THE DIMINUTIVE has almost universal appeal. In all times expert craftsmen have delighted in making tiny pieces of furniture, incredibly small silver sets, minute musical instruments and working models of machines. Artists with imagination and taste have conceived and executed miniature masterpieces of paintings, books, sculpture.
Before the machine age, the most skilled artisans were employed in making and embellishing armor and weapons. The miniature firearms that have been produced by handwork, with consummate skill, infinite patience and with much artistic talent, have always been collected and treasured by connoisseurs.
Collectors are not in agreement as to just what a miniature firearm is or how small it must be. Some will include such small but still full-size pieces as Kolibri automatics and Gem revolvers. Others will consider any small-scale reproduction a miniature, and perhaps they will be joined by all students of semantics. Still other collectors will say a miniature firearm must be so small it can not be held in normal fashion in even a baby's hand. This last concept will be generally followed in this chapter, but some models of modern pistols illustrated may not meet the „baby's hand" requirement.
There are modern firearms miniatures of excellent craftsman ship. Examples will be pictured in this chapter. None of the recently produced-since World War II - „watch charm" cartridge pistols made in quantity in several foreign countries will be illustrated. Those cheaply made pieces are not regarded as collector items.
Painstaking effort was more commonly found in earlier and less hurried times-so most of the illustrations will be of old pieces. Photographs can not do justice to these old and tiny firearms. The art in one of the old miniatures can hardly be realized to the full until a fine „small and beautifully less" model is held in the hand.
Color photography helps to better appreciation. Of the miniatures, illustration 36, from The Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, which are shown here in black and white, six are shown in color on the front of the July, 1949, American Rifleman, and described in the Rifleman's accompanying article written by Stephen V. Grancsay.
The eight pieces in illustration 36 are of different types and range in size from just under two inches to a shade over four inches in length. They vary in quality of workmanship, but all are in operating condition. The four at the top are German allmetal wheel locks made in the late 1500'x, of steel and brass, showing engraving and mercury gilding. The two ball butt German lags, perhaps slightly later, are of steel and wood, with one having the wood inlaid with ivory. At lowest left is a miquelet pistol and at lowest right a miquelet blunderbuss. The pistol is very unusual and may have been made by a German gunsmith as an experimental model probably early in the 17th century. The stock is of copper, engraved and mercury gilded, and is of wheel lock type. The lock, of steel, is a miquelet with South Italian characteristics. The blunderbuss miniature is a Spanish piece of a little later date, gracefully shaped. It has a wood stock with lock and furniture of steel. The capucine and the belied part of the steel barrel are of brass.
An exceptional group is shown in figure 37. The miniatures go from a very modern German drilling back through percussion cap, flintlock, miquelet, to wheel lock. At the top of the untaxed pistols is a very fine all-metal piece with a beautifully executed miquelet lock. The copper hue of the frame, the bright steel of the lock, the intense blue of the barrel, combine to make this outstanding. This piece is 41/4" overall.
Below the miquelet pistol is a ball butt all-metal wheel lock pistol, and below that is a miniature wheel lock arquebus. The latter includes in the engraving on the stock figures of animals and of a man carrying a gun. Below the arquebus are two wheel lock pistols, one 21/16", the other 15/16" overall.
The pair of percussion cap pistols, complete with accessories, is contained in a fitted case of red leather. The grips of the pistols, the flask, the round bullet and cap containers, are of gold nicely engraved.
The cased flintlock rifle has a stock of finely figured wood, delicately carved. The furniture is of silver, finely engraved. The boar engraved on the trigger guard is very realistic. The octagonal rifled barrel has PETER AUER IN BURGLENGENFELD Cut in script.
There seems to be a dearth of working flintlock miniatures, and a complete absence, as far as I can find, of snaphaunce miniatures.
The German drilling, which has two shotgun barrels with a rifle barrel underneath, is as finely made as any of the guns made by the early craftsmen. All the distinctive features that set drillings apart from other multishot guns are faithfully copied in miniature in this model. You may be sure the folding rifle sight on the barrel rib will rise automatically when the lever back of the hammers is pushed forward so the right hammer will fire the cartridge in the rifle barrel. The checkering on the pistol grip and on the fore end is very fine. The engraving on the furniture is of particular interest because of its great delicacy. Screw heads on full size guns of this type are customarily engraved. They are engraved on this model.
On plate 38 there is another illustration of this drilling, taken down and in its case. The wooden case has an elaborately carved panel on the top, with insets of ivory and ebony.
The other illustrations on this plate are of contemporaneous miniatures of pocket pistols and revolvers of the nineteenth century. All the revolvers shown are six-shot. The revolver alone in the odd shaped leather case has pearl grips and uses rim-fire cartridges, six of which are shown below a rammer which fits in a separate compartment of the case. The three other revolvers have ivory grips and use pin-fire cartridges. The revolver with the pair of pistols has a case of ebony, gold inlaid. The case directly below is of gold-inlaid onyx. The pistols in it are of steel and gold. So are the pistols at the bottom right, in a case of tortoise shell fitted for one accessory only. This accessory is a combination bullet mold, barrel wrench and nipple wrench. The case at the middle right is lustrous pearl. The pistols and revolvers in these cases vary only 15/8" in length, each being between 15/8" and 13/4" overall.
38. Group of miniatures/ Dr. W. R. Funderburg collection.
Of the very small miniatures of firearms probably the most minute of working models were made by Mr. G. M. Sibbald of Leeds, England. From the 1880's to the 1930's Mr. Sibbald made working models of engines, carriages, bicycles and locks, as well as guns, with parts so small they may well be called microscopic. A gold bicycle, weighing 1/4 ounce, has 292 distinct parts: a lock about 1/8" square and weighing less than 3/4 grain, has 12 parts. ( I use the present tense advisedly, because these and the other Sibbald pieces now exist in the collection of Robert Abels of New York City.)
„The Smallest Show on Earth", as Mr. Sibbald chose to call his collection, was widely exhibited in England for a space of fifty years. Many press clippings of the time gave generous space to praise of the rare pieces, telling of medals awarded, mentioning special exhibitions by Royal Command before Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle and The Princess of Wales at
Sandringham, and speculating as to whether any one else had eyesight equal to Mr. Sibbald's. Mr. Sibbald worked without the aid of a glass.
The five pieces illustrated in figure 39 are believed to be the entire production by Mr. Sibbald of miniature guns. It is hoped their tiny dimensions will be emphasized by the two Ford car keys in the illustration.
The one inch gold revolver, encased in an almond shell weighs 35 grains and has 76 parts.
The two pistols, gold with ivory grips, just below the revolver are in a plum stone. Each weighs 61/2 grains and is made of 19 pieces, or parts. The barrels of these two single-shot pistols turn to the side to load.
One of the two little gold pistols at the bottom of the picture has two barrels that tip up to load, is made of 36 pieces and is of 15 grains .weight. The other of the two, a single-shot, is made of 19 pieces and weighs 9 grains.
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