This 6 shot percussion pepperbox pistol was a very common pistol during the California Gold Rush. The barrel is marked “Allen & Thurber”, and the hammer is marked “Allen’s Patent 1845”. It has 6 .36 caliber 5 ½” smoothbore barrels. This is the larger “dragoon” size. All parts on this specimen are original.
“The large .36 caliber “dragoon” pepperboxes made by the firm were noticeably muzzle-heavy and somewhat clumsy to handle. Moreover, the bores were smooth, not rifled…The purchaser of an Allen & Thurber got a gun somewhat more reliable and faster to shoot than the Colt, and saved himself some money in the bargain; a Colt buyer got a gun more powerful and accurate than the Allen, and better suited to plains use for that reason, but paid a premium for it.” –Firearms of the American West (1984)
During their time of manufacture, pepperbox pistols were very rarely referred to as “pepperboxes”. They were given names such as, “pocket pistols” or “six-barrel self-cocking pistol”. These guns were very popular in towns and cities, and were commonly carried by their inhabitants during the mid 19th century. The effectiveness of theses multiple rotating barrel pistols far exceeded that of the newly outdated single-shot pistol, yet they could be concealed almost as easily as a derringer. But these guns did not have the same popularity out on the range.
“It was not popular, however, in cattle country, the mining camps, or with stage drivers, express messengers and those who lived and worked under the big sky. They wanted a gun big enough and accurate enough to stop a man a fifty or more feet.” –Guns of the Old West (1961)