I am not normally that interested in militaria, but every so often come across something which catches my eye – in this case a pair of beautiful pistols on the Metropolitan Museum site, and made by Samuel Brunn in 1800/1801.
The Museum site describes the pair of pistols as being “among the finest known examples of English Neoclassical-style firearms. Each stock is inlaid with engraved sheet silver and embellished with heavy cast-silver mounts. This decoration was inspired by contemporary French Empire firearms, such as those by Boutet. Several of the motifs are based on ancient Roman sources. On the sideplate, for example, the Nereid riding a sea-leopard derives from an engraving of 1762 depicting a wall painting in the recently found ruins of Herculaneum. On the trigger guard, the oval medallion representing Hercules with a defeated Amazon is copied from a well-known antique gem. The Medusa head on the butt also derives from Classical art, but here the idealized model has been transformed into a grimacing, almost humorous caricature of the legendary gorgon.”
The pistols are sixteen inches long, and are made out of walnut wood and steel, decorated in sterling silver. The silver decorations were probably made by silversmith Michael Bennett, who was active in London until his death in 1823, operating from premises at 36 Cock Lane, Smithfield.
Samuel Brunn had originally bought a share in the business of John Knubley, who had traded at 7 Charing Cross in London. Knubley was the son of a gun-maker and had originally traded in Otley, Yorkshire before moving down to London in 1771, and had built up a successful business until his death in 1795. For two years Brunn was in business trading as “Knubley, Brunn & Co, Charing Cross”, probably in partnership with Sarah, John Knubley’s widow. Brunn then sold his share to John Mallet, who continued to operate at Charing Cross until 1803. This emphasises the importance of the area around Charing Cross as a centre of exquisite gun-making.
Brunn then set up on his own and operated as “Samuel Brunn, sword cutler and gun-maker” at 55 Charing Cross between 1798 and 1804. He then moved to adjoining premises at 56 Charing Cross and remained there between 1805 and 1820. He was appointed “Sword Cutler and Gunmaker to the Prince of Wales” in 1800 and remained in that post for eleven years. It is quite possible that these pistols were made for the Prince. He also made pistols and swords for various other members of the Royal family. Between 1797 and 1809 he was Contractor to Ordnance, in other words he was commissioned to make trade muskets, cannon locks, pistols and broadswords for the Board of Ordnance. He was also described as being ‘Cutler to the Patriotic Fund’. ‘The Patriotic Fund’ was founded on 28 July 1803 at Lloyd’s Coffee House – is still going strong – and was launched in order to give grants to those wounded in service to the Crown and to set up annuities to the dependents of those killed in action. It also commissioned the manufacture of high quality swords to be awarded to servicemen who showed exceptional courage and bravery – which is presumably how Samuel Brunn got involved…
It looks as though Samuel continued to operate until 1820 but then at some stage fell on hard times. A newspaper report in 1831 refers to bankruptcy proceedings against Samuel, who by then had fallen from grace to the extent of being described as a ‘chapman’ i.e. a pedlar:
A sad end for a distinguished craftsman. Presumably when Napoleon was finally defeated the Board of Ordnance were no longer stock-piling weapons, and the Patriotic Fund were no longer dishing out ceremonial swords as a reward for war heroes, so like many other sword cutlers Samuel Brunn found himself on the scrap heap. There is some suggestion that he moved to Bath, where he spent his final years in straitened circumstances. I cannot find a record of his death.