Duelling pistols



Although generally banned and outlawed in most of 18th and 19th century Europe, many aristocrats and officers chose the ‘art’ of duelling with pistols to settle certain matters of the hart like: family- and personal honors, financial or even political differences. A true officer and gentleman would not refuse a challenge. One’s honor was at stake. The earliest duels were often settled with swords and knives, only during the introduction of the handgun did the specialized duelling pistol came into fashion. These handguns were usually made in similar pairs and the wealthier the owner, the more elaborate and expensive they usually became. The aristocracy often had preferred suppliers, who next to hunting arms, also made personal duelling pistols.


The first flintlock operated pistols were introduced around the mid 16th century, replacing the earlier wheellock. When firing a flintlock pistol it has a noticeable delay between squeezing the trigger and the actually firing of the bullet. To fix this and other disadvantages, purpose-built duelling pistols featured various improvements to make them more reliable and accurate, such as heavier barrels, a spur on the trigger guard, saw handles, platinum-lined touch-holes or hair triggers. Special care was taken when molding the bullets so as to ensure that there was no hollow part in them. The loading was also carefully undertaken. The flintlock pistols had smooth bore barrels and the use of lower quality gunpowder often resulted in unreliable firing systems. 

You can imagine when faced with an angry, but equally determined opponent, the so-called ‘misfiring of one’s pistol’ did not mean the end of the duel. You still had to face your opponent, even if he had an unfired and loaded pistol! 

It goes without saying that a duel was a rather dangerous and unhealthy gentlemen’s way to keep ‘ones honor and integrity’. In order to have any odds of winning a duel, the use of good quality pistols and plenty of practice were necessary. That need to practice even in winter time, was needed.

     Early Flinklock target pistol of by Robert Wogdon (1801-03). Notice the lng barrel.


The birth of the target pistol or Scheibenpistol was a fact. They were of similar weight, size and modelled after the duelling pistol. They often had a longer barrel for better accuracy. Around the first and second quarter of the 19th century, the percussion system was introduced together with rifled barrels which improved the reliability of the pistol. Around the mid 19th century the introduction of the metallic cartridge created many new system innovations. This eventually resulted with the introduction of the .22lr cartridge and the modern day target pistols we know today.