The Parlor Pistol - Indoor Shooting Fun

What do you do when you want to go shooting but the weather is lousy or the range is too far away? What do you do after dinner and Schnapps to show your mastery of fierce beasts and strong drink in a manly fashion? Our Victorian ancestors answer to these questions would be to take out their parlor pistol and have an indoor schutzenfest.

Bondini parlor pistol

Parlor pistols and rifles (zimmerschutzen from German, "room marksman" or "room shoot") were popularized in the mid to late 19th Century, particularly in the Germanic countries, as a way to entertain guests, have family fun, and to increase one's shooting skills. Generally heavy barreled and often elaborately engraved rifles (zimmerbusche) were produced for clearly upscale clients. These generally used a Flobert (CB-Cap) cartridge chambered a few inches from the muzzle. Sometimes equally elaborate parlor pistols (zimmerpistole) were chambered for Flobert cartridges or simply used a percussion cap. In this country, a small, almost toylike parlor pistol was briefly manufactured by Remington in 1860.

Parlor pistols are often the orphans of the gun collecting world, and I had never considered owning one until Track of the Wolf listed a 4mm percussion parlor pistol in the style of a full-scale percussion target pistol - no toy this!

Bondini parlor pistol muzzle This nice-looking pistol, manufactured about 20 years ago by Paolo Bondini, appears to be a typical mid-19th century Continental target pistol - that is, until one looks at the muzzle; the tiny bore was clearly not made for big game hunting. It is also heavy; with an essentially solid nine inch barrel, it weighs in at 2 pounds, 11 ounces. After shooting the pistol a few times, I was vaguely disappointed; when shot in its normal mode, with just a musket cap for propulsion, it didn't work very well. Also, the barrel was badly corroded near the breech, which certainly didn't help the accuracy, and the flash passage through the bolster was small and tortuous, cutting the effectiveness of the musket cap. After putting it away for about a year, I decided to see if it could be resurrected. To allow a wider selection of ammo, I rebarreled it in .177 caliber; the liner can just be seen in the photo of the muzzle. The bolster was relined and drilled out to 0.12" so the flash path from the (also drilled-out) musket cap nipple could easily communicate to the barrel.


Parlor pistol pellets The photos show the different projectiles tried; a .22LR cartridge is shown for scale. The 7.9 gr. and 10.5 gr. pellets are Crossman Premiers, the 7.0 gr. wad-cutter is from RWS, and the lead BB is from Gamo. The projectiles were shot 'bare', using only the musket cap, and also with 2 gr. of Swiss 4F dropped into the nipple before placing the musket cap. The addition of the extra powder greatly boosted the muzzle velocity, but the accuracy disappeared, and the noise and smoke made it unsuitable for indoor shooting. The most accurate results came from the 7.9gr pellet, with 1/4" groups possible at 10 yards. I was delighted with the accuracy, but the most surprising aspect of shooting this pistol is how quiet it is. The blast from the musket cap is entirely confined to the barrel, so the noise is more like a small cap gun or a loud air pistol, and after shooting, there was only a slight "burnt match" smell in the air - this pistol can truly be shot indoors without a problem, although a garage would be more appropriate than a living room (at least as far as my spouse is concerned).

Parlor Ballistics

Ammo 7.0 gr. RWS 7.9 gr. Crossman 10.5 gr. Crossman 8.3 gr. BB BB + Powder
Ave. Velocity 414 389 327 353 853
Std. Dev. Vel. 24 11 17 7 40

The table above shows the muzzle velocities for the loads, which are equivalent to those of a modern air or CO2 pistol. I ran the numbers through my ballistics program for the 7.9 gr. pellet. When sighted in at 10 yards, the top of the pellet's arc is at eight yards, so a 10-yard range is close to optimum, although it could be used effectively at 50 feet (17 yards).

Distance (yds) 0 2 4 6 8 10 17 25
Velocity 389 381 373 365 356 348 321 292
Energy (fpe) 2.7 2.6 2.4 2.3 2.2 2.1 1.8 1.5
Drop (inches) -0.6 -0.4 0.0 0.1 0.1 0.0 -1.4 -5.5

Where Can I Get One?

As far as I know, the only currently available new parlor pistol is a replica of the Remington Rider made by Davide Pedersoli and sold by Dixie Gun Works or Cabelas. If you want one that looks like a "real gun", you will have to find a used one or rebarrel a conventional percussion pistol. Rifled airgun barrels in .177, .22 and .25 caliber can be purchased at Mac-1 Airguns, which is where I purchased the 7/16" OD micro-rifled barrel used in my restoration. When rebarreling in this caliber, the original breech plug should not used to seal the end of the barrel. Instead, the breech end should be threaded for a 1/4" X 28 hex cap screw. The ideal pistol for conversion would be an in-line, since more of the cap energy would be available for propulsion (not to mention making it easier to clean), but any percussion pistol could conceivably be used. However you do it, you will find indoor shooting can be both safe and challenging.