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A Scottish Scroll Butt Pistol by Thomas Murdoch of Doune

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Price: £8,250

Ref: 012.20

Item Description

A 24 bore all steel Scottish lobe butt pistol by Thomas Murdoch of Doune, dating to the third quarter of the 18th century. Pistols of this type and date were popular with officers in Scottish Highland regiments on service in North America. This example evidently had a long working life given that the barrel is stamped with 19th century Birmingham proof marks.  

The lobe butt was the last of five types of traditional Scottish pistol design to evolve, being preceded firstly by the “fishtail” stock pistol, which arrived in the late 16th century, followed by the “lemon butt”, “heart butt” then “scroll butt” styles as the 17th century arrived and progressed. The lobe butt seems to have appeared in the second quarter of the 18th century. The Penicuik Drawings, a series of sketches by an unknown artist, of both Jacobite and Hanoverian soldiery in the ’45 Rebellion, depicts some Highlanders armed with pistols of lobe butt type of similar proportions to that discussed here, suspended from their belts. Both lobe and scroll butt styles were produced by the Doune gun makers. The only difference between the two forms being the shape of the butt terminal.

The typical Doune decorative style applied to these all-steel pistols relates to the barrel decoration, the scrolls on the lock plates behind the cocks, and on the fore ends and undersides of the pistols. The scrolling and leafy features indicate a Celtic root to this style of decoration.  

The pistol illustrated here is finished in this manner. The cock and the area behind it on the lock plate, are engraved with scrolling foliage. The spine of the butt is engraved with parallel sets of lines infilled with a chain of chevrons. The fore ends are engraved with scrolls underneath and with chevrons to the side. The butt is decorated with chevrons both sides.

Underneath the lock the space is decorated with linear engraving between which a chain of chevrons is present crossed by two engraved silver bands and two engraved straps. The base of the butt is centred with a silver rose surrounded by a ring of chevrons beyond which four inlaid silver triangles, the points radiating outwards, are applied. The belt hook is decorated with foliage and is attached to the stock with a fishtail roundel. On top of tghe butt near the barrel a vacant silver roundel is applied which presumably once carried the owners crest or initials.

The lock is of “Highland” form with a horizontal sear extending through the lock plate which holds the cock in the half cock position. The lock plate is signed “T” with “MURDOCH” beneath. The barrel is of octagonal section near its base and decorated with chevrons. The flared muzzle also has octagonal sides and is engraved with fine scrolls. The middle section of the barrel is rounded and boldly engraved with chevrons. The overall length of the pistol extremity to extremity is just under 12.5 inches (31.5 cm). The barrel length is just under 7.5 inches (18.5 cm).

Thomas Murdoch’s baptism is recorded as of 9th May 1735, son of John Murdoch and Margaret McMien in Tenemon. His marriage is recorded as 18th December 1766 to Ann Buchanan in the Parish of Port of Menteith. Both events are detailed in the Kilmadock Parish Register (an administrative area which recorded births, deaths and marriages in the Doune region of Perthshire – Kilmadock burial ground where many of the Doune gun makers are interred is a short distance from Doune).

In 1774 Thomas Murdoch is recorded as “Gunsmith in Leith”. Presumably he moved his business to this Edinburgh port area sometime between 1766 and 1774, as demand for high quality and expensive Doune pistols started to shrink along the Highland Line due to the disarming measures taken by the Hanoverian government after the failure of the ’45 Rebellion. During this period pistol production in Doune all but ceased. The later pistols made by Thomas Murdoch which by style or signature (sometimes incorporating the place of work as “Leith”) are less elaborate, less well finished and most certainly less expensive to produce and sell compared to his better, earlier, Doune pistols. A development most likely due to increasing competition to supply the marine market with lower quality, cheaper, plainer pistols, coming on to the market at that time from both Britain and abroad.

Despite these developments, there was still the occasional opportunity for a quality commission in the later 18th century. According to the Scottish Statistical Account a pair of pistols made by T. Murdoch “a tradesman taught in Doune” were presented by the City of Glasgow to the Marquis de Bouille in 1784 (see “Scottish Arms Makers, Charles E Whitelaw page 43). Thomas is recorded as active in Leith in 1774, 1780, 1782 and finally in 1790. It seems he was succeeded in the family business by his son William first recorded in 1793.

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