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  • James Wheeling

Les "Couteaux de Chasse Pistolets" and Other Legendary Dumonthier Innovations

I’ve mentioned, in earlier blogs, my joy when I stumble upon a new idea or inspiration befitting my story’s time period of which I was ignorant. In this case, my husband and I were in New Orleans for a convention. One afternoon, we had time to walk around some of the antique stores in the city’s historic district. In one particular antique store, I stumbled upon one of the most interesting weapons I had ever seen. When I asked for more information, the store owner gave me enough to further my investigation on-line.

As it happened, simply Googling the manufacturer’s name produced a weapon for sale, along with a pretty decent historical description. Here’s what I’ve been able to put together, which, as it was meant to be, helped make it part of my story.

19th Century Bayonet vs. Hunting Sword

Hunting sword guns and knife guns had been in use for a few centuries in Europe by the time of my story. As it turns out, knives attached to guns are known as bayonets, and are different from guns attached to knives or axes. Historically, there were numerous varieties: Polish ax guns, German knife and sword pistols, Indian pistol katars, a Georgian knife pistol with a spring-loaded blade (like our modern-day switchblades) and even a Belgian pepperbox with stiletto blade.

Couteau de Chasse Pistolet

Joseph-Celestin Dumonthier was a French innovator of weaponry who was patenting his designs in the 1840s. His early designs were called “couteaux de chasse pistolets” or “knives with hunting pistols,” and they were primarily used to dispatch downed animals after hunting. In the 1860s and ‘70s, he patented a “cane gun,” a sort of walking-stick gun, with a breech firing system also known as a “quarter turn.” He patented the cane gun in 1871, but patents only lasted for 20 years, so as early as 1891 copies and systems similar to his were manufactured at a furious rate. One weapons company in particular, Verney-Carron from Saint Etienne, France, manufactured cane guns inspired by Dumonthier’s weapons.

The American Navy developed a .54 caliber, single-shot, smoothbore, Elgin pistol equipped with an 11.5-inch Bowie knife blade in 1838, intended to be used by boarding parties (I’d imagine it would also be useful to guard against being boarded as well). Only 150 were made and were used in the US Civil War but were unpopular. They were replaced by the M1860 Cutlass which remained in service until the 1940s.

Some of these Elgin pistols ended up in civilian hands and made their mark in the Old West. This is where one’s imagination can get revved up!

It was a Dumonthier dagger gun that I saw in the New Orleans antique shop. It had a carved-ivory handle and spring triggers that dropped into place when initiated. Each trigger fired a single-shot black powder ball from either side of the dagger. The barrels were short and stubby, so accuracy wasn’t the point. The idea was that the dagger would provide just enough protection to allow the user to reload or was a last-ditch tool.

The New Orleans antique dealer wanted a hefty sum for his prize so I had to pass but the inspiration it gave me was invaluable!


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