One of the perceived requisites was a howdah pistol, or preferably a pair of howdah pistols. These were large-calibre double-barrelled handguns capable of knocking down a tiger at close range should it attack the hunter in his howdah, the elephant-back platform from which big game hunts were customarily undertaken.
Such weapons would also be comforting when following up a wounded tiger, but how many actually saved the day in the heat and dust of the sub-continent we will never know. It is probably safe to say that most were never fired in anger.
That would certainly seem to be true of two excellent pairs of howdah pistols which appeared in recent London sales.
In terms of hard-hitting efficiency few could surpass a pair of 10-bore pistols by Boss & Co of St James’s Street which sold for £8550 at Bonhams (25% buyer’s premium) in Knightsbridge on May 23.
Made in 1849, these were of the highest standard and retained much of their original finish, indicating that they never had a very hard life. They came complete with their original leather holsters and had been acquired by the vendor from the doyen of English gun collectors, W Keith Neil, in 1989.
From the opposite end of the spectrum came a much lighter and highly decorated pair of 20-bore rifled pistols made c. 1862 by Charles Lancaster of New Bond Street for the Maharajah of Jodhpur.
The firm of Lancaster went on to develop a series of heavy multi-barrel percussion and cartridge pistols but they can have produced few as fine was these percussion locks, which had wooden stocks entirely cased in sheet silver with gold-plated engraved locks and trigger guards.
The beautifully figured Damascus barrels were gold-inlaid along the top rib with a presentation inscription to the maharajah’s son.
In their original case with some accessories, these sold at Thomas Del Mar (25% buyer’s premium) on July 10 for £24,000.