Q. I have had on my desk, for more than 50 years, a brass article that I have always thought of as a nice paperweight. Enclosed is a set of pictures that I had taken on the outside chance that there might be some significant historical value in this “hand cannon.”
A. Your photos show an Oriental-probably Chinese or Japanese-hand cannon similar to some of the first handguns ever made. I would guess that you have a 19th or 20th century copy made for the Oriental tourist trade, which accounts for its fine casting and decoration. While your photos show it very well, I cannot tell whether the touchhole is drilled through to the bore or not, and I also cannot tell whether the bore is drilled all the way down to the breech. Many of these tourist guns were not finished to be fired, but some were. A somewhat similar item is sketched in Herschel C. Logan’s book Hand Cannon to Automatic.
Much more roughly cast examples of somewhat similar style were offered by Bannermans in New York as late as the 1950s and later by Dixie Gun Works. However, I have not seen it listed in Dixie’s more recent catalogs. Even if bored and vented for shooting, such hand cannons should be fired only with blank charges after having been inspected by an experienced muzzleloading gunsmith. For the most part, they serve very well-as yours has for the last 50 years and more-as interesting paperweights.
Originally published March 2006