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Heirloom Mystery: Birmingham 1845 to 1850 British Single-Shot Percussion Pistol

Gun Room: What is it and what's it worth?

Gun Room: Birmingham 1845 to 1850 British Single-Shot Percussion Pistol

“J. Paratt” Birmingham single shot, 30%: $375

Question: Thank you in advance for your expertise and insight you can offer on this pistol. Dad’s grandfather and his son were stripping down a near-century-­old farmhouse for lumber in upstate New York during the Depression. They found this pistol sealed up in an iron box within one of the home’s chimneys. The dwelling had been vacant for many years with the owners or prior occupants unknown. How it came to be there will endure as a mystery, but as to the origin of this pistol, I turn to you for answers.

Amid the intricate engraving of this cap-­and-­ball pistol are the words “J. PARATT BIRMINGHAM“ with no other identity monikers or numbers. The measured overall length is 9 7/8 inches with the barrel length at 5 3/16 inches. The bore measures 7/16 inch. Hopefully, the pictures are adequate for your review to determine if this pistol is real or just a neat story.

-K.A. of Arizona

Answer: Your great-­grandfather’s find is a circa-­1845 to 1850 British single-­shot percussion pistol. It is a typical Birmingham product of the period, Birmingham being one of the great gun-­making centers of England. Quality is good and middle range. The frame is German silver, an alloy of copper, nickel and zinc that was popular at the time. It was used on firearms and furniture, as well as frames on pistols such as yours, and on pepperbox repeaters and some early, inexpensive revolvers. The small trap in the butt is for storing percussion caps, though I have also seen them containing spare nipples. I cannot find the maker in any of my references. As there were so many gunsmiths in the Birmingham area around that time, this is not surprising. For being sealed up in a chimney, your pistol is in pretty good shape. I’d value it at $350 to $425. The fact the gun was found in upstate New York is not unusual, as many British guns were being imported to the United States in the mid-­19th century.


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