800 and quickly spread around the world. Almost every weapons company can boast at least one pepperbox type. Moreover, many private traders, trying to outperform competitors more seriously, created such designs that it was just right to call them mutants, freaks, or even somehow more fun.
According to the traditional scheme, pepperbox had six short trunks screwed into a rotating block. Common were the seed shelf and flintlock. Naturally, at first, the barrel block did not turn on its own, it was rotated by hand (moreover, it was wearing a glove, because the “exhausted” barrel had a very uncomfortable temperature for the skin). Moreover, each time it was necessary to pour powder on the shelf, which reduced the functionality of pepperbox compared to conventional double-barreled pistols almost to nothing.
Flintlock seriously limited the possibilities of pepperboxes. But the appearance of the capsule lock gave a new impetus to this direction. First of all, the proto-revolver (sometimes called pepperboxes) is with the capsule lock had the advantage of continuous firing.
Pepperboxes in Russia: Tula
The classic revolver, familiar to us from westerns, appeared in the first half of the 19th century. As you know, the famous Samuel Colt did not invent it, but improved it by adding a device to automatically rotate the drum after each shot. This invention, coupled with the on-stream production of revolvers (since 1836), doomed pepperboxes to death, preventing them from even being truly born.
But, as mentioned earlier, many companies wanted to come up with something constructively new and improve the classic Colt, which, to be honest, was almost perfect at that time. So there were “second generation” Bundelrevolvers-pepperboxes.
The first capsule pepperbox was patented simultaneously with the first Colt revolver - in 1836. Its creator was the Massachusetts businessman and gunsmith Ethan Allen. At that time, it was still not clear what concept the market would conquer - many rotating trunks or one barrel with a rotating drum. Allen believed in pepperboxes and at first almost did not make a mistake.
Pepperbox Allen began to be produced in 1837 and was a success. True, not in the legendary Wild West, which at that time was just beginning to be mastered, but in the eastern part of the country. Gunfighters with Allen's guns could be seen as often as they were armed with Colt's classic cannons. A formidable, heavy, awkward appearance of this weapon played a significant role: the numerous openings of the barrels scared much more than one “miserable” muzzle of a revolver.
Allen pistols, like modern revolvers, had a double-action capsule lock. Pressing the trigger carried out and a platoon, and the rotation of the block of trunks, and a shot. There were several modifications of Allen pepperbox - with calibers from 31 to 36 and a different number of trunks (up to six).
Bundelrevolver Allen and Serber
Around the same time as Allen in Europe, another pepperbox was patented - the Belgian Marriette. Europeans were not as conservative as Americans. Marriette made pepperboxes with the number of trunks from 4 to 24 (!). Several copies of the last freak survived to our times - sometimes they pop up at various online auctions and go for? 15−20 thousand apiece. It is hard to imagine how to hold a 24-barrel cannon in one hand: even an ordinary automatic pistol is noticeably pulled to the ground.
By the way, in order to load a pistol made according to Marietta’s patent, it was necessary to unscrew each barrel separately and put a cartridge from the breech in it. Allen's pepperboxes were easier to use: it was possible to remove the entire block of trunks at the same time.
In addition to the degree of intimidation of the enemy, the Europeans paid attention to design. Both Marriette and other European pepperboxes were decorated with spectacular patterns, sometimes gilded, and the descent was performed in the form of a ring rather than a hook. Actually, the Marriette-like bundelrevolvers produced everything for everyone, and the collections preserved a fair amount of samples similar to the Mariette model, but poorly identifiable.
English gunsmiths preferred the Allen system. It is understandable - hardly the British would have borrowed something Belgian. Allen did not have time to track the copyists of his development.
All the guns, as one would expect, were distinguished by a high rate of fire for their time (of course, with a long reload time), but at the same time they had low accuracy due to the tight trigger mechanism and poor balance and were suitable for shooting only at short distances. They were used as a weapon of self-defense, while the Colt revolvers and other gunsmiths were bought in huge batches, for example, by the army.