KNIFE PISTOLS and cane guns belong to our fathers' and grandfathers' days. Some, made before the little .22 rim-fire cartridge was invented, used percussion cap ignition, but it was only following the widespread production of the .22 short that these disguised weapons of surprise enjoyed a mild popularity.
It seems fitting to bracket the knife pistols and cane guns in one chapter, apart from other disguised and hidden guns, and from other combination weapons. The grandfather who walked abroad carrying a cane gun may well have had a knife pistol in his pocket.
Probably the most widely sold and best known knife pistol is the Unwin & Rodgers. This was first made as a muzzle-loader using percussion caps; later as a breechloader using rim-fire cartridges. Illustration 126 shows a cartridge model at the top and a percussion cap model below. Each has horn handles and two folding blades. Each has a small trap with a hinged cover in the grip. The hammers and folding triggers are similar in construction on the two models. Both pieces have Birmingham proof marks. An interesting feature of the percussion cap model is the inclusion of two accessories shown in the photograph. One is a bullet mold and one is a ramrod. Both accessories have spring ends so they will be held in place by friction when pushed in the slots cut in the knife handles.
An Unwin & Rodgers knife pistol of unusual construction is shown in figure 127. As in the upper pistol shown in figure 126 there is an extractor which when pulled back draws the fired case from the chamber. However, in this gun it is necessary, after the hammer is cocked, to raise a hinged piece like a false breech before the extractor may be drawn back. The gun is shown with this piece raised and the extractor pulled back.
The knife pistols just described are marked UNWIN & RODGERS, SHEFFIELD. Other knife pistols on the same pattern are found marked JAMES RODGERS, SHEFFIELD.
One of the rare two-barrel Rodgers knife pistols is illustrated in figure 128. This is by James Rodgers and has „Self Protector" marked on the two large blades which are set in the middle with a small blade on the right and another on the left. These rather heavy and awkward pieces were not formed by joining two ordinary knife pistols, but were specially manufactured.
Another type knife pistol that was widely sold in this country is the little all metal penknife which does not at a glance reveal itself as being also a firearm. Figure 129 shows the knife with the firing lever visible on the side and with the very short cartridge chamber and barrel tilted for loading. The hammer normally lies flat against the side of the knife; it is flipped up to cock, and pressed down with a quick squeeze to fire. The space between the two sides of the knife is divided lengthwise into two narrow compartments. One contains two knife blades; the other contains the coiled mainspring, the trigger, the firing pin and finally the .22 cartridge in its very short barrel. The piece illustrated is unmarked but it conforms fully with the specifications for the „Pocket Firearm" patented February 29, 1916, by Leo Louis Rogers, patent #1,173,464.
The penknife pistol illustrated in figure 130 is much like the Leo Louis Rogers knife pistol just described except it has a firing lever which folds into the knife casing, and it is marked „Defender".
Another all metal knife pistol, illustration # 131, is a little larger, but of the same general construction, and apparently of the same make as the „Defender". This larger jacknife size was the „Huntsman", according to the advertisement in the March, 1922 issue of Popular Science Monthly. The advertisement which states the gun has a thousand uses and which illustrates one use, is reproduced in figure 132. The „Defender" was offered in the 1923 catalogue of N. Shure Co., Chicago, at $3.25.
The „Defender" and the „Huntsman" are at the end of the knife-pistol era, at least in this country. The Peavey knife pistols may have marked the beginning of the era. Mr. A. J. Peavey obtained patent #49784 on Sept. 5, 1865, for a percussion cap „Knife and Pistol", and also patent #53473 on March 27, 1866, for a „Combined Pistol & Knife" using a rim-fire cartridge. A cartridge model is shown in illustration # 133 and a reproduction of the patent drawing for the percussion cap model in illustration 134. The long hammer, when down and resting in the frame of the knife, looks like a second knife blade. The trigger is concealed in the knife casing when the hammer is down. In the operation of either model the hammer is pulled up against heavy spring pressure until the inner end of an arm of the trigger engages a notch and causes the hammer to be propped up in the cocked position. Pressure on the trigger will disengage the hammer and let it crash down.
It is interesting to notice that the Peavey knife pistol will also serve as an alarm. As Mr. Peavey wrote in his patent specification, „The trigger may be pulled by hand, or, if the pistol is to be used as an alarm, a cord may be secured to the end of the trigger and drawn through a channel, k, in the butt end of the handle. By securing the knife in some appropriate place in a room and tying the end of the cord to the doorlatch or to a window the trigger will be pulled in case somebody attempts to open the door or to raise the window and the charge of the barrel is exploded. If desired, the knife-blade may be stuck into the casing of the door, so that the door, on being opened, strikes the trigger and explodes the charge."
Figure 135 is of a two-bladed pocketknife that very cleverly conceals a .22 cartridge pistol. The folding hammer is visible only when pulled down for cocking, as shown in the illustration. The trigger is the center screw head in the bone handle. Pressing this button trigger releases the hammer.
An early percussion cap knife pistol which very thoroughly disguises the fact it is a firearm is shown in figure 136. This hornhandled piece is normally carried with the single knife blade closed and lying alongside the long hammer in the frame. The appearance is then of an ordinary knife with two blades, the gun barrel and the nipple for the cap being both hidden in the frame. When the hammer is cocked, as shown in the illustration, it may be released by a slight forward pressure, when it will be driven hard against the cap.
A German knife pistol marked BAZAR, and SPRINGER and SOLINGEN is shown in figure 137. The barrel is shown raised to permit loading a cartridge. The hammer is the trigger-like projection under the frame. The trigger is a small button. At one end of the stag horn handle is a swinging ring which permits the knife blade to be locked open or closed. Lying under this ring is shown an extractor, marked „C-12", for 12-gauge shells. On the opposite side, marked „C-16", is an extractor for 16-gauge shells. Such extractors are still frequently supplied on German pocket knives. They are used to pry from shotgun barrels partially ejected shells that have become misshapen and stuck as the result of repeated use.
This little extracting device is perhaps shown more clearly in figure 138, which illustrates another model of a BAZAR Pistol. Here the button trigger is clearly visible, and the striker is seen to be a plunger with a knob on the end. A cartridge is shown partially inserted in the chamber of the short barrel.
A scarcer type of German pocketknife pistol is pictured in figure 139. This uses pin-fire ignition and is fitted with three blades. To fire the gun - simply raise the hammer, insert a cartridge and pull the trigger.
In figure 140 is another pin-fire knife pistol which could be made to serve as an alarm pistol by screwing the gimlet end of the trigger so it could be moved back by pressure of an opening door. This is European, marked MARTI on the blade. The piece is shown with the barrel raised for loading. Pressure on the ornamental panel set in the bone handle moves a catch which locks the barrel when the latter is down.
Two special purpose knife pistols which have percussion cap ignition are represented in figures 141 and 142. Number 141 is a horseman's knife. Hinged at one end of the knife is a hook for cleaning horse's hooves. This hoof hook will also serve as a grip for the pistol. The pointed trigger is threaded like a woodscrew. One way to convert the piece to an alarm gun would be to screw the trigger into wood and let movement of the knife fire the gun. Number 142 is a sailor's knife pistol. This all-metal product has a marlinspike at one end and is shown with the hammer down and the trigger folded. It is also more elaborate than most knife pistols, with raised decorations on the sides showing hunters and animals. The octagon barrel has fine polygroove rifling. On both these percussion cap pieces the barrels are full length and also in full view, quite unlike the short and hidden barrels of the later cartridge inventions.
Some knife pistols have been produced with blade cases formed like pistol grips. A fine specimen is shown in illustration #143. This has two side-by-side finely figured Damascus barrels of about .36 caliber with two hammers and two triggers for percussion cap ignition. There is a finely decorated brass frame into which fold the two triggers and the heavy dagger blade.
A knife pistol with conventional pistol grips fitted to the knife casing is shown in figure # 144. Here the knife plays a minor role but fully retains its identity. The piece is a combination of a bolt action firearm and a pocket knife, not merely a firearm with a blade attached. This is the LITTLE PAL. It is marked L. E. POLHEMUS MFG CO. MIAMI ARIZONA and LITTLE PAL MODEL 23.22 SHORTS ONLY. There is nothing unusual about the bolt action except the fact it is being used in a knife pistol instead of in a rifle.
It may be well to add a word about the cartridges used in LITTLE PAL. The .22 shorts when first made about a hundred years ago, would drive a bullet an inch or more into wood. The knife pistols that used those cartridges were rightly regarded as dangerous weapons. In the most favoring conditions a bullet from a knife pistol could put a man beyond mortal aid in one tick of time. The cartridges are no less powerful now and man's body tissues are no more resistant now.
Between the knife pistols and the cane guns we admit in this chapter a combination of clasp knife and revolver, illustration # 145. The revolver is of Belgian make, 6-shot, 5mm in caliber, double-action, superposed on the frame of a knife having a long curved blade. Pleasing in color are the sides of the knife, made of horn and all one with the grips of the revolver.
The pistols combined with pocketknives do not go as far back as cane guns. Though knife pistols do not antedate the invention of the percussion cap, walking sticks combined with flint pistols are to be found.
In the lexicon of the American collector any walking stick combined with a firearm is a cane gun whether or not cane is used in the construction. Some cane guns are all-metal.
In 1814 a British patent #3837 was granted Henry William Vander Kleft for a „Method of Construction" of a „Walking Staff" that was passing strange. This eccentricity was in nine parts to contain, among other things, a folding trigger flintlock pistol, kept in the cane at half cock and with the pan fastened down. The cap or head of the staff is an inkstand; the ferrule is a two-compartment container for gunpowder and pistol balls. Space is provided between the pistol and the ferrule for pen, pencil, paper, drawing utensils, knife, turnscrew for the pistol, and a telescope. Walking sticks combining flintlock pistols and telescopes were made by Mr. Kleft. There may exist a cane such as his patent described.
Illustrations 146 and 147 give two views of an English cane that conceals a flint pistol. The pistol may be quickly pulled out of the solid wood staff when a spring is pressed. In the cane the loaded and primed pistol is held at half cock by a sliding safety. A concealed folding trigger comes out when the pistol is withdrawn and the hammer cocked. The steel frame of the gun is marked PRICE INVENTOR and 221 STRAND, LONDON. The screwbarrel has Birmingham proof marks.
In illustration 148 a special purpose flint cane gun is shown. This is a poacher's gun. The two parts of the stock are carried concealed but the barrel of the gun is carried openly as a cane, being fitted at the breech with a special handle and at the muzzle with a tampion resembling a cane tip. This is a piece of very fine workmanship, made by T. Squires, London. The furniture is silver which bears the hallmarked assayer's date of 1812. Because of the high quality of this shotgun, one may well doubt it was actually built for poaching use.
Probably the Day's Patent Cane was the most popular and widely sold of percussion cap canes. It was also a very early one, being patented by John Day, Barnstaple, Devon, England in 1823, British patent #4861.
The cane gun at the top of each of the illustrations 149 and 150 is a Day's Patent. In 150 the cocked gun is shown with the ramrod and long tampion out of the barrel. In the other illustration the ramrod is hidden in the barrel and the tampion is inserted in the muzzle. This cane has on the handle a silver plate, presentation inscribed and dated 1859. After thirty-six years the model apparently was still popular.
Two views of an unmarked but probably French pepperbox cane are also shown in illustrations 149 and 150. The pepperbox is six-shot and double-action with a folding trigger. The cartridge used is a very small caliber rim-fire. There is a slender and very weak blade that projects from the center of the cylinder. The gun may be withdrawn from the cane when a release button in the grip is pressed. This pepperbox, like the flint pistol in illustration 146, must be withdrawn from the cane to be put in action, the shaft of the cane being a solid piece of wood. Around this shaft is entwined a realistic brass serpent. In the Day's Patent Cane the shaft of the cane, of iron, is itself the barrel. The third cane shown in this group of three has an iron barrel encased in cane or bamboo. This cane unscrews to load a .32 cartridge, is cocked by pulling back the handle, and fired by pressing a folding trigger. It has no marks and its provenience is unknown. The silver bands on it and also the bands on the pepperbox cane effectively conceal the presence of a firearm in either piece.
The Remingtons are the best known American cane guns. Figure 151 reproduces an advertisement which appeared in the George W. Hawes' Ohio State Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1859 and 1860. This percussion cap model was patented Feb. 9, 1858, by J. F. Thomas, of Ilion, New York, U.S. patent # 19328. Mr. Thomas' claims had to do with the ingenious method of combining the barrel and the case surrounding the action „. . . so as to make the implement safe, cheap, and effective . . ." To cap the nipple the handle, including the casing around the action, was drawn back until a flat spring-catch jumped up and prevented forward motion of the casing. The gun was now cocked and could be fired after capping the nipple, by pressing a small button trigger which released the long striker. The tip of the catch, or stop, which held back the casing served also as a rear sight. Pressing down on the sight, and forward on the handle, let down the hammer without discharging the gun.
Instead of a tight solid ferrule made of wood or metal, to close the end of the barrel, Mr. Thomas provided an open screw-in ferrule with a small piece of cork in its lower end. The bit of cork was held by friction only, and would be carried out by the ball in the event of accidental discharge. Usually in other cane guns a wooden tampion served as a ferrule. Such a plug, tightly fitted and accidently left in when the gun was discharged, might cause a burst barrel. Loosely fitted, it might drop out and be lost.
An 1878 Remington catalogue advertisement of a Remington Rifle Cane is shown in figure 152. It will be seen that the mechanism for this cartridge cane is quite like that for the percussion cap cane.
Incidentally, the revolver pictured with that first model cane is the earliest model Beal's patent.
Illustration 153 shows a percussion cap model Remington Rifle Cane. This has a claw-and-ball handle and a 27" rifled barrel covered with gutta percha.
In figure 154 is a scarce snake handler's cane which might be looked at for some time by anyone unfamiliar with its properties without his knowing it concealed a powerful and efficient gun. Figure 155 is another view of this all-metal cane with a snake handler's hook, or pick-up, for a handle. If you have watched a snake handler pick up a rattler from a Florida snake pit, you have probably seen him use a staff with such a hook on the end. This gun is a small bore percussion cap shotgun which, as the second illustration shows, must have the barrel completely unscrewed for capping. To cock the gun a short section near the hook is pulled back with a turning motion until the concealed trigger is fully open. When the handle is pushed back the gun is ready to fire, assuming of course that the barrel has been loaded, capped and screwed into position, with the barrel plug removed. The barrel plug is the usual wooden tampion with brass covered tip. The trigger will fold back and blend so well with the all-steel shaft that it is invisible except on careful examination.
A group of canes is pictured in illustration 156. The two canes at the top are alike. They are beautifully made with silvered handles. One of these has the tampion pulled out of the barrel muzzle, and the handle unscrewed so a cartridge may be loaded. Pulling back the striker knob and then pressing the button trigger fires the cartridge. In this instance the tampion is metal and has spring ends to hold it in the barrel.
Just below the pair of canes is another dapper cane that very efficiently masks a concealed gun. Its construction is unusual and a little complicated. A cartridge may be chambered when the handle is drawn back slightly. Cocking is accomplished by pressing the handle firmly against the barrel section and locking it by a slight turn. The trigger is the very small horn button that protrudes only slightly underneath the horn handle. There is an extractor that draws out any cartridge or fired shell when the handle is pulled back.
The remaining cane in this group is a stout walking stick that becomes a gun only after singular manipulation. To transform the cane to a shoulder arm the long handle is turned to permit loading a cartridge and then moved to the position shown in the photograph. After that the handle is pulled to cock the striker, and then pushed right back to uncover a trigger. The grip is wood. The rest of the cane is metal covered with leather.
One of the cane guns much prized by collectors is the unusual Lang percussion cane, shown in two views. Illustration 157 shows the piece as a cane; illustration 158 shows it as a shoulder gun. The change is made by pulling back the handle and turning it down. The striker is cocked with the accessory shown angling up from the firing assembly. This accessory contains a capper, and after being used as illustrated to cock the hammer and incidentally open the folding trigger, it is turned end for end and used to place a cap on the nipple. This particular cane comes in an elaborate case fully equipped with accessories. To be placed in the case the cane is unscrewed so the barrel and the stock will lie in separate fitted compartments. There is a special compartment for the combination tool used for cocking and capping and another for the striker which when in the gun is at all times unattached to any other part. In addition to these two essential parts of the gun, accessories fitted in the case include-flask, mold, nipple wrench and vent prick, oil can, box of caps, extra cane tip, and an unusual jointed ramrod with screw-on worm, rammer and scouring tips. Lang was an early nineteenth century London maker of fine firearms which often had features infrequently found in firearms of other makes.
A poacher's cane gun that is in process of either being taken down or put together is shown in illustration 159. This is a French percussion cap gun.
The reader is asked to use a little imagination. If the gun as pictured is being taken down, the lock assembly is to be pushed back in the hollowed stock and the two parts of the stock closed. The folded buttstock with the hidden firing mechanism may be concealed in a greatcoat pocket or under the clothing. The barrel with the tampion in becomes a walking staff. If the gun is being assembled for shooting, the lock assembly is to be pulled fully out and screwed into the barrel. When the two parts of the hinged stock are now closed the hunter has a full length gun with shoulder stock, quite normal in appearance except it lacks a forestock.
A cane gun rarely found is pictured in illustration 160. This is a repeater, carrying in the staff a magazine loaded with .22 cartridges, and was patented by Marcelin Daigle, Houma, Louisiana, on April 10, 1877, patent # 189,305. It has a composition grip and a metal body painted brown and simulating bamboo. The magazine, a long tube lying alongside the barrel, may be filled by pressing cartridges in from the breech when the handle is drawn back. With the magazine filled the operation is simple. The button on the side is pressed and the handle drawn slightly back. When the handle is pressed forward the gun fires. This reciprocating action may of course be quickly repeated. This drawing back will eject an empty shell from the barrel, place a live shell in the carrier and move it in line with the barrel chamber. Pushing forward the handle will chamber the cartridge and then release the firing pin.
All guns which use air or spring pressure to propel a charge are deliberately omitted from this volume. In illustration 161 two blow guns are shown, but they use powder for the bullet propellant. These two canes are similar in operation but slightly different in construction. Each loads a center-fire 7 mm cartridge and each uses a mouth-blown dart to detonate the primer. Each cane consists of two hollow tubes, metal covered with wood. One tube is a barrel for the bullet, the other a barrel for the floating dart. In one cane the two sections must be unscrewed for loading; in the other the two sections need be drawn only partly apart, until a cartridge may be dropped in a trough.
When the top of the silver knob of either of these canes is unscrewed the gun may be fired by blowing with some force directly against the head of the dart. That the pointed dart is free to move in the tube and is subject to the force of gravity should be kept in mind both before and when aiming.
On each cane about an inch back of the cartridge head a small hole is bored, so that a nail or rod thrust through will serve as a safety by stopping the dart. On one cane there is provided a soft rubber ring, fitted into the knob or cap and designed to prevent injury to the mouth by recoil of the gun. These canes have neither hammers nor triggers. When completely assembled with tampions in the muzzles they give no indication whatever they are firearms.
I am influenced to include the gun shown in figure 162, by the fact that collectors often call this model the „Perry Cane Gun". This is marked PERRY PATENT ARMS CO., NEWARK, N. J. and is no different from other Perry pistols except it has a 263/4" barrel. It is of the type made without a capper in the butt.
126. Two Unwin & Rodgers knife pistols.
Upper, Oscar J. Rees collection-lower, Paul J. Westergard collection
126. Two Unwin & Rodgers knife pistols.
Upper, Oscar J. Rees collection-lower, Paul J. Westergard collection
129. Knife pistol/ Oscar J. Bees collection.
130. Knife pistol/ Caleb J. Westergard collection.
131. Knife pistol/ Arnott J. Millett collection.
Popular Science Monthly
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