1754 Silver Mounted Flintlock Pistol by Barbar

Found at a Flea Market in Florida, this is a Silver Mounted English Flintlock Holster Pistol, circa 1754.

Description

This English silver-mounted pistol, with original flintlock, was made by James Barbar, and is hallmarked on the silver as having been made in 1754.  Believe it or not, this pistol was found at a flea market in Florida, several years ago.  A guy had a few old 20th century guns on his table, and was asked by the picker if he had anything older.  He said, “yeah,” I’ve got one in the car, but you probably wouldn’t be interested in it.  This is what he returned with.

James Barbar began working under his own name, rather than under his father, Louis Barbar, in 1741.  He is highly featured and praised in the book on period English pistols, by Norman Dixon:

Almost without exception, unrestored and original antique firearms made by Barbar of London are of the highest quality; pistols bearing this name are readily distinguished by their elegant profile and graceful curve of the butt, which terminates in a pronounced flair to the pommel.

Georgian Pistols: The Art and Craft of the Flintlock Pistol, 1715-1840, by Norman Dixon, at page 32.  Dixon really goes in depth about the French influence in Barbar’s designs, and its importance to firearm design development in the last half of the 19th century, as well as Barbar’s lasting legacy as an English gunmaker:

This maker was established in London at the end of the seventeenth century and he was noted for his ability to produce a handsome weapon of slender and nicely balanced proportions combined with an adequate performance . . . .

There is no doubt that much of his work reflects the influence of the golden age of unmaking in France during the reign of Lous XIV; possibly a forebear of Louis Barbar, the first gunmaker of this family in England, was a Huguenot seeking refuge in London from religious persecution when the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685.

Fortunately, there are some weapons extant in various collections, and a superb pair by this maker can be seen in Windsor Castle, depicting the French style which was a dominating influence upon most craft industries at the turn of the seventeenth century.

Georgian Pistols: The Art and Craft of the Flintlock Pistol, 1715-1840, by Norman Dixon, at page 33.

The Barbar family were French Huguenots, which were basically French Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who followed the teachings of theologian John Calvin. Calvin encouraged departures for the sake of religious virtue [«que ceux qui croient de n’avoir pas la force de témoigner de leur foi s’exilent» (let those who believe they do not have the strength to testify to their faith go into exile)]. Theodore de Bèze alluded to «l’universelle proximité du ciel nul n’ayant de cité permanente» (the universal proximity of the heavens as no one has a permanent city). See The Huguenot Refuge.

Huguenots were persecuted by the French Catholic government during that period, and fled to places like England. There was a long history of murder, politics, etc., going back and forth over a century or two, in France and other places in Europe, involving the Huguenots, fighting over religious philosophy and freedom.  Louis XIV gained the throne of France in 1643 and began to force the Huguenots to convert, eventually declaring the belief to be illegal in 1685. 4,000 of them fled to the fledgling American colonies, and many went to Protestant England, where they were welcomed as highly skilled and valuable refugees, who shared a Protestant faith.

Unfortunately for the French economy, many of those who left were highly skilled artisans and craftsmen, such as the Barbars. The Huguenot’s skills were portable and could be readily taken from country to country. In general, the Huguenots who left France were better education and highly trained, resulting in French culture and fashions spreading to wherever they relocated.  The same can be said with the gunmakers.

The puritan taste of the Huguenot can be seen in the simple, graceful shapes of exquisite form, particularly in goldsmiths’ and silversmiths’ wares. Although these craftsmen continued to apply the contemporary ornament of the baroque they did so with some restraint and not in the ostentatious manner of the Parisian school.

It follows that at these craftsmen, highly skilled in the applied arts, became integrated with society, the true English form and character in the design of firearms was determined by the middle of the eighteenth century.

Georgian Pistols: The Art and Craft of the Flintlock Pistol, 1715-1840, by Norman Dixon, at page 32.

Then, I would add, that these design elements translated to the American colonies, and early American firearm development, which of course was highly influenced by England, being that the colonies were exclusively English.

This pistol’s silver furniture has the London hallmark for the assay year of 1754 and are of exceptional quality made by James Brooker – also seen on one of the pair of pistols shown in Dixon’s book.  It has an old “stepped-barrel form” towards the tang of the barrel, and at the muzzle is slightly swamped, in order to reinforce the area most needed to withstand ballistic pressure, as well as balance (See Dixon at 37.).  Another interesting detail of this pistol, and other known Barbar pistols, is the addition of a foresight,

which was a continental practice favored by this maker, although totally unnecessary since all holster pistols were designed for snap shooting, the stock being a natural extension of the shooter’s arm.

Dixon at 37. This pistol’s barrel has three proof marks stamped onto the breech: Crown over a “GP”, the gun maker’s proof, a crown over a “V”, the “view mark,” and lastly, James Barbar’s maker’s mark, a star over “IB.”

 

After his father, Louie’s death in 1741, James succeeded him as “Gentleman Armourer” to George II. He was elected Master of the Gunmakers’ Company in 1742.

James Barbar died in 1773.

In a side note, apparently Gov. Joan Gideon Loten, famous naturalist and collector, owned an especially-prized James Barbar blunderbuss.  Referring to his friend, aristocrat, Gijsbert Jan Van Hardenbroek, and complaining that he gave him his favorite gun, Loten wrote that,

I told so that Noble-man that I had made by the famous Gun Smith Barbar an excellent fowling piece with the touchable bored thro’ a gold bar and tho’ I intended it by my self as a present, that I would sell it to him if He should happen to like it, but that I would do so at prime cost, I delivered to Him the key of the case or box it was carefully kept in, and a few days afterwards I sent it to Him in the case by Otterspoor . . . I heard never anything afterwards about it, not even when I gave to him a written direction how to keep it clean . . . .

The Life of Governor Joan Gideon Loten (1710-1789): A Personal History of a …
By Alexander J. P. Raat at 360.

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