The Pepperbox Revolving Pistol:
The pepperbox revolving pistol contains multiple barrels which rotate about an axis into firing position. This was unlike the Colt Patterson pistol, in which chambers containing powder and ball were successively rotated into alignment with a single fixed barrel.
Gunsmiths had begun experimenting with multi-shot guns since the late 1600’s. However, a safe and reliable mechanism for ignition constituted a difficulty which was never completely overcome, until development of the the percussion ignition system. During the 1830’s patents were approved for percussion types of pistols in the United States, England and France. In 1834 Ethan Allen, an American gun maker of that time patented a double action mechanism for the pepperbox pistol. Ethan Allen was a leading producer of pepperbox revolving pistols in the United States, producing some hundred variations between 1837 and 1865 under the brand names Allen & Thurber, Allen, Thurber & Co, and Allen & Wheelock (Silva, 2003). Allen’s success in gun manufacturing came in part from his pioneering the use of machine-made interchangeable parts in his guns. (Winant, page 28).
These revolving barrel pistols were always known as “Pepperbox”, however, during the 1830’s they were generally known as “Revolving Pistols,” or “Rotary Pistols.” At $15 a piece, Pepperbox pistols were relatively expensive compared to single shot pocket pistols of the period (Winant, page 45). (Remember at this time gold is $20.00 per ounce and an unskilled laborer is earning $70.00 per year.)