The Duelling Pistols of Browns of Blackburn

The Slang DUELLISTS - a shot at a Hawke or the Wounded Pigeon Isaac Cruikshank 1807
Courtesy of the British Museum

Today we thought we would share some information about a rare pair of silver mounted 22-bore flintlock, breech loading duelling pistols made by Andreas Rhienhold (Andrew) Dolep, a Dutchman who was working in London. The pistols were highly innovative, featuring an automatic priming magazine, a re-loadable metal cartridge and a hinged barrel for easier and quicker reloading.

The pistols were made for one of Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s ancestors around 1690 and include the family (Brown of Blackburn in Berwickshire) arms and motto.

The pistols have had a chequered and interesting recent history, regardless of what they may have seen in the seventeenth- and eighteenth-centuries. Possibly donated on the 16th Sept 1830 to the Bristol Institution by G.N. Daubeny Esq (as a pair of curiously formed ancient pistols), by 1921 they had found their way into the collection at Bristol Museum.

At some point after this one went missing (disappeared, presumed stolen or accidentally disposed of before 1945 when the records show just the one pistol in the collection) and then the remaining pistol was stolen in 1968 by a Major Baxter during an unsupervised visit to the museum stores.

The stolen pistol was offered via a dealer to a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London – luckily the curator recognized it and the pistol was recovered.  Major Baxter was convicted of theft from other museums and during the investigation it was proved that the other pistol, the missing one, was in the hands of a private collector; with no record of how or why it had left the care of the Bristol Museum and was present in his collection.

Since 1970 the pistol which was stolen has been on loan to the V&A.  The ‘missing’ pistol was offered for sale by Bonhams  auction house in Knightsbridge during November 2011, one of over fifty lots from the collection of the late Dr Robert Rabett – it sold for £31,250. Bonhams kindly agreed to pass our contact details to the present owner so that we could share this information with them, but to date we have had no contact.

We had wanted to include a copy of the pistols to show the Brown family crest in our book, unfortunately due to lack of space this was not possible so we thought we would share it with our readers here instead. We give more information on this fascinating but long forgotten family in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, and suggest who may have owned the pistols when they were new. The pistol owned by Bristol Museum has now been permanently transferred to the V&A in London where it can be viewed. It is in the British Galleries, room 56d, case 5.

Brown Crest on pistol
Brown of Blackburn Crest on pistol.
Courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum and transferred from Bristol Museums and Galleries.


Victoria & Albert Museum


Antiques Trade Gazette

Header image:

One of the duelling pistols owned by Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s Scottish forebears, from the V&A

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