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Nimschke Engraved 4-Inch Three-Barreled Marston Derringer

Nimschke Engraved 4-Inch Three-Barreled Marston Derringer

  • Product Code: FHG-2391-SOLD
  • Availability: Out Of Stock
  • $4,750.00

This is a really outstanding, presentation grade example of a scarce three-barreled derringer by William W. Marston and engraved by the renowned L.D. Nimschke. William W. Marston was born in England in 1822. He was the son of Stanhope W. Marston, who was a gunmaker that immigrated to America sometime prior to the 1840s. Stanhope established himself as a gunmaker in New York and produced percussion pepperboxes, as well as single and double barreled pistols, including some with swivel breeches. He worked from 1844-1866 and during that time received two US patents (#7,887 in 1851 and #45,712 in 1865) for innovations in firearms design. His son William was naturalized as a citizen on 8 April 1843 and went into the family business, initially working for his father and then going out on his own. William worked from 1844 until he died in 1872, and during that time amassed at least six firearms related patents. These included #6,514 in 1849 for a lock design, #7,443 in 1850 for a breechloading firearm and #13,581 in 1855 for a pepperbox. He also received two patents for ammunition designs (#8,956 in 1852 and #40,490 in 1863), the latter of which was for a self-contained metallic cartridge. 


Some of the most famous and intriguing of his firearms were his line of three-barrel rimfire cartridge pocket pistols. He produced them in both .22 and .32 rimfire, with the majority of the .22s being made with a sliding knife blade along the side of the three superimposed barrels. The larger caliber superimposed pistol was manufactured in .32 rimfire but was made without the knife blade. However, the .32 caliber pistols did include a useful extractor mechanism to remove the spent cartridges. Marston manufactured some 3,300 of these 3-barreled “derringers” between 1864 and 1872. They were made with either 3” or 4” barrels, and the standard configuration was a silver-plated brass frame, blued barrels, and two-piece wood grips. The guns were single action, and had an indicator switch on the right side of the frame that showed which of the barrels the pivoting the firing pin was going to fire. The firing pin automatically indexed from the “0”, or safe position, to #1 (bottom barrel), #2 (middle barrel) and #3 (top barrel), each time the hammer was cocked. The rotating switch gave the shooter a visual indication of which barrel had just been fired and which one would be next. After the gun was discharged and reloaded, the indicator switch was rotated by the user back to the “0” position, to be ready to fire again the next time the hammer was cocked. 


According to Flayderman’s Guide to Antique American Firearms, the first fifty of the .32 caliber pistols were offered with elaborate scroll engraving as a standard feature. Later guns only offered the engraving as an extra price option. Other extra-price features included various plated finishes and high-grade grips of pearl or ivory. Apparently at least some of these engraved pistols were decorated by the world-renowned engraver Louis D. Nimschke. Nimschke, like his equally famous contemporaries the Ulrich’s and Gustav Young, was an extremely talented engraver who had emigrated from Germany. During the second half of the 19th century, Nimschke applied his engraving talents to a wide variety of American firearms, from smaller makers like Marston to the biggest names, like Colt. Nimschke apparently had a strong affiliation with the New York retailer Schuyler, Hartley & Graham, later Hartley & Graham, and many of his most famous pieces, like Teddy Roosevelt’s profusely engraved Colt Model 1873 “Single Action Army” were engraved by Nimschke working on a contract basis for the New York retailer.


Offered here is a truly fantastic example of an L.D. Nimschke Engraved Marston .32 Three Barrel Derringer. The pistol has the traditional silver-plated brass frame, blued 4” barrels, smooth ivory grips and of course, Nimschke’s wonderful engraving. 4” barreled examples of these Marston derringers are much rarer than the more commonly encountered 3” barreled examples. The pistol is in about FINE overall condition and is truly striking. The pistol features Nimschke’s classic flowing Arabesque floral scrolls with punch dot shading engraved on the frame, and his understated intertwined lines on the barrels and with looping boarder lines at the muzzle. Even the backstrap is tastefully enhanced with Nimschke’s art, with his intertwined lines and his classic star motif. The frame engraving pattern appears on page 12 of Nimschke’s engraving notebook. The frame is crisply and clearly marked on the left-hand side in five lines with the first and fourth lines arched in the form of a cartouche and the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th lines straight: 




MAY 26, 1857




The pistol is additionally marked with the serial number 224 under the left grip panel and on the hinge of the barrels. This places the gun outside the first group of fifty guns that were engraved when the model was introduced and indicates that the gun was special ordered with the engraved embellishments and the ivory grips. The silver-plated frame retains nearly all of the original plating with some thinning and high edge loss, as well as a narrow diagonal line of loss running from the rear of the extractor claw to the middle screw on the right side of the frame. The blued barrels of the pistol retain about 25% of their original blue, with substantial thinning and fading from handling over the years. The blue is most prominent in the barrel flutes and near the frame and thins precipitously towards the muzzles. The areas of thinning and loss on the barrels have oxidized to an attractive plum patina that has blended with the remaining blue in such a way as to make the barrels appear to retain even more of the original finish than they do. The metal is almost entirely smooth throughout, although some areas of scattered oxidized surface roughness and some prinpricking are present here and there. The barrels show freckled areas of this oxidized roughness along the left side, indicative of the gun laying on that side on a fabric surface for many years while in storage. There is some pinpricking and light pitting around the muzzles, as well as on the pivoting barrel release on the top of the frame. The bores of the pistol’s barrels are all in about FINE condition and remain mostly bright throughout with crisp rifling. The bores do show some lightly scattered pitting along their lengths, primarily in the grooves, and the grooves do show some frosting as well. The color casehardened hammer retains some muted traces of its original case coloring, with most of the hammer a rich plum color. The action of the pistol works perfectly, and the hinged barrels open smoothly when the top latch is rotated clockwise, with the muzzle pointed away from the body. The latch locks the pistol together tightly when the barrels are closed and there is no perceptible wobble or shake present. The indicator switch on the right side of the frame shows which barrel will be fired when the hammer is cocked. To reset the firing pin, the switch it rotated to the “0” position, so that the next time the hammer is cocked, the pistol will fire the first barrel. The action of the pistol remains quite crisp and the hammer locks tightly into the full cock position and responds appropriately to the spur trigger. When the hammer is cocked, the pivoting firing pin rotates through its positions as it should, and the indicator on the frame moves as well. The rotating indicator is a little tight, and it is sometimes difficult to set it back to “0” to ensure that barrel #1 (the bottom one) is automatically selected when the hammer is cocked for the first time. If the selector is not set to “0” perfectly, then the first time the hammer is cocked, the firing pin will jump to the “2” position. The original rear sight notch is in place on the top of the barrel catch, and the original brass front sight blade is in place on the top barrel, near the muzzle. The pistol is adorned with a very attractive pair of smooth ivory grips that are in VERY GOOD+ condition. They fit very well and have a lovely cream-colored patina with some darker areas due to age. The ivory shows wonderful grain lines and has some verdigris built up on the inside where the grip panels have contacted the brass frame. The grips are perfectly smooth but do show a couple of repaired chips that are so common with 19th century ivory grips. Both of the trailing edges of the grip panels have repaired chips, where the frame locator pin recess in the grips has made the ivory so thin and weak. 


Overall, this is a really wonderful example of a fabulous 4” Three Barreled Marston Derringer Engraved by L.D. Nimschke. The pistol is in lovely condition and is quite striking. The engraving is of course world class as it is the work of Nimschke, and the ivory grips are very attractive. For most collectors of 19th century firearms, the opportunity to own a Nimschke engraved gun is a lifetime goal that is rarely realized. The rarity of his work and the extraordinary prices that the guns he engraved demand, simply put these pieces of art out of the reach of most collectors. This wonderful little pistol is absolutely gorgeous and is priced where a collector can actually afford to own a gun engraved by Nimschke. Examples of his work on Marston derringers have brought prices well into the five-figure range, and on Colt revolvers much higher prices. This wonderful pistol is priced well under the $10,000 price point and is true bargain for a collector who wants to add a beautiful Nimschke engraved pistol to his collection. Any advanced collector will be extremely happy with this little gun on display as a part of their collection.


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Tags: Nimschke, Engraved, 4-Inch, Three-Barreled, Marston, Derringer