Collecting fine works of art is a traditional occupation for rich and respectable people. There are no many such things produced, so their price is constantly increasing – even more quickly, then inflation. Although, today it is a hobby not only for noblemen, but for everyone who likes art and can afford it.
Miniature arms occupy a special place among such artifacts. These “toys” are especially attractive for men, who are always warriors deeply inside. They combine glamour, the fascination of tiny size items, the beauty of art and the feel of dangerous. Very unusual cocktail of emotions! In addition to that, there is one more advantage: space economy. You don’t need a special room to store and demonstrate your collection, it can easily be hidden in one case.
What is a miniature arm?
Basically, this concept includes all kinds of cold steel arms (swords, rapiers, dirks) and firearms (from cannons to pistols). But today the most popularity has obtained the second group. Probably, because of its more complicated arrangement and more impressive effect. You can’t do much with a tiny sword, but a little pistol still can make really loud and destroying shots – so it’s not just an object for domestic collection, but also a way to have fun. That’s why people all over the world make, buy and collect such things with real pleasure. So, in this article we will review miniature arms that shoot.
The first little guns were made in 15th century. At that time only few masters existed who could cope with such a difficult task: to create tiny mechanism which works as a real one. It demands hundreds of hours, high craftsman skills, patience, accuracy and attention. That’s why we don’t have many antique items of this kind. Today there are more people who try themselves in this sphere. Some of them make it their main profession, like Canadian master David Kucer (he has dedicated to miniatures almost 70 years of his life). Other craftsmen make miniature guns only for their own collections, or to make some extra money on the side. But demand in this market is still more than supply. Well known and honored masters sometimes have a queue for few years – to buy their works that still are not finished. The prices in these conditions are defined primarily by makers and sellers. Usually they start from $500 dollars, but in some cases can rich even $50000, depending on the quality and rarity of the item. By the way, if you can’t wait when the master will finish your order, the same thing from reseller will cost you twice more.
Speaking about mini arms, we should note the difference between the terms a “model” and a “miniature”. The first word means a little replica that doesn’t perform all the functions of its full-size original. A miniature, firstly, is made from the same materials that its prototype, and the same technologies were used to make it. And the main its feature – it copies not only appearance, but also inside mechanism. So, if you charge it with a cartridge of an appropriate caliber, it will fire. There are several manufacturers of cartridges for small size arms. Usually they produce blanks, but sometimes these ammunition can be equipped with real steel or lead bullets.
The size does matter!
How small a miniature should be? Classic standards say that it has to be so small that it can’t be used in correct firing position even by a child. A typical miniature is made in 1/3 scale. The reason is simple: this size is small enough to be called “mini”, but when you decrease a complicated gun mechanism to this rate, it is still possible to repeat all details with accuracy. For this reason some collectors don’t consider guns in ½ scale to be real miniatures: they don’t demand so much skills and efforts from their creators. Actually, every step on decreasing scale makes gun producing much more difficult. The main value of such things depends on the level of workmanship, so a simple construction that consists of few details is not very interesting and highly valued, when it is made in large size. If you compare, for example, prices of one shot Derringer and a Thompson submachine gun, both 1/3 scaled, the second item will be three times more expensive – because of the complexity of its mechanism. Simple guns are noteworthy if they are made in specific delicate manner or in less scale – in this case they are fine enough for their size.
But, on the other hand, there is a limit for decreasing. Tiny pistols with the length 4 cm or less, usually simplify the inner mechanism of their prototypes. It’s too hard to make the same schema in all details and adjust it so that it works. Some collectors don’t like such simplified replicas and classify them as second-rate: they think that real miniature should reflect its original precisely. But, generally speaking, every miniature arm should be estimated according to its distinctive features and the tasks set by its creator. There are those masters who want just to make copies with the highest quality, and those who invent their own variants and models, which are also fine and cleverly made. So we advice you not to become obsessed with only one criteria: be more flexible and look at the things from different angles. If you use a complex approach, you have much more possibilities to enjoy these beautiful works of art without unnecessary limitations.
So, let’s look at some miniature arms more closely
We will start from the most prevalent guns made by Italian company Uberty. The company has been working in the market since 1959, and specializes in American historical arms of the 19th century. It declares, that reproduces not only the same shapes and mechanical features, but also the same spirit of those guns you read about in so many books. Making an order at Uberty, buyers can choose materials (steel, brass, walnut, mother of pearl or plastic polymer) and the finish (nickel plating, blueing, old west antique finish). It is also offered a variety of engraving and checkering with beautiful traceries for any test. Uberty company uses quality steel and state-of-the-art technologies. Nevertheless, the price of its arms is low: approximately $300-$900. It is caused, firstly, by the size: the scale is about ½ (47%). The second reason is producing method. The guns are fabricated in large quantities, and it lowers their price for collectors.
On the picture you can see Uberty’s replica Colt 1851 Navy revolver. It has an octagon rifled barrel of .17 caliber. Hand engraving, mother of pearl grips, some details are gold plated. The cylinder roll is stamped with a picture of the Ormsby naval battle.
Another Uberty’s project – Colt 1861 Navy revolver with detachable shoulder stock, made of walnut. All metal surfaces are silver plated and expertly engraved, even the shoulder stock buttplate. This gun, like a previous one, is fully functional, but it doesn’t fire – probably, because of the lack of proper ammunition.
The cartridges for mini guns is a separate question. There are no certain standards for them, as every gun, produced by an individual maker, has its own caliber. Nevertheless, some masters make rounds for their arms. There are also a few manufacturers that produce the most popular kind of miniature ammunition: 2 mm pinfire cartridges. Usually they are offered as blanks, although you can find also live pinfire cartridges in some online-stores, or just load them yourself, using small metal pellets.
These pieces of art are made by Robin Armstrong from Dereham (Norfold, England):
The left picture: U.S. Model of flintlock martial pistol. Such guns were produced in 1819, before percussion pistols were invented. It doesn’t need cartridges, the powder is placed in special department in the barrel. The miniature has walnut stock, round steel barrel; steel lock, and mounts.
The right picture: another variant of flintlock guns, a Scottish ram’s horn flintlock sash pistol. It is made in 1/3 scale and has a .190 caliber. The length is 4 1/8″. The only material is steel. Note decorative elements on the back end.
The name of Bob Urso is well known for every mini firearms collector. He is a retired professor of art and an author of miniaturist’s encyclopedia: the book called “The Tiniest Guns”, where all existing types of such firearms are reviewed and classified. He also constructs miniatures, not only using existing prototypes but also creating his own designs. There are about 20 different models in his line.
The Urso’s works illustrated below can be a good example of modern view for the old miniature models, which are already well-known for collectors. But every author can input something original to his version. And Bob Urso is not an exception.
The left picture: Urso Kolibri Model 3. The original Kolibry pistol was designed and produced by F. Phannl in Austria in the first decade of 20th century. With a length about 5 cm, it is considered to be the smallest mass produced automatic pistol in history. Urso’s version reproduces this famous gun with other finish and grips: traditional checkered Kolibri grips, made of plastic, in this case are replaced with decorative ones. The grips are etched copper which are covered with nickel and gold.
The right picture: Lilliput-Browning, or the HyHunter pistol. It has appeared in 1950-s and, probably, was also designed by F. Phannl, although the manufacturing was carried out by A. Menz in Germany. Bob Urso has made it of nickel plated steel. The main feature of this version is also in grips design.
Both models use 2 mm rimfire cartridges, which are highly rare and expensive today. So the most of buyers just take on trust that these guns can shoot.
The next specimens are unusual for traditional European and American standards. They are made by a talented and committed craftsman from Hawaii, Albert Al Shigemi Izuka. Born in 1942 in Honolulu, he was the owner of a workshop where he worked with metal and wood for many years. Having a strong passion for mini firearms and swords, he is the author of many interesting projects in this sphere. His works are widely recognized, as well as his exceptional skills and precision.
The guns which you see in the pictures are interesting, because they reproduce the appearance of ancient matchlock and wheelock pistols (you can learn more about the principles of their action here). But to make them shootable in modern circumstances, Al Izuka has adopted their mechanisms for typical modern 2 mm pinfire cartridges. So there are “the hybrids”, experimental models, which look very impressive.
The left picture: Izuka Mathlock. This little charm pistol is only 1-3/8’’ long. It is brass with blued barrel and ivory grips. The barrel is turned by hand after each shot.
The right picture: Izuka Wheelock, 1-5/8’’ long. The spanner is used to wind and cock the hammer. The barrel tips down to load. The frame is made of polished brass, the barrel, and all parts of the action are blued steel.
Want to see the smallest pistol in the world?
This tiny Derringer has the length only 25 mm and 1 mm barrel diameter. And it shoots live ammos with hardened steel bullets! Cartridges are easily available: complete with the gun you get 10, and can order additional sets of ammunition if necessary. Look how this little miracle pierces a can with one shot:
It is not only the smallest gun that shoots, it is also an original piece of jewelry. Materials used for its production are as precious as original: gold and mammoth bone. So it’s a unique collector’s exhibit and a beautiful accessory “two in one”. Want to learn more about this model? Click here.