If the Colt Paterson was the high-end classy choice for a sidearm in the mid-1800s, the Allen & Thurber pepperbox would have been the simple working man’s alternative. While Colt was working for military contracts, Allen & Thurber ignored that market in favor of producing an affordable civilian sidearm in large volume.
The basic idea of a pepperbox is like a revolver, but with the cylinder comprising a cluster of full-length barrels instead of just chambers lining up with a single barrel in turn. This made the pepperbox a simpler weapon to manufacture, as it did not have the precise alignment requirements of a traditional revolver. Allen & Thurber’s examples were further simplified by having no sights and smooth bored, and being double action only.
These were not the tool of professional gunmen, but they were simple, cheap (a quarter the cost of a Colt), and effective enough at close range. Allen & Thurber sold a huge number of them (exact numbers are not known, as they were not serialized) during the 1830s, 40s, and 50s and made a very tidy profit in the process. The end of the pepperbox came as metallic cartridges were becoming common place, as there was no easy way to convert the from muzzleloading to cartridge use, and cheap revolvers would take their place as the stereotypical working man’s handgun.
Hi guys thanks for tuning in to another Video on Forgotten weapons comm I’m Ian I’m here at the Rock Island auction House today I’m looking at some of the Guns that they’ll be selling in December Of 2015 at their premier auction and Something I wanted to touch on because It’s something I haven’t looked at on Video here before is a pepperbox pistol Now most people when they think of a Pepper box you think of kind of this Antique curio weird sort of example of Firearm oddity which isn’t really the Case these were actually vastly popular Pistols there were tons of them made and They were carried by a lot of people for Several decades so let’s go back and Look at some of the history surrounding Where these guns came from at the time The company that manufactured most of The ones that you’ll find in the United States was called Allen and Thurber it Was formed by a guy named Ethan Allen in Massachusetts and then Thurber was his Brother-in-law now this company would go On to have other names it would be known As Allen Thurber and company it would Become Allen and wheel lock it would Also become forehand and wodsworth all Of these companies are actually Consisting of relatives from the same Family kind of interesting every every Few decades they’d add some new nephew Or son-in-law into the company and
Change the name and the company Subsisted for several generations so you Went through a whole bunch of these Names however when they were making Pepper boxes it was primarily Allen and Thurber they did this in a couple of Different cities in well they did Norwich Connecticut and then they also Were primarily in Worcester Massachusetts making these guns their Initial patent was 1837 and then they Had an upgraded kind of an improved Patent in 1845 so the time frame when The pepperbox was really at its peak was The late 1830s through at the end of the 1850s or so when ultimately what what Supplanted these were effective cheap Revolvers and especially cartridge Revolvers unlike the percussion Revolvers the pepperbox is not really Conducive to conversion to using Cartridges so once metallic cartridges Became a common thing in the market the Box was really made obsolete until then However the pepperbox named by the way Because it has this visual resemblance To a pepper mill or pepper grinder but Until the cartridges came out the pepper Box offered really a lot of benefits now The reason we often don’t think of them Is because they were never a military Firearm they didn’t have they didn’t Offer the accuracy or the the durability Or the the fine finish to really be
Worthwhile as a military weapon and this This actually shows an interesting Divide in in marketing tactics so Ellen And Thurber ignored the military market They didn’t care they weren’t concerned About it they were marketing guns to Civilians people who wanted a firearm For personal protection and they were Offering really a pretty high-capacity Gun for the time if you didn’t have a Pepper box or maybe an expensive Colt Paterson revolver really your other Option would be a single-shot pistol and The pepper box would offer you six shots Instead of one which is quite a Significant increase these were very Popular pistols during the gold rushes They were inexpensive high-capacity you Know if you’re going out west and you Need a handgun for protection pepper box Was a pretty appealing option and Helen And Thurber sold gazillions of the Things Ethan Allen became quite impressively Wealthy as a result and the design Didn’t really change much for about 20 Years it really didn’t need to the basic Set up they were all double action Double action only you cannot manually [ __ ] the hammer they use what’s called a Bar hammer we’ll take a closer look at That in a moment and for most of their Production they were six shotguns later In the mid 1850s they introduced four
And five shot versions but primarily We’re talking a six shot gun and the Most common caliber was 32 they did get Bigger and smaller you can find them up To 36 caliber and down to about 28 but 32 caliber was common and they are Smoothbore no sights so it’s kind of Funny Mark Twain had some some Discussion of these in his book roughing It and is his point in MO Most of the time when he’s discussing These what he’s making light of is the Fact that they were remarkably difficult To shoot accurately because they are Smoothbore and they have no sights However for someone who wanted a gun for Up close personal protection and you Know it works so let’s take a closer Look at this there are dozens of Different varieties of these guns but They all share the same basic Characteristics so this is a pretty Typical Ellen and Thurber pepper box it Is 32 caliber it’s the the middle Standard size there were some guns that Were on a larger frame and some on a Smaller frame both of those are fairly Rare this is also a relatively early gun And we know that because it has this Frame engraving and it has this shield That protects the percussion caps from Each other one of the potential issues With a pepper box as with really any Multi shot percussion gun is the chance
Of a chain fire where spark from one cap Will actually flash over and detonate Another cap or another chamber now on a Revolver this could be potentially Pretty dangerous because you might have The a chain firing projectile hit part Of the barrel assembly on its way out Bounced around fragment damaged the gun In the case of a pepper box there wasn’t Really any danger to the user from a Multiple discharge because each chamber Has its own complete barrel so it just Means you’re going to hire more shots Than you intended and this recoil shield Act or this percussion cap shield did a Reasonably decent job of preventing that From happening now later on as the Market got tighter into the 1850s Alan Thurber did a number of things to cut Production costs they did things like They stopped putting this engraving on The frame and they actually got rid of These shields so later guns you’ll find Have all of the nipples and percussion Caps exposed around the circumference Now I should point out I realized I Haven’t even mentioned this the defining Characteristic of a pepper box is that You have a rotating cluster of barrels And each one is a chain complete chamber And Barrel so on a revolver you Have a rotating cluster of chambers that All use the same single barrel so each One has to you line up the chamber with
Your barrel fire and then you have to Rotate the Chamber’s line the next Chamber up with the barrel and fire Again on a pepper box there yes you’re Doing basically the same thing you’re Rotating and firing but all you have to Really line up is the hammer you don’t Need a very precise alignment because You’re not trying to jump a projectile From a chamber into a separate barrel Each one of these is its own Self-contained barrel so that made them Cheaper to produce the fact that these Are smoothbore also made them cheaper to Produce the way they did these was Actually to have the frame and the Barrel clusters each as a cast unit that Was then machine to the final shape now This has what’s called a bar hammer for Obvious reason just because that’s the General shape and they are double-action So on each firing it will lift the Hammer up rotate the barrels and then Drop the hammer There is no single action on this so It’s a little tricky to to demonstrate It without snapping it on to one of the Nipples in fact something you’ll often See is to have the bottom of this bar Relieved a bit because over extended use They would actually flatten down the Nipples and you could get to the point Where the bar would hit the frame before It was able to detonate a cap and and
Fail to fire so that people on heavily Worn guns you’d take the bar and relieve It so the hammer could actually drop a Little bit farther and run reliably Markings on these are pretty sparse This one is Allen’s patent and normally There would be a date there as well but On this one it’s been worn off the Patent dates will either be 1837 or 1845 This one is actually engraved to Jay Eaton that’s a post factory thing and I Don’t know who that guy is but Apparently he was pretty proud of having This pistol we do also have a couple of Markings on the barrel cluster Seckel patent looks like 1837 on this One and a cast steel barrel cluster one Of the problems with these guns from a Collecting point of view is that there Are so few markings on them and that Comes from them being an economy sort of Mass-produced cheap item the the company Didn’t bother to put serial numbers on They you know they manufacture them in Several different locations over Different periods of time but they Didn’t bother to typically mark the Manufacturing location because it just Didn’t matter you know there they were Making make the gun sell the gun done Very few records exist on the company so It’s hard to get data to pin down things Like when different variations were made And that makes them challenging from a
Collectors perspective at any rate Regardless of the quality or the the Reputation from the time these have a Very definite place in firearms history Today simply because they were so common This was an excellent example in the 1830s 40s 50s of the working man’s Protection gun it may not have been the Best gun out there but just like today The gun that you could afford was better Than the super fancy top-of-the-line Thing sitting on the shelf for a month’s Pay buy this for a few dollars and go on About your life thank you for watching Guys I hope you enjoyed the video I hope I was able to shed some light on this Rather unusual you know they’re unusual Today but they were very common at the Time this is frankly a gun that was so Common that most of them got worn out And nobody really took care of them or Paid that much attention to them because It’s just another Allen and Thurber Pepper box so why bother today you know Today it’s it’s really cool to actually Find one of these so if you would like To have this one take a look at the Description there is a link in the text That will take you to rock island’s Catalog page can look at their pictures And their description place have been Online there is a second Allen and Thurber pepper box in this auction and There are also a number of pepper boxes
Made in Europe as well so those are less Common but they are in this premiere Option So if these are anything you’re looking For check them out and thanks for Watching