Royal Armouries

Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol

Images

monochrome photo of an axe with firearm mechanism on its head

Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol. Early 17th century (XIV.6)

  • monochrome photo of an axe with firearm mechanism on its head

    Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol. Early 17th century (XIV.6)

  • monochrome photo of the head of an axe with decorated firearm mechanism

    Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol. Early 17th century (XIV.6)

  • monochrome photo of the head of an axe with firearm mechanism

    Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol. Early 17th century (XIV.6)

  • monochrome photo detail of the workings of a firearm

    Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol. Early 17th century (XIV.6)

Date: 1825 | Object number: XIV.6

Statistics

Object Provenance: Possibly Iberian or German, early 17th century
Object Number: XIV.6
Calibre: .31 in (150 bore)
Overall length: 55.4 cm (21.8 in)
Length of head: 38.1 cm (15 in)
Weight: 2.95 kg (6 lb 8 oz)

Wheellock Combination Axe and Pistol

Description

Hollow steel axe-head with a long, down-curved rear fluke and integral steel haft with writhen grip.

The axe-head head contains five barrels, their muzzles concealed by a hinged cover forming the edge of the axe-blade. The topmost barrel is ignited by a matchlock fitted on one side of the axe-head, its mechanism concealed by a brass plate cut out and engraved in the form of a lion.

The second barrel has a wheellock ignition system, the mechanism of which occupies most of the outer surface of the opposite side of the axe-head. There is a tubular extension to the pan of the wheellock intended to hold a length of match which would be ignited by the flash of the priming and then withdrawn to ignite the three remaining barrels.

A sixth barrel, also hand-ignited, is concealed within the haft. On the left side is a belt or saddle-hook. Traces of blueing remain on parts of the wheellock mechanism.

This novelty weapon was purchased on Saturday 2nd April 1825 from Messrs Brooks of Old Bond Street in the sale of a collection “Having been sent from a Nobleman’s castle in Bavaria”, see WO 44/303. Porrett to Board 1st August 1825.

In the 16th and early 17th centuries guns were still regarded by some as unreliable novelties, and there was a vogue for producing combination weapons with a traditional tried and trusted attachment in the event of misfire. More of a curiosity than a practical weapon, the excessive weight of the head of this axe-pistol would make it almost impossible to use as either. The various means of firing the six barrels would be confusing at the best of times, let alone when under pressure. While it might claim an educational function in neatly illustrating various types of ignition system, it has novelty appeal rather than offering a practical hand weapon. However it proved an interesting and attractive alternative to the munition weapons which made up the bulk of the Tower armouries collections at the time. It is listed among the ‘very many curious articles’ shown in glass cases in a recess in the New Horse Armoury in the 1827 guide and described as ‘a combined weapon of the reign of James I in form resembling a small battle axe, but which contains six pistol-barrels, a wheel-lock, a matchlock &c’.

Publications

Exhibitions

Statistics

Object Provenance: Possibly Iberian or German, early 17th century
Object Number: XIV.6
Calibre: .31 in (150 bore)
Overall length: 55.4 cm (21.8 in)
Length of head: 38.1 cm (15 in)
Weight: 2.95 kg (6 lb 8 oz)

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