Cane gun with removable stock
John Day / J.P. Hubbard

Unquestionably in the world of antique weaponry, it’s the oddballs that always appear as interesting pieces. Alas, however, what should be something straight out of a spy novel – a chameleon-esque firearm made specifically for espionage or cold-blooded murder – is disappointingly not the expected story behind this gun or others like it from the same historical period. As they say, looks can be deceiving.

In Britain, cane guns were not exactly a sinister - or even new - idea. In fact, the manufacture and use of cane guns had been in place there since the early 1820s, marketed primarily to of all people, farmers and crop workers. Based on original patterns by English gunsmith John Day and designed with a recessed underhammer and folding trigger, early English cane guns might have looked sneaky, but gunsmiths typically advertised them as little more than boring farm tools referring to them occasionally as “poacher’s guns” for shooting varmints. In fact, a cane gun’s lightweight, one-handed design was ideal for planters checking over their crops who preferred portability. Moreover, the long, slender barrel could easily probe vegetable growths for burrowing animals and, when needed, fire packed shot or a .32 caliber slug. 

Fortunately, the cane gun’s menacing allure was not lost on American makers. As men’s fashion by the 1840s had already adopted new and trendy walking sticks as the preferred gentlemanly accessory, domestic firearms manufacturers capitalized on the burgeoning and trendy “gadget cane” market. Remington & Sons, for example, had by the late 1850s certainly taken a page or two from older British designs and expanded its concealed weapon initiatives by integrating both percussion cap and metallic cartridge mechanics into high-end walking sticks, and advertising their own versions as  “simple, safe and efficient” devices suitable for self-defense. 

Weaponry Wednesday: Each Wednesday we post an object (or group of objects) from the Charleston Museum’s diverse weapons collection. Many Weaponry Wednesday items may be on permanent exhibit in our armory or elsewhere in the museum, but some pieces rarely see exhibition, temporary or permanent, but are well worth sharing.  We hope you enjoy our selection each week – do let us know if there’s something in particular you’d like to see on WEAPONRY WEDNESDAY! Also, we always want to learn more about our collection - if you have some insights on a piece, please feel free to share!  #WeaponryWednes