Pistols at Dawn

Salisbury Museum is pleased to announce that we have recently acquired a rare pair of 18th century flint lock pistols. They were acquired for £5,000 with help from an Art Fund grant of £2,500 with additional funding from the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund.  They were made by Richard Parrett, a gunsmith in Milford Street, Salisbury. The pistols are of exceptional quality, revealing the fine workmanship of a little known regional gunsmith who produced weapons that were works of art as well as firearms.

The pistols are made of tutenag (alloy of copper, zinc and nickel). The handles are very distinctive because they are inlaid with silver wire foliate scrollwork and engraved silver flower heads. The back of each butt is engraved with a silver helmeted profile bust, possibly representing Britannia. The side of each action has been engraved and signed ‘R Parrett’ and ‘Sarum’.

These pistols are quite small in size and are often called pocket or muff pistols – they could be easily held in the hand, and carried in a waistcoat pocket or a lady’s muff. They are the kind of weapon that would have been carried for display or personal protection by somebody of wealth and importance.

In 18th century Britain wealthy people travelling on the road often risked and feared being robbed by highwaymen, especially crossing remote areas like Salisbury Plain. One can easily imagine a wealthy lady or gentleman carrying these pistols for protection. Indeed the museum already has in its collection a fine pair of 18th century cavalryman’s pistols, also made by Richard Parrett, that could have been carried for personal protection or aggressive purposes!

Adrian Green, Museum Director said ‘The museum is very grateful to the Art Fund and the MLA/V&A Purchase Grant Fund who provided funding to help purchase these pistols. The pistols are the finest that the museum possesses, and will be going on permanent display alongside other examples in the museum’s history of Salisbury gallery.’

Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund, said: “We are delighted that we have been able to assist the Salisbury Museum in its acquisition of a pair of such high-quality pistols.  They will make a wonderful addition to what is already a strong collection of local firearms and crafts. The public can now learn more about the local tradesmen and their products which have emanated from the region in the past.”


For further details contact: Adrian Green, Museum Director on 01722 332151 or email adriangreen@salisburymuseum.org.uk.

Notes to editors
The Art Fund is a membership-based charity that helps museums and galleries buy works of art for everyone to enjoy, by awarding grants, campaigning and fundraising. Recent highlights include leading the £3.3 million campaign to save the Staffordshire Hoard, a fundraising initiative that was kick-started with a £300,000 Art Fund grant; helping National Galleries of Scotland and the National Gallery acquire Titian’s Diana and Actaeon with a grant of £1 million; securing Dumfries House and all its contents. The Fund is financed by the generosity of its 80,000 members and supporters and annually spends £5 million acquiring works of art for national collections, touring collections around the UK and celebrating excellence and innovation in the museum world. The Art Fund is an independent voice within the sector, acting to help museums and galleries and promoting the diverse benefits that art brings to society. For more information contact the Press Office on 020 7225 4888 or visit www.artfund.org.

The V&A has operated the Purchase Grant Fund since 1881, helping museums, libraries and archives to develop their collections.  The Purchase Grant Fund supports the purchase of material as diverse as a collection of letters from Daphne Du Maurier to Ivan Magee (Exeter University Library; £1,600 grant); the mixed media work Roberta Breitmore by Lynn Hershmann Leeson (Whitworth Art Gallery, University of Manchester; £50,000 grant) and a hoard of Iron Age coins from Little Horwood (Buckinghamshire County Museum; £12,900 grant ). The grants budget, which now comes through the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA), is £900,000 for 2009-10. Demand is always very strong and funds are allocated to enable as many acquisitions as possible to be made. In 2008-9 grants of £1,019,758 was awarded to 93 organisations, enabling acquisitions of almost £3.5 million to go ahead. See www.vam.ac.uk for more details.