RIA: Real vs “Fake” Wheellocks – What is “Fake”, Anyway?

When someone makes a “fake” historical gun, they can do so with the intent to deceive or be up-front with the gun’s new manufacture. Those acknowledged reproductions are a great option to have – guns like Uberti reproduction revolvers give us an excellent opportunity to shoot antique designs without the cost of true originals and without the risk of damaging them. On the other hand, creating “antiques” fraudulently to deceive someone into believing they are actually originals is a reprehensible practice.

What about when you don’t know, though? In the Victorian era, it was popular to have fancy antique guns – like these wheellock pistols. Just like today, not everyone could afford to actually go buy a 300-year-old ornate gun, though. So, many people would commission new replicas made (and I’m sure plenty of fraudulent copies were created as well). Fast forward a hundred years or more to the present day, and we have a bit of a conundrum for the potential buyer. It a gun 100 years old or 400? It takes some substantial experience and knowledge to be able to tell the difference – and yet an acknowledged Victorian copy is still a potentially fantastic piece of workmanship and collectible in its own right.

26 Comments

    • Actually, the main reason for pommel “bulbs” is to ensure that the gun could be hauled out of a deep, pouch type saddle holster even when the shooter was wearing heavy gauntlets. The objective being to have something they could get a grip on no matter what.

      The holster had to be deep and relatively tight to prevent the gun being jolted out when the horse was at the gallop, going over a hedge, etc. it usually had a tied-down flap for the same reason, plus to keep the rain out of the priming.

      As far as its use as a cosh, while some early “saddle peeces” had butts loaded with lead (the Dutch were fond of that with pistols with solid ivory stocks), most later ones had bulbs that other than being grab handles were largely ornamental, with necks far too weak to allow for any serious torsional stress without being broken off. And it wasn’t even all that common early on; French wheellock pistols, for instance, had “pillow butts” that were purely enhanced for looks from the early days on.

      Some of those had small spring-loaded covers in the very “top” (end) like later cap boxes. They were, in fact, snuffboxes. Which actually makes some kind of sense, as it was one less thing for a nobleman on horseback to possibly drop during a boar hunt.

      Keep in mind, most of these were intended for the “carriage trade”, after all. Defined as, “people rich enough to own and ride around in carriages”. Think modern-day Internet moguls in chauffeur-driven Maybachs or Teslas, you have the general idea.

      Old Wizard of Id strip;

      A well-dressed fop comes into the throne room, doffs his hat, and announces, “Sire! I am here to become a citizen of your kingdom!”

      The King of Id says, “OK, so, what do you do?”

      The fop replies, “I am a nobleman. I do nothing.”

      The King turns to Sir Rodney. “Put him in the fields with the rest of the ‘nobility’.”

      😉

      cheers

      eon

  1. After the Roman conquest of Greece there was a great demand in Rome for older Greek artworks such as statues. The demand exceeded supply, so people produced new fakes in Greek style.

    Go forward to today, and art collectors are faced with deciding if something is a genuine Greek antiquity or a Roman reproduction that is almost as old. Both are genuine antiquities, it’s just that one isn’t necessarily what it appears to be at first glance. The Roman “fakes” are still valuable, and in my opinion have a special interest of their own.

    With regards to Victorian era reproductions, these are a widespread problem for swords, armour, and other weapons even more so than firearms. Some were meant as honest reproductions, while others were fakes passed off as genuine. There was a ready market for both in decorating the mansions of the newly wealthy of the time.

    Once something gets old enough however, even a “reproduction” gains a value of its own. I would be quite happy to own a good quality Victorian era reproduction, provided that I knew that’s what it was when I bought it.

  2. This is an excellent video. Since Forgotten Weapons has become to a large degree an advertising and promotional service for various commercial gun auctions (presumably as a by-product) it’s always nice to see these sorts of ‘buyers’ guides’ to educate people about how to make more informed appraisements of the antiques they’re wanting to purchase. It would be interesting to know how many Forgotten Weapons readers are placing bids on featured items, and especially winning those bids.

    As to the ‘honest’ reproduction vs forgery issue, that would seem to more a factor of how easily a layman (or even an expert) could tell them apart. Having precisely duplicate identifying markings would of course scream ‘forgery’ (I’m presuming that the guild mark on the more recent gun was an intentional fake), as manufacturers and artists alike have a responsibility to put their own name on their work — instead of (*gasp*) someone else’s.

    It may be a similar situation to the art world, where high quality fakes and forgeries exist that have fooled everyone for so long, they might as well be classified as an original. I wonder if any (known) ‘fake’ guns might even be worth more than the genuine article, such as due to having better fit&finish, metallurgy, rarity, etc?

    • Be careful not to project your current day understanding of reproductions onto another era. The understanding of and importance of markings today at a time when all guns are marked with where and when they are made may have been quite different in an age when this was not common.

      Also keep in mind that when this particular gun was made, it would have looked like a new item unless it was intentionally “aged”, which we have no indication of. It is only the passage of time, more than a century, which has created this problem for us.

      As for why Ian goes to gun auctions, many of these guns are destined to disappear into private collections, possibly never to be seen again within the lifetime of many of the people who follow this web site. In many cases, their stay in the auction house may be the only opportunity we will have to see them. I have to say that arranging to examine them at the auction house was a very clever idea.

      • I agree that it’s a win/win situation all around. I would also agree that our modern day customs and culturally-skewed way of thinking might be unrepresentative of another time and place.

  3. Thank you for a great web site Ian!In your defense Gun auctions,museums and gun shows are just about the only place you are going to see these antiques.I am thrilled that an auction house like RIA gives you a chance to do your show for us.

  4. H. Beam Piper’s mystery novel Murder in the Gunroom (1948-49) is not only an excellent “murder mystery”, it’s also a detailed portrait of antique arms collecting at that time, including forgery, faking, and how to spot same. Like the screw threads, for instance, or metal being too high quality. You can read it for free at Project Gutenberg;

    http://www.gutenberg.org/files/17866/17866.txt

    cheers

    eon

    • I don’t know what caused the red dot in the barrel, although I suspect it was a photo flash reflecting off the nose of a bullet in a chambered cartridge, but the pistol is a 9mm Glock, probably a 17, with a Glock 18 extended magazine in place.

      cheers

      eon

  5. Amazing to see the flag of Franconia with the coat of arms of Nuremberg (Nürnberg, as it is written in German), here – the city i’m living in since more than two decades.

    That is typical for Ian – to put as much authenticity as possible into his work.

  6. An excellent presentation on a complex debate.

    There’s nalso the question of what is original?

    a miner who has used the same pick for the past 20 years, it’s had about 30 new hsndles and ten new heads

    There is a very nice rotary engined Sopwith tri-plane in the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire. it gets flown.

    IIRC it was built in the 1980s, and old T.O.M. Sopwith took a great interest in the building of it, he considered it to have held closely to the plans and issued it a factory serial number – it’s a late production original.

  7. From what I read last time we discussed wheel-lock guns, the techniques of making the springs for such guns fell into the category “lost arts.” So any wheel-locks, original or “fake,” which actually shoot without the user being compelled to unsafely hold the pyrite to the wheel in order to set off the powder charge upon the depression of the trigger shall indeed have some sort of functional “authenticity.”

    And, of course, most wheel-lock guns not destroyed on the battlefield (and indeed, most of the good ones were too expensive for that) were either hunting pieces or more cynically, an assassin’s best friends!! Anti-gun politics didn’t fare well with nobility, mind you, unless you’d rather be shot in the back point blank while riding through the woods… Or am I wrong?

    • Actually, the nobility were very quick to pass edicts against what were vulgarly called “stone guns” precisely because they were very useful for assassination. Not to mention highway robbery.

      Needless to say, they exempted themselves and their hired guards from said edicts.

      In some places, laws prohibited any guns less than two or sometimes three feet in length. Since a nobleman’s “horse pistol” with a 14″ to 18″ barrel could easily exceed the two-foot mark nose to tail, the nobility were once again unaffected by their own laws.

      And of course since hunting was a noble’s privilege, there was no provision for the average peasant owning even a matchlock “foweling peece”, on the grounds that he “didn’t need it”.

      Sound familiar?

      The gun-control mentality predates the gun. Look up ancient Chinese edicts on restricting crossbows to the use of the Emperor’s army and police sometime.

      As a rule, elites are not enthusiasts of armed…peons.

      cheers

      eon

      • True, but sadly the elites were eventually sidelined because they never thought about how common-folk’s weapons were MADE. Unlike dueling swords or expensive hunting wheel-locks, spears, pitchforks, torches, and matchlocks can be made for much lower prices in secret (and you can’t stop the gunpowder trade either) and in general the wicked nobleman is outnumbered if all the people in his land decide they have nothing left to lose if they rebel. Once his cronies are stabbed to death in their beds, his pistols and rifles are empty, and his sword is shattered, he is defenseless against the mob, especially if one makes sure the nobleman can’t call the cavalry!

        • That’s why through most of the late Middle Ages to early Renaissance, the various Continental monarchies and nobilities preferred hiring mercenary crossbowmen (usually from Genoa or some other Italian city state) or archers (mainly English) rather than trust their peasantries with even the knowledge of how to make a crossbow or longbow.

          Control of such technical data was actually comparatively simple in societies with low literacy. It became more difficult after Gutenberg introduced the Chinese concept of movable type to Western Europe.

          Hiring mercenaries was expensive, too, in more ways than one. As Machiavelli put it;

          Mercenary captains are either very capable men or not. If they are, you cannot rely upon them, for they will always aspire to their own greatness, either by oppressing you,their master, or by oppressing others against your intentions; but if the captain is not
          an able man, he will generally ruin you.

          The result was the Free Companies that plagued Europe until well into the early 18th Century. They probably made the Thirty Years’ War even worse in their quest for loot than the various rulers did in their quest for hegemony.

          The ruling houses of Europe generally regarded their peasants as domestic animals, except that no farmer in his right mind would ever abuse his livestock the way they abused their peasants. Which was why the peasants were never trusted with arms and the detection of any attempt to make them resulted in a brutal suppression by the ruler’s “hired guns”, the mercenaries.

          The reason the Italian city-states could hire out mercenary crossbowmen was that the rulers “rented out” units of their personal armies to other rulers from time to time to help defray the cost of their private “regime’ protection force”.

          The reason that Britain could hire out mercenary archers was that the Kings of England adopted the Saxon principle of feudalism, which relied on the support of the “yeomanry”. As Edwin Tunis put it in his seminal book Weapons (1954);

          European monarchs treated their people like cattle, and in several cases mercenary crossbowmen were ridden down by their own side’s knights after having shot off their bolts for those knights… The English yeoman was generally on better terms with his liege lord and could usually be trusted not to put a gray-goose shaft into the boss’ back.

          The tales of Robin Hood became legendary in England precisely because the situation they described (an evil Prince John trying to usurp his brother’s throne and oppressing the people to do it) was so atypical.In the real case, it resulted in the Magna Carta, with the nobility sharply restricting the powers of the crown.

          The people were never mentioned in it, but the nobles understood that that gray-goose shaft was ready if they got too ambitious, themselves.

          When a later king forgot how it all started, his name was Charles I, and the result was the English Civil War.

          As for making weapons from agricultural implements, look up Monmouth’s Rebellion. Scythes and reapers were reforged into pole arms not unlike the Japanese naginata, for the same purpose; to remove a man from his horse. The naginata had similarly humble beginnings as a harvesting tool.

          However, it is interesting to note that Monmouth lost. And that Japanese peasants rarely succeeded in killing armored samurai, on horseback or otherwise, until the gun became a standard weapon in the shogunate armies.

          cheers

          eon

          • The required skill to make hunting crossbows were very well known througbout Europe from the Late Middle Ages onward, when crossbows almost universally replaced the earlier composite bows used for hunting. The manufacturing knowledge and skills of war crossbows was more limited, mostly because only soldiers needed such weapons, and also because the average blacksmith didn’t have the skill to make the complex mechanical parts. The skills were also trade secrets and the skilled craftsmen tried to keep them to themselves and their apprectices. There was little need for the nobility to restrict the dissemination of those skills from above.

      • Are you talking about England or some other country / region in Europe? Because there never was any kind of common standard or rules for commoners’ hunting rights in Europe… In some countries or principalities there were no restrictions, in others certain forests were restricted or certain larger animals were restricted. Hunting small game like rabbits and hares was usually allowed for everyone.

        • I was referring to France, Belgium, the Germanies, etc.

          Even in England, while trapping for rabbit, fox, etc. was OK, hunting anything larger, like deer, could get you in trouble with the local liege lord, as the Robin Hood cycle makes clear. That was at least part of how all the hoohaw got started.

          And it lasted long after King John. Look up “poacher’s gun”. Considered highly verboten in England right up to Queen Victoria’s time.

          cheers

          eon

          • No common practice existed in the German principalities and even in France there were great regional differences in what was allowed for commoners. In Scotland, even after the personal union with England, laws were different as well and so forth. In general it is very difficult to say anything general about Europe or even Western Europe.

            Robin Hood, by the way, is a legend without any firm basis on any historical era or person, even if it originally may have been based on a real person or persons; most likely the latter. No historical facts should be inferred from the legend.

  8. A notable contrast between the two pistols featured in Ian’s video lies in the irregularity, or otherwise, of their details.
    The 16thC gun is a product of an age in which straight lines, symmetry and uniformity were not characteristic of manufactured products, whereas the 19thC gun comes from a time when linearity symmetry and uniformity had become the norm.
    A 16thC gun-maker could scarcely have conceived of the scientific precision of the late 19thC. Conversely, it would have gone deeply against the grain for a 19thC gun-maker to set such precision entirely aside, or to forget ingrained notions about efficiency of manufacture.
    In short, there is an entirely different spirit to each of these fine guns which in each case is inherent to the different cultures that produced them.

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