The pepperbox pistol holds a unique position in American firearms history. It bridged the gap between the single-shot pistol and the revolver with stationary barrel. Pepperbox guns were handy, fairly reliable, and supplied a series of quick shots. They proved popular and were carried West in great numbers during the gold rush era.
Ethan Allen saw the possibilities of a percussion pepperbox and in 1834 patented his self-cocking gun. A few years later, with the aid of his brother-in-law, he founded the Allen and Thurber Gun Co. They made guns from 1837 to 1842 in Grafton, Mass. In 1842 they moved to Norwich, Conn. Then in 1855 they moved back to Massachusetts and settled in Worcester. During all these moves, a steady flow of pepperboxes were turned out. A wide variety of models was offered. The barrels ranged from 214" to 5Vi" in length and in calibers from .28 to .36.
Allen and Thurber guns were well made. The barrels were bored from a block of cast steel. The frame was also cast. Operating parts were machined from bar stock and hardened where necessary. Walnut was used for the grips in most cases and the frames were generally scroll engraved.
The self-cocking lock mechanism was unique for its time. It is fairly simple and contains a minimum number of parts. Lack of shielding between the caps in some of the earlier pepperboxes resulted in occasional multiple discharges. Allen overcame this by putting a snug-fitting shield around the nipple area which kept the caps in place and also helped keep the sparks from igniting the other loaded barrels.
The revolver, with its fixed rifled barrel and compact design, to say nothing of its reduced weight, soon overshadowed the pepperbox design. The invention of the metallic cartridge gave the pepperbox its final kiss of death, since it was impractical to try to convert a pepperbox to fire fixed ammunition.
IThe Allen and Thurber pepperbox barrel group rotates around a central pin fixed to the frame. To remove the barrel group, remove the barrel retaining screw (1) and pull the trigger until the hammer just clears the nipple. Then pull barrel group forward off pin. Use a good grade of penetrating oil on all the screw heads and threads.
2 The trigger pull can be adjusted to a certain extent by loosening or tightening the mainspring tension screw (28). When this screw is removed, the mainspring (7) can be pushed out of its seat in the frame and lifted free.
3 There are only 2 hinge pins (23 and 30) in the entire gun, one retaining the trigger, the other retaining the hammer. Since both of these pins arc blind pins and do not extend through the frame, a notch was cut in the frame and an undercut was machined into the pins. If a thin screwdriver or pick is inserted as shown, the pins can be easily pried out.
4 Once the side-plate has been removed, internal parts can be easily unscrewed and removed. To remove the trigger guard (29). push rear of the guard forward and pull down on it slightly. When it comes free of the frame, unscrew as shown. ■
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