Originally featured in Points West in Winter 2007
Allen & Thurber of Worcester, Massachusetts, manufactured this six-shot, double action pepperbox pistol about 1847. Pepperbox pistols are unique in that they are revolving, repeating arms that have multiple barrels instead of a revolving cylinder and one fixed barrel that characterizes later revolver designs. Although it predates widespread use in revolver designs by decades, this muzzle-loading pepperbox is a bar-hammer double action, which allows the pistol to be fired without having to cock the hammer manually.
Allen & Thurber was the first company to manufacture these little pistols in the United States, but they were shortly being produced by a number of competitive companies.
They were popular in America from the 1830s to the 1860s because they were easily concealed, relatively inexpensive, and readily obtainable. Although designed to fire only one barrel at a time, some pepperboxes with shorter barrel lengths had a propensity to fire multiple barrels simultaneously or in quick succession. Some pepperbox owners valued this tendency because the pistol exhibited greater firepower when more than one barrel discharged.
The popularity and widespread use of the pepperbox began to wane with the introduction of Colt’s revolvers during the mid-nineteenth century, but it remains a valuable object in the Cody Firearms Museum collection because it provides a fascinating example of innovation during a period of rapid change in firearms technology.
Pepperbox muzzle-loading repeater pistol with percussion lock and multiple barrel. Manufactured by Allen & Thurber, Worcester, Mass., 1847–1865. Gift of Olin Corporation, Winchester Arms Collection. 1988.8.2123