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:

Lot 905

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