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WW Marston Breechloading Pistol and Leather-Base Cartridge


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another video on Forgotten weapons dot com, I’m Ian McCollum And I’m here today at the Rock Island auction company where we are taking a look at just an interesting and unusual pre Civil War Cartridge firing pistol, but it’s not a metallic cartridge. This actually used a Paper and leather cartridge. This is a pistol that was designed and manufactured by one William Walker Marston now Marston would continue to have a significant career for several decades in firearms manufacturing He was born in 1822, he passed away in 1872 and both he and his father actually were gunsmiths working in New York City Now, he’s probably the gun that he manufactured that is best known would be the Gibbs carbine We actually have a video on that particular gun It was not designed by him But he was the company that where he owned the manufacturing facility that was approached to actually manufacture those Gibbs carbines Which worked really well until the New York City Conscription riots burned down his factory, the Phoenix Armory, and all that ended the Gibbs carbine But anyway, this is a pistol he designed in the early 1850s So it’s a single-shot breech-loading pistol. Let me go ahead and show you it up close and describe what that cartridge was We only really have one substantial marking here and that’s on the top of the barrel. It is WW Marston, William Walker Marston patent 1852 New York. And then there’s also a serial number on the bottom both on the frame and the barrel so 535 out of about a thousand total. This is right nicely in the middle Now the gun itself is just a single-shot pistol. It’s a percussion pistol so we have a percussion hammer here We’ll touch on this in a minute, that’s a Tang sight that’s been added Single action pistol, of course Fires. Now what makes it interesting is this sliding breech opening If you look inside there, you can see that there’s a small hole in the center of the breech face There’s going to be a tunnel that connects that hole there To that hole right up in there, which is where the flame from the cap comes through. So when the breech is closed Firing it here will result in the cartridge detonating Now, the cartridge that was used here was patented as well by Marston and it was a cardboard or paper Tube cartridge body with, actually a leather like a fairly heavy leather base to it and the idea was that, I believe, that the tube was supposed to blow downrange with the bullet when you fired and then that leather baseplate, base pad, was supposed to stay there in the breech and when you loaded the next round It would push that leather pad in front of it Which would clean the bore as it traveled down the barrel in front of the bullet, the next bullet. Now, whether that actually worked is kind of questionable that’s a concept that a number of people came up with at various times and I haven’t seen anything really conclusive on it. While they made that sort of thing may have helped It certainly didn’t remove the need for cleaning and that’s normally what guys were claiming with this sort of thing Like oh you don’t have to clean it because it’s a self-cleaning cartridge and that never really worked out So the advantage here of course, while this is still black powder, you still have to carry around percussion caps The cartridge means that your bullet and your powder are contained together so the powder is pre-measured you don’t have to worry about it and trying to Use a funnel of some sort or something else to make sure it all goes down the barrel You don’t need a ramrod. You don’t have to push the bullet in from the front. You can simply open the breech Thumb in a cartridge, close the breech, cock the hammer and fire The proper sights on this pistol are a little rear notch here and a front blade there and that’s Not a great sight system, but that’s exactly what I would expect in the 1850s for a commercial sort of pistol What’s a bit unusual is that this Tang sight has been added. It’s Threaded into the rear of the receiver there So you can adjust at elevation just by screwing it in or out and it has an absolutely tiny little hole at so, I mean This is, I don’t think I’ll even be able to get a camera shot through to show you the site picture Yeah, my camera can’t even focus on that because it’s so small What’s interesting to me is that’s, that sight becomes usable only if the gun is about 10 inches away from your eye Which makes me wonder if someone hadn’t perhaps made some sort of clip-on, drop-in sort of like probably wireframe shoulder stock to use with these because Unless you’re using a really weird shooting position and kind of crimping this thing, you know Bending your elbow severely and holding this really close to your face I don’t see any way for this site to actually have been useful But if you put a little compact wire stock on it Then this makes a lot of sense, so I don’t I haven’t found any pictures of these with stocks There doesn’t appear to be any modification to the butt of this gun to use a stock But who knows that that’s an interesting question that this leaves out there For what it’s worth Marston would produce a wide variety of other pistols throughout his career Including a bunch of kind of weird sorts of designs, he had some double barrel swivel pistols He made a three barrel derringer that’s kind of notable, he did get a contract for signal pistols during the US Civil War He made a lot of pepper boxes, he made some standard sort of typical pattern percussion revolvers Really quite a range of different things beyond this Interesting breech-loading pistol. And by the way, I should also point out He did make a version of this that was straight muzzleloading percussion So before it was a breech loader, it was just a single-shot Muzzleloading pistol In total just about a thousand of these were manufactured Some iron frame, some brass frame apparently and they were made in three different calibers you could get them in 31 36 or 44 caliber with a variety of barrel lengths from about 4 inches to about 8 inches, so 100 to 200 millimeters and you know, they’re just a neat interesting pistol, all the early breech loaders are I think very interesting So, if you would like to see a little bit more about this, if you’d like to see, well the Rock Island company’s Detailed pictures, their description, their value estimate you can get to all of that on their catalog page and get there by way of the link in the description text below to Forgotten weapons. Thanks for watching

76 thoughts on “WW Marston Breechloading Pistol and Leather-Base Cartridge

  1. New York must have been quite the interesting place with a breadth of creative commerce in the day. Can't imaging trying to set up a gunsmith shop or firearms factory in NYC today! The politics would get in the way of business and (firearm) innovation. Not sure if it is true, but heard people picnicked and had shooting competitions on Sundays in Central Park at the turn of the century.

  2. It seems it took many decades for gun manufactures to fully get on board with brass (metallic) integrated cartridges. It seems strange look back at what seems like resistance to this innovation basically I guess because they needed to solve the ejection problem?

  3. Love it ! The pre- Victorian era / Victorian era is like the best time for gun designs it's like the 1950s for cars no matter how cheaply designed the gun is it would still have an engraving and look just absolutely gorgeous

  4. Ian, you should look at some of the european doctrine for shooting pistols in the 1800s- even Russian manuals into just pre-WW1 actually demonstrate that one holds the pistols with a bent elbow and extremely close to the face. You can see that kind of shooting stance right into the second world war in some pictures.

  5. Could this type of round (with part of it remaining in the chamber) be an over pressure problem if to much of it remained?

  6. I really like this pistol. Congratulation for doing such a great work by bringing many guns less known to people all over the world. Keep up the good work.

  7. Interesting page on William Walker Marston; http://www.american-firearms.com/american-firearms/z-html/company-M/Marston,%20William%20W/Marston,%20William%20W.html The cartridge patent is 8,956 dated 18 May 1852 and was held by Marston and Goodell. The patent associated with the pistol (i believe) is 7,443 dated 18 June 1850, Device for Moving and Holding Piston Breech-Pin held by Marston.

  8. maybe that leather pad was sealing gas from going back through the breach and its "cleaning" capabilities were just an advertisement thing?

  9. Cleaning a gun was necessary after every single shot with blackpowder.

    Meaning that a "self cleaning gun" would help a lot because it would probably help the cleaning, not because it would clean completely.

    After every single shots, you would have to clean but with less effort, less movements than you would have to do with a "normal" gun.

  10. A thought: a pinhole corrects nearsightedness. Someone that's nearsighted can see perfectly sharp though a pinhole. Maybe it was added for that reason.

  11. just a thought, if the loading port was swapped to the other side and the hammer clearance enough, then the right hand would never have to leave the firing grip as mechanically loading with the left hand would be simple and with practice probably easy enough to do without moving a waist held gun out of alignment

  12. Using a greased felt wad at the rear of the cartridge which is left behind on firing and pushed in front of the bullet on of the next round worked fine for both the Terry & Calisher carbine and the Westley Richards Monkey Tail. I would surmise that the Marston leather wad was also greased for better fouling control.

  13. I’m sure the leather helped prevent fouling in the middle of a gunfight but yeah there is no such thing as a self-cleaning gun

  14. What a cute little pistol. The ammo concept sounds interesting, but as you said, did it really work as self-cleaning? With that cocking level, could you also crack walnuts with it between shots?

  15. Folding your arms and holding the butt of the handle right in the fold of your elbow places it within the 10 inches to view through the hole and steadies your hand for firing really well. Not a standard position for shooting, but if you are just using this for target shooting it works.

  16. Ian the leather was most likely to create a seal aswell.
    As bullets of this era could be highly defetive.
    Also great video!

  17. Is that the kind of gun Cossacks carried and the reason for those cartridge tubes they have so distinctively displayed across their chest?

  18. My first guess, just straight off the bat, was that the leather seating was put in just to prevent accidental discharge from any smouldering/unspent powder left in the barrel. Since the breech looks like it's held closed by hand pressure on the lever action (as well as the will of the gods), it'd be…not pretty to have an accidental discharge with this. It'd blow the breech block back while ripping the lever action up, moving the shooter's hand to basically right next to the unsealed, exploding chamber.

    Granted, swabbing barrels at the time wasn't AS common as it was earlier in firearms history but it seems like because of the mechanics of this gun it'd be prudent to have a self-swabbing cartridge to prevent, what I could only assume would be, a catastrophic failure.

  19. The case and bullet leave the bore together (minus the leather ) sounds like a 19th century Gyrojet prototype . Rather Steampunk in my opinion .

  20. Interesting ideas here certainly. Pre metallic cartridge guns are always interesting. But repeaters were the wave of the future. Had i been a well to do gentleman back in the day, i would have gone about with a 5 shot pepperbox in 36 cal, a good fixed blade knife (also useful for eating), a sword cane, and some sort of good sap or blackjack. That should have been enough. Nowadays it would be a good J frame or my Kahr P9, a good folding knife, and a small can of OC (impact weapons are illegal to carry in most areas, as are sword canes). But i digress. Great video as always. Thank you.

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