In the colonial era, there was known to be the occasional ruffian and bad apple that walked around in public. Middle class tradesmen and merchants, as well as upper class landowners and gentry often found themselves traveling in strange areas. This was in the days before large municipal, county, and state police forces and if you wanted personal protection, you really had to take it into your own hands. It was the days of the muff pistol.
What is a muff pistol?
A popular clothing item from about 1600-1900, was the handmuff. Used by both men and women, it was a cylinder of fur or fabric with both ends open for keeping the hands warm in winter. Remember when traveling from place to place during this time, you were often in an unheated horse drawn carriage and Jack Frost nipped more than your nose. If accosted outside of town by a highwayman (robber) who wanted more than your coins, what better idea than to draw a small pistol from your muff and defend yourself.
Most of these 'true' muff pistols load through a detachable barrel. Unscrew the barrel from the frame, insert 7-15 grains of black powder into the chamber behind the threads, and place a slightly over sized ball without patch over the powder before carefully rescrewing the barrel. The bad thing is that if powder residue was left on the threads, it could often ignite when reattaching the barrel and literally cause these little guys to go off in your hand. This could be alleviated by wiping the threads with a cloth impregnated with a non-flammable lubricant before reattaching.
A pair of two identical engraved and gold inlaid Vivario-Liege Belgian single shot percussion pistols. These are .44-caliber percussion single shots with 1.75-inch barrels with ebony grips. The pair was valued at $2k with the flask, box, and accessories.
A 5-inch long Allen & Thurber D. A. Bar Hammer 'muff' pistol. Produced from 1830s - 1860s. Estimated several thousand of these were produced in calibers .28 - .36.
A .455-caliber Hesketh London flintlock with powder flask, ball mold and barrel wrench. This gun went for $450.
A 1770s Ladies Flintlock 'Muff' Pistol by Durs Egg, London. This one sold in London for about $900. Note the screwed removable barrel.
A muff pistol wasnt always just for hiding in a muff. Besides vest pockets for men there was always small purses for women.
While most of these guns are flintlock, thousands of them made 1810-1850 are percussion capped. This was much more reliable than that the old school flints and, as long as the pistol had a reliable, half cock lever, relatively safe to carry. Still you had to realize that carrying these guns in a concealed manner, half-cock or not, was pretty dicey. Especially when given to people with little or no firearms training.
The muff gun fell out of favor when the designs of Mr. Deringer came on the market in the mid-19th century. The Deringer was more reliable and could be loaded without unscrewing the barrel. Besides that, small Smith and Wesson and Colt revolvers came about that put the final nail in the muff gun's coffin. It's unlikely you will find one made after 1870.
Since hundreds of makers made so many thousands of these guns, they run the price range from $100-$3000 depending on quality, rarity, and functionality. Many were very simple affairs with plain wood stocks and smooth metal frames for use by traveling merchants and the wives and daughters they left behind. Others used expensive ivory and silver, and incorporated exotic woods such as teak and ebony and were carried by society members.
They are neat little guns.
Moreover, I got to the end of the article without a muff joke.