I had such fun in my last post with the Chicago Palm Pistol, I decided to introduce another small weapon today — the PEPPERBOX.
Named Pepperbox, or Pepperpot, because it resembles a household pepper grinder, this multi-shot revolver boasted three or more barrels grouped around a central axis. Though one enterprising gunmaker created a shotgun version, the pepperbox was most often a handheld firearm.
The concept made an appearance as early as the fifteenth century, when several single-shot barrels were attached to a stock, then fired individually by lighting each one with a match. Talk about dangerous!
Pepperboxes were manufactured in all ammunition systems: matchlock, wheellock, flintlock, percussion, pinfire, rimfire and centerfire. [I won’t go into how all those work–at least not in this post.] They were made with three, four, six, or seven barrels. The earliest ones were rotated by hand; the later versions worked much like a standard revolver, where each chamber rotated into position as the previous one was discharged.
The invention of the percussion cap by Joshua Shaw, and the onset of the industrial revolution, allowed pepperbox revolvers to be mass-produced, making them more affordable than the early handmade guns previously only seen in the hands of the rich.
Gilles Mariette, an arms manufacturer in Cheratte, Belgium, patented the ‘cluster revolver (pepperbox) with double action’ in 1837. Pepperboxes were popular in North America from 1830 through the Civil War. The pepperbox experienced a kind of “revival” in the late 1800s as an easy-to-conceal pocket weapon. The French came up with the “Apache revolver,” which was popular among Paris street gangs and came fitted with a folding blade and knuckle-duster. [Those are knuckle-dusters on the left.]
The Christian Sharps 4-barrel derringer was manufactured and used into the last half of the 19th century. This pistol had a sheath trigger that appeared when the hammer was cocked. Cartridges were loaded into this 4-shot gun by sliding the barrels forward. Thousands of these little guns were made between 1859 and 1874. After the war it became popular in the Old West among lawmen, outlaws and gamblers as its small size allowed it to be concealed in a waistcoat pocket. One thing to remember when giving a Pepperbox to your character: they aren’t accurate. In fact, Mark Twain was quoted as saying “the safest place to be when facing a Pepperbox wielding antagonist was standing directly in front of him.”