Friday, October 7, 2011

SNEAKY GUNS I: Gun Canes

They’re hidden, they change shape, they’re just plain sneaky.

This episode we look at cane guns.  They are mostly a product of the industrial revolution, the Victorian need for curiosities, and a reaction to urban crime.  Cane guns were a way of hiding a firearm inside a walking stick or cane.  
Everybody has seen sword canes and they were uncommon, but not unheard of in the Georgian and Victorian eras but gun canes are even more uncommon than other gadget canes.  But as scarce as they were overall, they were popular with a segment of the population starting in the 1840s Europe as late as the 1920s.  Slowly over the years, governments put into place laws about concealed weapons so sword canes and gun canes fell into disfavor and even outside of the law in industrialized countries.  
Most cane guns were hand made by small workshops in limited numbers, but a few major companies such as Remington, made gun canes that are now highly sought after by collectors.   

Most gun canes encountered are either late percussion era items (1840s to 1870) and early cartridge guns (from 1860 onward) nearly all of which were rim fire guns from .22 to .32 commonly, although there are a few exceptional guns such as the 410 center fire.  Rarer even in this obscure niche are flintlock, repeater, and air gun canes as well as combination weapons hidden in a cane and detachable stock canes.  

Generally, they are single shot devices although there are a few scarce pepperbox types, which tend to be rather bulky in anything but tiny calibers.  Sometimes, the pepperbox gun canes had an integral spike bayonet tip, but they are extremely rare.  There are a very few late period magazine repeaters and a few also sport attachable rifle stocks, but again they are very rare.  Cane guns were even produced by airgun manufacturers, which were nearly silent in comparison to cartridge cane guns.

The vast majority of cane guns were simply novelties and a tribute to the Victorian love of mechanical gimmicks.  They produced canes with a wide variety of attachments and uses such as concealed swords, compasses, hidden compartments, glove holder, whistle handles, mini telescopes, cameras, and the like.   

That is not to say that gun canes were never used, but certainly they were seldom encountered.  It was just a lot easier to just pocket your small revolver when you went out for a stroll if you were concerned about an encounter.   Simple sword canes are far more encountered than projectile weapons in a cane.

One added feature of gun canes is that they could be used as a parrying weapon or even a club once they have been discharged.  They were often embellished with expensive handles of gold, silver or ivory being a statement about status as much as having any practical walking value.  Assassins, footpads, dacoits, muggers and garrotters beware or at least try not laugh too much.  
Ultra-rare segmented cane gun air pistol in case with pump

 As far as using them for RPGs such as Call of Cthulhu in the Victorian, Edwardian or 1920s.  I suggest you use them sparingly except as a psychological quirk for a player, a fantastic prop in a mystery, or an embellishment for a bad guy NPC.  

They have a good surprise factor and can be deadly at close quarters despite having no sights, being in small calibers, generally single shots, and requiring a bit of practice in working the mechanism.  Stay tuned for more Sneaky Guns articles following this one.


If you like this Victorian weapons blog post, also consider some of my earlier blog entries about Victorian weapons and crime.

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UPDATE 10 Nov 2011:
See my other Sneaky Gun posts of the Sneaky Guns Trilogy

1 comment:

  1. A small caliber doesn't have to be deadly, my father carried a small .32 caliber double barrel derringer for years. One day when we were out shooting I asked why he carried the pistol, a .32 cal wouldn't kill anybody. His respose was " Once you shoot somebody a couple of times they are a whole lot easier to whup."

    ColKG

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