Tales of the Hunt: Stories from Writing Clockwork Basilisk

Clockwork Basilisk: The Early Revolvers of Elisha Collier and Artemas Wheeler” is available right now for preorder on Kickstarter:


Today Professor Ben Nicholson joins me to talk about some of the work behind the scenes to create “Clockwork Basilisk”. From unexpected museum finds to Maori war chiefs, this book was the product of a whole team of researchers across several continents.


  1. The Art Institute of Chicago became a repository of arms and armor through its receiving custody of the George Harding collection. Harding (d. 1939) amassed a huge inventory dating from near-prehistoric through medieval and up to modern, including firearms. This collection, upon Harding’s death, became a museum of its own in downtown Chicago under the terms of Harding’s will. The State of Illinois sued the trustees of the museum in 1976, alleging malfeasance (i.e. selling off valuable bits of the collection to underwrite hefty unearned salaries), and the collection was turned over to the Art Institute for public display in 1982. From 1986 through 2007 a broad selection was displayed in Gunsaulus Hall, the main corridor connecting the two halves of the museum (it straddles the Illinois Central Railroad tracks), and included suits of armor, edged weapons, shields, flags, early firearms and small cannon, and even a fancily-engraved Walther PPK! So that’s what’s behind how Professor Nicholson justified his research.

    • Addendum: I did not have the whole story. The Harding pieces were augmented by a donation of twenty-five handguns engraved by Raymond Wielgus (1920-2010), some of which were displayed with the Harding collection in Gunsaulus Hall. Whether a collector would consider his work enhancement or atrocity, is a question I leave up to others. https://www.artic.edu/artists/37259/raymond-j-wielgus

  2. Nothing excites an academic more than finding someone who wants to listen and learn about an obscure and esoteric field.

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