Saturday, July 30, 2011

The French Apache Moves to Chicago!

Part the Third – how it got there

Recently, I have been blogging about the famous Parisian gang, the Apaches and about some of their hardware.  In this episode I will talk about an interesting pistol that originated in France and was also made in the US.  Although fairly rare, I am surprised at the number of all models of Palm Squeezers that appear.  It tells me that they were kept clean, safe, and secret for many years.
Turbiaux for Le Protector
Jacques Edmond Turbiaux was a Parisian inventor who patented a very unusual gun in 1882 in several European countries and the US a year later.  It was unusual even in a time of innovation and excess.  The pistol was not gun shaped and designed to be concealed easily, even when fired, yet be fully ergonomic and then slip right into a pocket.  The key to this was to toss away the traditional cylinder and make a sort of metal doughnut that had chambers that radiated out from the center.  The striker remained stationary at the center and the doughnut rotated around an axis, setting up each shot.  The whole pistol fit in the palm of your hand and a short, secretive barrel that protruded between the fingers discretely.  The gun was double action only, so no external cocking was necessary outside of the squeeze necessary to put all of this in motion.

Patent by Turbiaux for Le Protector You could draw your gun discretely, literally palming it without drawing any attention to yourself.  The diminutive barrel slightly protruding from between the fingers could be easily overlooked, especially in a crowd.  In theory it was a defensive gun, in fact Turbiaux called it “The Protector”, but it also worked great for assassins or for criminals. 
Reloading required rotating the cover one-quarter turn and removing the doughnut.  Each chamber would need to be cleared of empty brass, if necessary, and fresh cartridges inserted.  Then the process would be reversed.  This is not a gun for a gunfight, nor was it accurate beyond a few feet due to the short barrel.  In fact, there were no sights of any kind.  I was made for short distances only and the relatively weak cartridge meant that you had to shoot for vital organs or the head to kill instantly.  The French model was made in 6mm and 8mm central fire.
Minneapolis Firearms Co, The Protector
The American company, The Minneapolis Firearms Company, purchased the American rights to produce Turbiaux’s Le Protector and began production in 1891, ultimately producing 3,000 over the course of two years.  Actual manufacture was done at a plant owned by James Duckworth of Springfield Mass.  This was a seven shot .32 short caliber pistol that fired by squeezing the gun in the palm, compressing the handle, cocking the gun, rotating the doughnut firing chamber and firing the gun all in one motion.

Chicago Palm Pistol, The ProtectorThe Chicago Firearms Company bought the patent form the Minneapolis Firearms Company in 1892 and produced 12,800 examples of the peculiar pistol form 1894 through 1896.  This model had a refinement of having an added safety catch that looked much like a trigger on the front of the gun, which the earlier Minneapolis and French gun lacked.  The Chicago model also had a seven in its doughnut cylinder.  These guns were manufactured by the Ames Sword Company of Chicopee Falls, Mass.  The first models were supposed to be delivered in time to show at the Chicago World’s Fair, but Ames defaulted and was sued by The Chicago Firearms Company.  Ames lost the suit and paid a substantial sum and became the owner of 12,800 pistols they did not want.  They were sold on the market as late as 1910 in some cases, although all of them were made before 1898.  These models were larger than the petit Minneapolis Firearms Company pistol because they were made as ten shot models (larger doughnut) rather than the earlier seven shot models of the previous company, although in the same caliber.  
Chicago Protector original advertisement
The strange story of a bizarre gun which emigrates from Apache ridden Paris to the new world and finally to Chicago was one fraught with patents, broken contracts and dubious uses for this funny little gun.  I have handled a few over the years and they fit comfortably and quite substantially in the hand.  They were covered nickel plate, or less commonly steel blue and the side plates could made with hard vulcanized rubber inserts or mother of pearl.  This gun started out as a protector but also fell into the hands of criminals and gained a quirky reputation among collectors.  It’s a true testament of Victorian arts and design and one that might be encountered in Call of Cthulhu games both in the New World and in Europe from the late 1890s through the 1930s or in Steampunk. 

See also my blog entries:  APACHES ... IN PARIS? and APACHES IN PARIS? PART II for the first two parts of the series, plus an article on the Le Mat revolver called STEAMPUNK MINICANNONS ARE REAL .

Friday, July 22, 2011


Part the Second:   
     Consider the Gentleman Cracksman

While playing Call of Cthulhu and other RPGs, not only will your adventures/investigators encounter criminals, they may actually have one or more of them in their party.  Although not an Apache, a highly notable gentleman criminal, Maurice Leblanc’s Arsène Lupin was an early antihero from the teens and 20s.  Having a highly moral master criminal in your investigation group would be an asset, as long as he/she stays out of jail.

They have many useful skills beyond the obvious lock picking, burgling, pick pocketing and the like.  They will have good contacts, well place confederates, know how to get information and has a good knowledge of items to sell or buy.  If your gentleman criminal deals in stolen art or artifacts, that might make a good hook for the character and a reason to join the group.  The downside is if your gentleman criminal adventurer is well known or has detectives actively seeking him, you may have a lot of problems.  It can be compounded if both criminal organizations and police are seeking him and anybody associated with him.  Game masters should use this as a judicious balance for allowing an ultra-talented player character in the group.  Be careful with such characters as they can run away with the group, leaving little for everybody else. 

Some books about Arsène Lupin are available through Project Gutenberg as free downloads:
      Arsène Lupin
You can further research the Victorian/Edwardian genre of gentlemen criminals by reading up on Raffles, The Amateur Cracksman by E. W. Hormung whose works are also available on Project Gutenberg.
A critique of Raffles and the metamorphosis & moral ambiguity of Raffles and such characters can be found in an essay by George Orwell.

Two additional books I can recommend about gangs in major cities is The Anti Society about Victorian crime and slums in London, and the sweeping overview of gang activity of Victorian and later gangs in the 1928 Gangs of New York (later made into a movie) and The Anti-Society:  An Account of the Victorian Underworld by Kellow Chesney, 1970.  I highly recommend both books.

Although I haven’t read it yet, you might try George Orwell’s (of 1984 fame) Down and Out in Paris and London, which although fiction, is based heavily on his time as a penniless writer in those two great European metropolises.  I might also suggest Frederich Engels who wrote extensively about poverty in England in his 1845 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England.  Despite being the co-creator of what we know as Marxism (with Karl Marx), his early book still makes good reading and first-hand account journalism.  Dickens is another good source of pre and early Victorian information slum living such as Oliver Twist. 
Other sources for antihero characters of the 20s and 30s might be Chandu the Magician and Mr Moto, their motives can be obscure, they methods questionable, but they have a bias towards an self-internal law, that vaguely meshes closer to good than evil.  I won’t go into Doc Savage, who wasn’t an antihero, but he did lobotomize criminals against their will.  The difficulty is not letting them do all the work or become a danger to the group and the mission.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


A gun, a gang, and a dance

The Apache pistol is a highly unusual weapon made in France starting in the late 1860s. Originally in pinfire and later in rimfire or center fire the Apache pistol is a unique combination gun that combines a pistol, knuckleduster, a folding dagger, and conceal ability all in one. The cylinder folded into the knuckleduster to make a formidable weapon that added the extra punch of the heavy cylinder, like having a roll of quarters in your hand when you punch.

Apache Revolver 2
(Update:  an astute viewer has brought to my attention that the Apache pistol was actually in the 7mm Lefaucheux pinfire cartridge, the caption is in error.)
The diminutive flip up dagger also appears on flintlock and percussion guns from much earlier times. Frankly, the blade would do about as much damage as a medium sized clasp knife and I suspect it had more to do with intimidation than damage. Both straight and wavy blades appear on these guns, depending on the model and manufacturer. They were made from the late 1860s and through the 1870s, although a later model may have escaped my attention.

These guns get their name from use by the famous Parisian gang, the Apaches. They were highly violent group that actually had chapters in other cities (especially Marseilles) and preyed on city dwellers and travelers starting in the middle 19th century and continuing on for many decades through the 1920s. The spoke a special slang called Jare, and wore distinctive flashy clothes to advertise that they were not to be trifled with. Many of them carried knives such as the famous folding Laguiole knife as a distinctive weapon with it’s bee shaped lock. Its locking blade ensured that the blade would stay rigid in a fight.
Apaches in Le Petit Journal
The name of the gang comes from reports of Native American Apache raiders printed in sensational French (and other) publications about these feared southwestern fighters. The name was taken by the Parisian gang to instill fear and to identify themselves as people to be feared and paid off rather than anger. As a side note, the word Apache was pronounced as “ah-PASH” rather than the U.S. pronunciation, “ah-PATCH-ee”. Both the gang and the gun were pronounced the same in France and both were synonymous with fear and violence.

The Parisian gang was well documented in the French press and in popular culture. They were celebrated by a special dance that celebrated violence, especially towards women in a dance called the Savate. Many gang members were also pimps along with being footpads, smugglers, and murderers.

Savate is also the name of a type of martial arts practiced by the French as a type of kick boxing and is a national sport. Additionally, the term savate can also be applied to the type of street fighting and criminal tricks used to subdue victims by the Apaches and other street gangs. Be very careful if a Parisian Apache asks, “Would you care to dance”? You have just been identified as a mark to other gang members and are about to be attacked.

Savat the Apache DanceYou might also look up a French film “Les Vampires” about an Apache street gang and their exploits, from 1915-16. It was released as ten serial episode that ran from a half hour to an hour each. It is available for free download at the Internet Archive: download site for Les Vampires

I’ve seen several and handled a couple of Apache pistols over the years, but the high price tag has kept it out of my collection. Nobody to my knowledge has made a modern working repro and the same for a non functioning version, although I don’t think it would be all that hard to fabricate a prop from existing parts of other prop guns.
Apache Revolver
For those of you who wish to dress like a turn of the century Apache, there is a clothing company that sells items made to look like that period and evoke the Apaches for costumers an LARPers. Stay tuned for part two of this article, which will focus in on using underworld elements in our investigator’s party and/or as PCs/NPCs and Steampunk.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Steampunk Minicannons Are Real – Cultists Watch Out!

One of the most interesting guns from the Civil War, the LeMat was made in France (and later Britian) and imported by the CSA. Invented by Dr. Jean Alexander LeMat from New Orleans, this scarce gun is one the holy grails of Civil War collectors. It was a unique invention and continued to be manufactured even after the war. Originally produced as a percussion gun, it was also made as a cartridge revolver. There was even a carbine version produced.
LeMat Carbine
A few European manufactures copied the design although they probably didn’t pay for the patent. Later LeMats and copies were made to shoot self contained metallic cartridges such as rim fire, center fire, and pin fire cartridges, rather than muzzle loading percussion guns.

LeMat Revolver, Civil War, Percussion

 LeMat Revolver Original Patent DrawingAlthough I have handled both original and repro LeMats, I have never fired one. However, I have talked to a couple of people who have shot them and they report that if you fire the shotgun barrel first, the percussion caps on the unfired cylinders can be jogged loose by the recoil. Also because the selector is on the hammer, you need a free hand to flip down the striker from the cylinder mode to the shotgun mode and the same story to flip it back again. Despite those shortcomings, its nine shot cylinder capacity and minicannon under the barrel makes it a really powerful close-up weapon for cavalry or the intrepid explorer.

LeMat Revolver, European Copy
I had been offered an original LeMat some years back, but it was a good deal more than I could afford at the time. I traded off my modern Italian repro LeMat around that time. For steampunkers and costumers there are non-firing metal and cast plastic replicas that look pretty good. For those playing CoC in the Victorian era, they are great period weapons.  The only drawback is that they are quite large and heavy weapons for holster weapons on par with the Colt Dragoon pistols.


Friday, July 8, 2011

The End of the Shuttle

Today’s mission marks the beginning of the end for the U.S. Space Shuttle Program.  Mission is to deliver supplies to the space station.  Landing is slated for 20 July.  We can only hope that the mission is successful and safe.
 Space shuttle Atlantis stands at launch pad 39A as a cargo canister is lifted into a payload changeout room.
This move retires an aging fleet, writes off a $10 billion development cost and lays off 3,500 NASA workers.  This is part of the “flexible path” approach calling for private sector spacecraft development.  Maybe China can give us a hand in the future in our “great leap forward”.
For those old fossils, like myself, who watched the early manned orbital missions, the first moon landing, and saw photos transmitted from the surface of Mars, the dream of space steps back to take a breath.  As a long-time fan space and follower of space technology, I feel proud of our quest towards the unknown and hope that a new era of space exploration might eventually evolve.  For now, we have only the stars in the sky.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Classic Animated Tintin – CoC Game Ideas and Shameless Escapism

As I had blogged before, Tintin was a great childhood favorite of mine and later my daughter enjoyed them as well. The new Tintin feature length movie, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, is due out 23 December 2011 and that’s a long time to wait.

To help with your wait, I have added links for the old Tintin cartoons made in the early 1990s and based closely on the books. Not seen are among the lineup are Tintin in the Land of the Soviets (1930), TinTin in The Congo (1931), and The Aleph Art (1986) as no episodes were produced. Note that I used YouTube links rather than embeds to keep the length of this post short and speed up load time for your browser. Here they are in the order of the publication of the original books.

Tintin in America (1932)\
Cigars of the Pharoh (1934)
The Blue Lotus (1936)
TinTin and the Broken Ear (1937)
The Black Island (1938)
King Ottokar’s Septre (1939)
The Crab With The Golden Claws (1941)
The Shooting Star (1942)
The Secret of the Unicorn (1943)
Red Rackham’s Treasure (1944)
The Seven Crystal Balls (1948)
Prisoners of the Sun (1949)
Land of Black Gold (1950)
Destination Moon (1953)
Explorers on the Moon (1954)
The Calculus Affair (1956)
The Red Sea Sharks (1958)
Tintin in Tibet (1960)
The Castafiore Emerald (1963)
Flight 714 (1968)
Tintin and the Picaros (1976)

Over the years, the Tintin books were updated and edited to keep up with modern times. If you read the Wikipedia article, you will have read about the controversy & etc. I have provided these cartoons as historical documents of publishing of the time. I won’t have any truck with rampant revisionism or PC gibber, they are what they are. As interesting as the animations are, I suggest you read the books, as frankly they are much better than the cartoons.

A pseudo Tintin adventure I would like to see
Tintin was a gun-toting, face punching supporter of the underdog and the scourge of criminals, dictators, smugglers, and war mongers all while under the guise of a reporter. He seldom looked for trouble, generally tried to run or alert the authorities whenever feasible and was the recipient of a good deal of coincidence and just plain dumb luck.

These books and cartoons are fertile ground for those putting together Lovecraft Call of Cthulhu RPG scenarios and as focus point for ideas as a number of the books were published in the 1930s and 40s. I will admit that I lifted certain elements from Tintin books for my scenarios and even used them in subtle in-jokes during game play. You might also check out my Scooby Doo post for other ideas.

By the way, the new Tintin movie is based on The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure so you can click on these two cartoons and get a pretty good idea about the movie if you haven’t already read the books.


Here are some links to Tintin fan sites: ), also a YouTube fan film pseudotrailer (in French with English subtitles)