A Mystifying 3-Barrel Percussion Shotgun

This is a three-barreled muzzleloading shotgun, with two pretty normal hammers on the top barrels and a rather unusual and simple under hammer for the bottom barrel. It has no markings at all, a hinged stock for some reason I cannot understand, and is clearly handmade. And that’s all I got.

Sold for $4,600 at the December 2019 RIA Premier auction.


  1. Custom-made for a 19th Century market hunter, and the stock is meant to be adaptable to firing over the thwarts of one of their little punt boats when they snuck up on their quarry in the prone. Lower barrel fired first, upper barrels ready to go immediately after.

    That’d be my guess, anyway…

  2. Maybe it is a small “punt gun?” the folding stock was to mount the gun over a gunwale of a small boat with the shooter hidden behind the gunwale?? I’M guessing!!!

  3. The bottom barrel trigger is way out of position with the stock in a normal position, but with the stock lowered it might be possible to grip the wrist of the stock and reach the trigger too. But a stock with such a dramatic drop would be exceedingly clumsy to shoot at game at any overhead angle?

    So my wild guess is the bottom barrel is for shooting at ground level game, and the upper barrels are for shooting at airborne game animals?

    • The lower trigger could use a safety, IMHO. It would have been nice to see the stock pivot with the lower hammer cocked.

      It looks like a cobbled together creation from a talented tinkerer. The metal on the front of the stock doesn’t look handmade and may well have come off a top break. Just guessing.

        • If this gun is capped when loading, it doesn’t look look safe to me. Impacts or snags or snags on the forward cocking cocking extension could result in discharge. Of course, you may be right.

  4. It could be that the gun breaks at the stock to give better access to the bottom trigger. It would bring your finger closer.

  5. Too weird for YouTube: I couldn’t find today’s video there, so I came here.
    I think other commentators are probably right to say the stock hinges to allow access to the bottom barrel’s trigger. Apart from which, it’s probably a lot lighter than other three-barrel shotguns of the same bore, and I think it would all make sense if we knew what sort of disability or handicap the original owner had.

    I don’t think a market hunter would have wanted the exposed lockwork, somehow. That seems strange unless putting a cover over it all would have made it too heavy for someone. Doesn’t look a big-enough bore for a market-hunter’s piece, either.

    I strongly suspect that the third barrel would have been loaded differently from the two top barrels, because three shots in quick succession would not have been possible: it was there for a secondary purpose.

  6. First of all Ian: Please do NOT stick to the easily explained, I mean, what’s the point? 🙂

    Second: A question: do percussion caps stick so well to a nipple that the one for the bottom barrel would remain in place if you fired one of the top barrels first?

    • From the look of the cones (nipples) it was intended for musket-type caps. Those are the ones that look like little top hats with the flat “brim”. They had 4 slots that went from the edge of the “brim” to halfway up each side, so they could be squeezed or spread to fit the cones of various makes of rifle-muskets and etc., which did not always use the same size nipple.

      For instance,the cones on Pattern 1853 .577 Enfields From London Armoury Company were different than those made in Liege, and both were a slightly different size that those on 1861 .58 Springfields.

      Sporting arms might have an even wider variance. So caps were generally designed to be “squeezed” or spread (carefully!) to a friction fit.

      This long predated the American Civil War, BTW. Such caps were first made in smaller sizes when underhammer “boot pistols” became popular, along with pepperboxes. Both of which could “lose” a cap if you weren’t careful.



  7. An excellent example of how the arms trade and linked markets were then not so monolithic than now. There being generous room for different national / cultural styles and separate development and niches – that wouldn’t necessarily be aware of each other. Also individuals (notably hunters, but also military) had the money or influence to readily indulge their fancies and ideas,

  8. Aimed shot vs. pointed? Using that tiny sight with the regular stock would be pretty much impossible, but with the stock in the lower position the line of sight might not be too bad. This might be a precursor to a drilling, makes me wonder if it originally had a rifled barrel below that got switched out, and the gun lost its fore stock at that time.

  9. lt seems the maker of this gun had discovered the barrel axis and stock support point relations as; the lower the barrel axis to shoulder, the lighter the felt recoil and muzzle rise…Especially for the barrels at top location during follow up shots which being impossible for single bottom bore… He should be a genius at shoulder arms anathomy… lMHO…

  10. First of all, this was definitely “made from scratch”, not adapted from an existing double shotgun. Not the “yoke” that attaches the under-barrel to the two top barrels at the muzzle. It is forged integrally with the two octagonal barrels, and the lower barrel appears to be brazed in place inside the “loop”.

    Second, I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s not American or European. The side actions look like a simplified version of a miquelet flintlock, with its characteristic external mainspring, and the “hook” at the end of the hammer mainspring taking the place of a tumbler or link. This sort of design points to the Mediterranean or possibly Mideast as point of origin.

    The underhammer does not resemble that of a typical Western underhammer setup, as on a boot pistol or some sporting rifles. in fact, it most closely resembles some percussion locks found on artillery pieces and/or naval guns, notably Turkish ones. This again points to the Eastern Mediterranean as the arm’s origin.

    I have to admit that the pivoting stock has me stumped. Although combined with the foregrip, it would facilitate shooting from either a standing or a sitting position.

    I tend to resist the urge to classify this as a “wheelchair” gun, like the curved-barrel shotgun Ian showed us the other day, although that would be one logical explanation for the stock and foregrip setup.

    Other than that, as Ian said, I got nothin’.



    • I disagree with your first point, if you pause an look closely there is a visible seam between the yoke and the top barrels, made a little more obvious by the difference in finish (pause at 0:47 for the best view). I have also left a longer standalone comment noting some of the differences in manufacturing quality in the action.

  11. Looks to me like someone had a double barrelled shotgun and a random barrel and decided to stick the two together:
    hence why the top barrel, hammers and triggers are so different from the lower trigger which is so much cruder and lacking a return spring. Compare the notches in the upper hammers and lower trigger; the upper hammer notches are clearly deeper, sharper and more precisely cut. Similarly, compare the cocking handles on both hammers.
    Also, note the clearly different finish on the lower barrel, possibly different quality/finish of brass on the new parts. There has also clearly been a piece of metal added at the muzzle to hold the lower barrel on while there is no visible separation between the top two barrels.
    The stock is probably original, and the gun would have had wooden side panels/fore-end which wouldn’t fit over the new lower barrel and triggers, prompting the new front grip. The wooden block above the action was possibly necessary to hold it all together so was made new from scrap wood. Hence why the three wooden parts are clearly different woods.

  12. I disagree with your first point, if you pause an look closely there is a visible seam between the yoke and the top barrels, made a little more obvious by the difference in finish (pause at 0:47 for the best view). I have also left a longer standalone comment noting some of the differences in manufacturing quality in the action.

  13. Very interesting, well made eccentric shotgun.
    I note that the trigger return spring for the lower barrel is broken. Easy enough to make a replacement.
    I have a 3 barrelled muzzleloading gun. Two smoothbores over a rifle. It is an underhammer. Three nipples in a row, single hammer, with a pivoting bar to select which barrel is fired.

  14. I can assume that the weapon is completely experimental (a workshop prototype) or a custom job for someone with physical disabilities, as others have guessed.

  15. Recoil like. It’s someone trying to design here, isn’t it.

    That is not a gun per se; all those externals, I know they had external mechs, but I think this is different, who knows maybe said chap or indeed lady had something. Far to early. Pehaps they envisaged three barrel cocking, maybe one per shot… But well it was just not the time to be saying stuff.

  16. Clearly it’s a Chiappa Triple Threat toolroom prototype. Please, Ian, don’t go back to normal guns, take a walk on the wild side.

  17. It looks to me like the lower trigger assembly and pivoting stock may have been part of the same system in some way. Like maybe the intent was to have the pivoting stock cock the lower action (or maybe all three actions). That could explain the naked “internals.

    That ball shaped ?foregrip? makes me wonder if the punt gun theory might not be on the right track, though. It would make a really good mounting point, with a corresponding cavity in the gunwale of a boat. At that point, three rapid shots would certainly make a hunter’s game bag easier to fill, relative to only two.

  18. I think the drilling idea of having a third barrel of insurance is closer to home. Muzzle loaders are real Inconvenient when you loaded for bird and are confronted with a large angry boar. More frightening is if you’re somewhat cripted up and can’t run away or climb to safety. Having a third barrel loaded with enough buck and ball to stop a nightmare at halitosis distance with the under hammer grab trigger would be a good thing. You can’t confuse that under hammer trigger in the excitement of a “normal” hunt but can find it in an emergency. As to the fore stock it would be an easy and sturdy hold with a prosthetic hand or limb. The swivel rear stock would make reloading for shorter person or a seated person easier.
    Just my thoughts.
    Best Regards to All,
    RCWin VA

  19. Many potential explanations were given, but they are based assumption that IMO do not have to holds true. Namely, that its’ creator has strictly utilitarian purpose in mind.
    And what if that assumption is false? I propose 2 hypothesis:
    1) it was designed as fire-arm curiosum from onset. Naturally, one which could be fired, but anyway it is used more like museum exhibit (look at this!) with maybe sporadic range visit.
    and second, which is based on fact it belongs to category “percussion” which hints it was made no earlier than dawn of 19th century AND it belongs to category “Europe”, thus giving intersection where gun-smithing knowledge was formalized.
    2) it is functional equivalent of modern bachelor thesis of some blacksmith’s apprentice, thus its main goal was to expose mechanical knowledge AND tool usage skills NOT being “sellable”

    • Hm… Daweo has a really good point, especially with that second possibility.
      It also could have been some gunsmith’s demo peice;
      “Can I do it? Can I DO it? Son, let me show you something real quick…” reaches into gun cabinet and pulls out this thing.

  20. I’m buying the rifle on the bottom idea too- that space in the rib looks as though it would fit a sight that might be linked to rise when the butt is lowered.

    I’ll offer that this was meant to demonstrate, not to actually be fired. The mainsprings and other works would be covered in the gun for actual use.

    It’s very pretty, with good checkering and nicely finished all over. I’d bet that once upon a time there was a mate to it, with the internals covered and a rifled barrel.

    • My guess is that it is a French hunting piece. The design aesthetic combines bold, blocky functionality with sweeping curves and organic shapes. It’s both brutally simple and strangely garish at the same time.

      I suspect the pivoting stock has three functions. The first is to allow improved presentation of the sights when firing the bottom barrel from a prone position. The second is to improve access to the bottom trigger when firing from a prone position. The third is to dig the toe of the stock into the turf when shooting from prone, effectively grounding the recoil forces.

      I might be wrong, but it was done with purpose, to achieve a very specific angle.

  21. Made my evening Ian ! I love the occasional departure from the norm ,I tend towards a mediterranean origin . A charging pig up close is NOT reassuring when you only have birdshot, i know from experience!, I waited till the muzzle was in his ear & it sure sucked up all the nerve I ever had! I have the remains of a1680 spanish shotgun ,the lockwork is similar, I do appreciate the care you take cocking & releasing hammers etc . Love your presentations sir. Thanks from NZ

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