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Old August 30, 2013, 05:48 PM   #1
1Funkymonkey
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Howdah Help?

I'm trying to authenticate a double barrel, smooth bore, percussion muzzle loader I got from my Father-in-law's estate. It's about a .68 caliber, 8 inches muzzle to hooks and there are no obvious identifying marks on the barrels. There is, however, a faint "12" stamped into the stock under the breeches.

From my research, it appears to fit the description of a Howdah. The most unique feature is the manner in which the hammers are attached. Instead of screws, the hammers are fastened with spanner nuts fitted onto studs that appear peened over (or just worn).

The stock shows tool marks on the unexposed surfaces and looks hand carved. The checkering on the grip is shallow and indistinct (possibly from wear) and it lacks the reinforcements at the wedge. There is no indication that it ever had them. It is not of the quality that I've seen in many of the European examples.

Thorough disassembly revealed that the fastener threads are not of a common pitch, either standard or metric. I took my calipers to them and calculated them out to be around 29 tpi. None of my thread gauges fit. Even the nipples are an odd size.

I intend to make minor repairs and fire it occasionally, if only "blanks" on the Fourth of July or New Years, but I don't plan to go nuts on it. I just need to fix a bent sear, take the dent out of the R/H barrel, get new nipples and a bit of minor rust control. I'm just trying to figure out if this is an authentic old gun or if it was someone's garage project from the 1920s or something.

I have plenty of hi-res pictures but this forum limits the size. I can tweak and add them if necessary.

Thanks, 1FM
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Old September 1, 2013, 09:45 AM   #2
gyvel
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I don't know much about howdahs, but I seriously doubt, judging on appearance, that this is someones's garage project from the 20's.

Is it possible that the threads and pitch are Whitworth? I believe the Whitworth standard was 27 tpi. Whitworth threads might possibly indicate Indian manufacture.

Hopefully, those with a greater knowlege will pitch in.
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Old September 1, 2013, 03:51 PM   #3
1Funkymonkey
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Thanks gyvel.
I was thinking the same thing but I know little about Whitworth other than my brother's Triumph is full of them.

I examined the nipples a little more closely and the thread pitch is about 26 TPI. The only nipples I've found for sale on line that are 26 tpi are for an India-made shotgun but the diameter is too big (9/16 vs .255) so I'm leaning in the same direction as you. I'm going to post some more pictures and see how much resolution I can get before they're rejected.H35.jpg

H19.jpg

H28.jpg
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Old September 1, 2013, 03:53 PM   #4
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Old September 1, 2013, 03:56 PM   #5
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I have about 20 pictures but I'm trying to keep it down to those that I feel may be most pertinent and revealing.
H30.jpg

H40.jpg

H45.jpg
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Old September 1, 2013, 09:43 PM   #6
James K
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I think that pistol is of Asiatic origin. Whether it could be called a "Howdah pistol" or not is questionable, since those pistols were English made, bought and used by wealthy Indian Rajahs or Englishmen who hunted tigers from a "howdah", an elaborate "cabin" mounted on the back of an elephant. The pistols were usually four barrels, cartridge types, and double action.

Still, hunting from a howdah preceded the English Raj and a gun such as yours might have been an early "howdah" pistol, but would likely have been the product of a workshop in (what was then) Northern India or the Darrah pass region, not of a factory in Europe.

Now the problem. The gun has a modern look, and I don't see any sure way to tell if it was made in the 1850's or last month to sell to an American GI in Afghanistan. I do, however, strongly suspect the latter. Maybe someone else can help, or you might learn more from a previous owner.

Jim
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Old September 2, 2013, 12:09 AM   #7
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Thanks Jim. Unfortunately, everyone I know previously connected with this pistol is gone now. My wife isn't sure if her father brought it back with him from the Pacific after WWII or if her Step-dad, an avid gun collector, picked it up at a flea market somewhere but it's been in the family for quite some time. My wife remembers seeing it displayed at her folks house when her son was young and he's 38 now.

The rust in the bores, the heavily peened nipples with matching marks on the hammers and the amount of carbon fouling I scraped out of the chambers indicates it was once used more than a few times. There are some things pictures can't capture. You have to hold it.

I'm inclined to agree that it may be Asiatic in origin. The antique, European models I've seen are all far more refined and have the manufacturers' markings on them. It would seem reasonable to me that a small operation in an unregulated country would care little about such details.

I've been starting to speculate that this may be an India-made, market grade pistol sold to unprepared tourists that decided they wanted to go on a hunt. I'm hoping that the unusual manner in which the hammers are fastened might give a clue to its age and origin. Every pistol I've viewed in its class has the hammers fastened with screws. I've never seen a hammer held on with a spanner nut before.

1FM

Last edited by 1Funkymonkey; September 2, 2013 at 12:15 AM.
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Old September 2, 2013, 12:59 AM   #8
James K
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That type of hammer attachment is less common than the simple screw, but is not unique and I have seen it on European pistols and shotguns. One reason I doubt your gun is European is the absence of any proof marks, which would rule out England and Belgium, both of which had proof laws at the earliest date that gun could have been made. Other countries, like Spain, did not have them that early, but I frankly think the workmanship (or lack of it) would rule out any European country with a significant arms industry.

It seems that any recent acquisition can be ruled out, and I think a tourist bringback is also, as it appears to be a serious gun, made as a gun, where most tourist guns are rather obviously not intended to be fired and in many cases couldn't possibly fire (example: hammers cast in one piece with the lockplate).

Jim
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Old September 2, 2013, 01:17 AM   #9
Bill DeShivs
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James,
I believe you are mistaken. The gun commonly known as a "howdah" pistol is usually a large bore double barrel, firing either large shot or ball.
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Old September 2, 2013, 08:07 AM   #10
Hawg
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Quote:
The gun commonly known as a "howdah" pistol is usually a large bore double barrel, firing either large shot or ball.
That is true but once cartridge guns got on the scene four barrel howdah's were very popular. like this four barrel Lancaster.

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Old September 2, 2013, 06:57 PM   #11
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It's definitely a real gun. I wouldn't have been interested if it had just been a wall-hanger. When I referred to "tourist gun" I was considering the possibility of a local market providing a cheaply made, inexpensive pistol for some guys who went on a bender one night and said "Hey, lets go on a hunt in the morning. We need gear!" Kind of like a cheap, Norinco 1911 vs. a $3200 Wilson Combat. Speculation of course. I don't know anything about 19th - 20th century Indian culture or tourism.

Ironically, the "gun expert" we hired to handle the estate's weapons 12 years ago said it was a sawed-off shotgun and that I should weld the barrels shut.

However, the owner of the local black-powder shop I took it to last month said it was a good thing I didn't listen because the laws don't apply to muzzle-loading, black-powder pistols and referred to it as a Howdah. Of course, then he had to show me his Pedersoli (jealous!).

He agreed it was old and crude compared to most of what he had seen but he couldn't give any suggestions other than to take it apart and look for proof marks (that was a dead-end). The mystery intensified when we couldn't fit any new nipples to it. That's when I really started researching but I haven't been able to find a close enough match to date it.
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Old September 4, 2013, 07:08 PM   #12
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New Clue

Ok, I noticed a new clue as I was cleaning the barrels. When did wire, Silver Brazing become common practice? Sloppy work at that.

H25.jpg

H26.jpg

H27.jpg
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Old September 4, 2013, 10:17 PM   #13
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That looks like a fairly recent repair.
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Old September 5, 2013, 01:37 PM   #14
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Silver soldering (brazing) was done at least as far back as the late 1800s.
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Old September 5, 2013, 09:16 PM   #15
1Funkymonkey
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OK. Thanks Bill. Then it certainly can't pre-date that.

The more I look, the more I find. Unfortunately, I've found I have a Swiss-cheese barrel. It doesn't go all the way through but, after soaking it in bore solvent for 2 days and brass brushing it, I snagged a piece of metal .500L x .125w x .035d. lengthwise out of the R/H barrel. Considering it's only .06 thick near the muzzle, I'm not sure I want to try and shoot even "blanks" out of it anymore unless I line the barrels which probably isn't worth the effort.

Besides, I'd also need nipples. The breech plug is stripped. Looks like they once were .255 x 26 or 6.5 x 1mm. Haven't seen any 7 x 1mm for sale anywhere. I could tap it up to 9/32 x 26 which is standard for an India-made shotgun but we come back to the "is it worth it" debate.

At least it appears to only be a Wal-Mart grade pistol and not something very refined and extremely valuable. With the lack of proof markings, I'd just like to try and identify a rough time and location of manufacture. It's value seems to be more intrinsic now than tangible.
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Old September 7, 2013, 09:17 PM   #16
1Funkymonkey
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Just a thought; assuming there is little historical or practical value to this pistol and one really wanted to restore it to usable condition while retaining it's outward appearance, would it be feasible to do a Teague-style reline of the bore by reaming it to remove the bulk of the rust and pits and using some 4140 chrome-moly tube with a .065 wall thickness. That would reduce the caliber from .68 to about .62 and provide wall thickness at the muzzle that's already greater than the existing material.

I would think an interference fit would provide the greatest stability but I don't know of any adhesive that would withstand the process of being applied to a -300 deg. liner and inserted into a +500 deg. barrel.

I also realize the breech block/barrel interface may be the weak link after such a machining process. The whole thing would have to be proofed from a safe distance.

I'm more curious from a safety standpoint. I am an inspector in an aerospace machine shop so know it's physically possible but my 30+ years experience with firearms has been limited to contemporary weapons needing minor mods and repairs. I'm just delving into the black powder/muzzle loading world because of this particular piece.
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Old September 8, 2013, 11:38 AM   #17
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I guess that could be done. Maybe you could do it yourself, but if done by a gunsmith, it would probably cost about ten times what the gun is or would be worth.

But you have hit on a potential problem. Your idea would strengthen the barrels, but no one knows how the breech plug was put in or if rust and corrosion over the years may have compromised the strength in that area. It is your gun and your project but, IMHO, I wouldn't waste any time or money on it.

Jim
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Old September 8, 2013, 04:23 PM   #18
1Funkymonkey
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Yeah, the more I think about it from a practical standpoint, the less appealing the project is becoming. Besides the potential hazards, I'm finding it surprisingly difficult to find tubing with the exact properties I want that I, literally, don't have to purchase a ton of.

I'm not fond of wall hangers. I like objects to have practical uses beyond their aesthetics but this pistol is unusual enough that I can afford a little space in the safe to hold onto an obscure piece of history.
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