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A Pair of Scottish Scroll Butt Pistols by John Campbell (II) of Doune circa 1755 to 1765

A pair of Scottish Scroll Butt (Rams Horn) pistols by John Campbell (II) of Doune dating to the third quarter of the 18th century.  These pistols are typical of the high standard of workmanship of the Doune pistol makers. Although the failure of the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, and the subsequent prohibition of arms in the Scottish Highlands, reduced the traditional market for Doune pistols, another market opened up with the expanding Scottish military in the middle to third quarter of the 18th century. Doune pistols became popular with Scottish officers as evidenced in many surviving portraits from the time. They were carried at home and abroad, particularly in North America, in the French Indian War and the American Revolutionary War.

There were three generations of Campbells that manufactured pistols in Doune. Although the overall lengths of the pistols became shorter as the 18th century progressed, the execution, style and high standard of engraving on this pair is very similar to that seen on pistols made in Doune by John Campbell’s father, Alexander Campbell, and by the first John Campbell, who was one of the early founders of the Doune gunmaking trade in the late 17th century. He died in 1720.

Doune was one of a number of Scottish market towns with established arms making businesses located on the borderland between the “Highland” and “Lowland” regions of Scotland. They supplied weapons mainly to the Highland Clans during the 17th and early 18th centuries. Market days were a busy time as Highland drovers poured into these towns to sell their cattle, the staple of the Highland economy, to Lowland buyers, and to purchase  weapons and supplies. Doune developed a quality of workmanship which set it aside from many of the other Scottish gunmaking centres from the late 17th century onwards. A number of family names established gunmaking businesses there such as the Caddell family line, Christie, Murdoch, Michie and of course Campbell. High quality pistols like these were expensive and afforded only by the flamboyant Highland elite.

The all-steel construction is typical of a Doune pistol. The “Doune style” of decoration is particularly pertinent in the barrel decoration, the scrolls on the cocks and lock plates plus the foliage on the fore ends and undersides of the pistols.

These features place the date of manufacture of our pistols to the early period of the working life of John Campbell (II). He was born around 1736, and in line with the norms of the time, would have been making pistols in his own right after completing his apprenticeship most likely in his late teenage years.  At this time the various makers in Doune had adopted an almost uniform emblematic style for their pistols.

A life line after the ’45 had been provided by the officer class for the best pistols which lasted until the end of the third quarter of the 18th century. The Doune makers had also benefitted from military contracts for pistols of a munitions grade for enlisted men in the Highland regiments.

But this was only a temporary respite in that military contracts by circa 1765 for munitions grade “Highland” military pistols was shifting to English centres of production.


A continuous erosion of trade eventually led to the cessation of traditional gunmaking in Doune on any scale by around 1780.  Many of the traditional gunmakers trained in Doune moved elsewhere. John Campbell remained in Doune until he died 1807.

The locks are of typical “Highland” form with a horizontal sear extending through each lock plate which holds the cocks in the half cock position, and a vertical sear is present extending from the top of each trigger plate through small oblong apertures in the centre of the upper surface of each butt. The lock plates are each signed “John Campbell”. The spines of the butts are inlaid with silver Celtic scrolls and engraved with foliage, chevrons and waves. The fore ends are engraved with scrolls, acanthus leaves and linear designs on four planes. The pistols are mounted with silver triggers and prickers, iron ramrod tubes and ramrods. Each side of each stock is decorated with a vacant silver escutcheon.

Underneath the main body of each pistol the space is decorated with three silver bands and detailed linear engraving of scrolls and chevrons. The belt hooks are of fully developed Doune form with a double roundel pierced and decorated with Celtic designs. The four stage 24 bore tapering barrels are 7 and 1/8  inches (18 cm) long with fluted sections near each breach, a grooved back sight cut into each ramp and flared muzzles with octagonal sides engraved with flowing scrolls. The middle sections of the barrels are rounded and boldly engraved with foliage on top.

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