The Holt’s sale on September 20, 2012 sees a rather unusual whaling gun come up for auction.
The whaling gun for sale at Holt’s is descibed as:
A SCARCE PIERCE & EGGERS 1878 PATENT CAST ALL BRASS FALLING-BLOCK WHALING GUN, serial no. 241, 19 3/4in. two stage barrel marked ‘S. EGGERS. N. BEDFORD MASS PAT. FEB.12.1878.’, chambered for the Winchester 8-bore blank cartridge, underlever falling block with Ebenezer Pierce and Selmar Eggers patent breech block locking device, U.S. patent No. 200,338, the rear of the triggerguard with stud extending through skeletal stock, locked in place with a pivoting lever on the stock, weight 22lb. 13oz.
The estimate is £1000 – £1500
James Templeman Brown, an assistant in the Department of Arts and Industries of the United States National Museum, wrote a manuscript (currently held at the Smithsonian Institution Archives) detailing the various boats, harpoons, cutting tools, and other instruments used by the United States whaling fleets, (circa 1883) in connection with his duties as preparator of the whaling exhibit of the United States Fish Commission at the London International Fisheries Exposition of 1883.
He cites the Pierce & Eggers as “one of the latest improved shoulder-guns, and the most popular and effective that has ever been introduced in the whale fishery. It may be used with either the Pierce or Brand explosive lance. It is also one of the most attractive whaling guns in appearance.”
Before the Norwegian Svend Foyn
perfected the exploding harpoon gun in 1870, whaling was a hazardous
occupation, both for the blubbery leviathans and the men who pursued them. In
order to deliver the coup-des-gras, the open boats had to come alongside the whale
in order to drive a lance into it. At best this was fraught with danger, but
when foul weather and an angry, thrashing whale were folded in to the equation
it made for many lost crews, whales and equipment.
Early exploding harpoon guns, or
bomb lances as they were known in North America, were normally designed to be
shot from the shoulder and enabled the mortal blow to be administered from a
safer distance. As with all new developments some ideas worked splendidly,
others were truly eccentric and others just plain awful. Below is an account of
a demonstration carried out by a Mr. Fulton and his new bomb lance gun taken
from the Connecticut Current, February 1810, it states:
“Torpedoes and Harpoons – Mr. Fulton, not being permitted
to enter the Capitol with his eloquence and machinery, exhibited them last
Saturday, at Washington, to the populace in the street. In firing off his harpoon gun, the said harpoon
flew the wrong way, and
passed within three inches of the head of one of his assistants, a corporal of
the troops, whom it would inevitably have killed had it struck him. In plain
truth, Mr. F. failed completely in his experiment, and Congress were very
fortunately saved from the disgrace of setting apart their splendid hall and a
solemn day for the exhibition of the most ridiculous “quiz” and the
most miserable mess of “fudge”, that ever a philosophical projector
Not all designs met with such a
reception, and in 1878 Selmar Eggers applied for a patent for his
shoulder-mounted gun. This was of all-brass construction with an action that
combined facets of both falling-block and lever-action mechanisms and it met
with great commercial approval. It fired an exploding, tethered lance with
folding rubber fins for accuracy, and despite its weight of 21 pounds unloaded
it proved a popular weapon with the Massachusetts whalermen.
However, Foyn’s harpoon was
designed to be mounted in the prow of a ship, so was considerably more
powerful, and came at a time when sail was giving way to steam power. This
meant that the whalers could hunt the larger and much faster species that
promised even greater profits. So whilst Eggers’ development was of significant
commercial success, it was only within the parameters of an industry that was
undergoing sea-changes and moving quickly away from a battle between man and
whale, and entering a new era of un-fettered slaughter that brought many
species to the brink of extinction.
For more information on the whaling gun and the September sale visit Holt’s