Today a gentleman no longer needs a set of duelling pistols, which means that Bonhams
Antique Arms and Armour sale on April 20th is free to offer twelve sets of pistols estimated to sell for between £2,500 to £60,000, as items of historical interest and fine workmanship, not death and destruction.
Images of the duel permeate our recent history - gentlemen defending their honour in the early morning light amid woods or fields, with seconds in attendance. Many felt compelled to fight duels, often with fatal results. Only gentlemen were considered to have honour, and duels were reserved for social equals.
The goal of the honourable duel was often not so much to kill the opponent as to gain satisfaction, that is, to restore one's honour by demonstrating a willingness to risk one's life for it.
From the early 17th century duels were often illegal in Europe, though in most societies where duelling was socially accepted, participants in a fair duel were not prosecuted, or if they were, rarely convicted.
Of the twelve sets mentioned above three deserved special mention:
Lot 456 is a very fine pair of flintlock duelling pistols by Robert Wogdon of London made in about 1785 for the Duke of Bedford. Such was Wodgons fame as a maker of duelling pistols that an anonymous Irish Volunteer penned a Stanzas On Duelling inscribed to Wogdon the celebrated Pistol-maker (1782) which reads in part:
Hail Wogdon! Patron of that leaden death
Which waits alike the bully and the brave;
As well might art recall departed breath,
As any artifice your victims save.
Lot 466 is an extremely rare cased pair of flintlock duelling pistols made
by James Purdey, of Princes Street, Leicester Square, London, in 1825, estimated to sell for £50,000-60,000.
The history of the set includes their ownership by Tom Purdey (1897-1957), Chairman and Managing Director of James Purdey and Sons Ltd., then President, 1955-57, and Keith Neal the world famous collector. Tom Purdey and Keith Neal were close friends and shared the distinction of serving three times as Master of the Worshipful Company of Gunmakers, the former in 1953, 1961 and 1973, the latter in 1928, 1940 and 1951.
The Purdey records show the pistols are one of only three unconverted pairs of this type so far recorded (all cased). They are therefore of the utmost rarity and survive in remarkably fine condition.
The third pair is lot 464, an extremely rare cased pair of Irish silver-mounted flintlock duelling pistols, by Robert McCormick of Belfast which are dated AD 1791. These are estimated to sell for £10,000-15,000 and are of very fine quality and workmanship of their type.