October 27, 2004
CW acquires rare Scottish pistols from Virginia donors
Colonial Williamsburg recently acquired a magnificent pair of steel, iron and silver pistols made by John Campbell of Doune, Scotland, between 1750 and 1770. Purchase of the pistols was funded entirely by a generous gift from Williamsburg donors John A. Hyman and Betty C. Leviner.
“All-metal pistols are among the most distinctive of Scottish-made objects and most mid-18th-century examples of this form, like the Doune pistols, feature ram’s horn butts and extensive engraved ornament,” said Erik Goldstein, curator of mechanical arts and numismatics. “These pistols are classic examples of scroll-shaped pistol grips made of iron with silver inlay. Although very capable of firing a deadly shot, Campbell clearly saw these pistols as a host with which to create an item of culturally distinctive, male jewelry.”
John Murray, Fourth Earl of Dunmore and the last royal governor of Virginia, also owned a similar pair of pistols, one of which appears in Sir Joshua Reynolds’ 1765 full-length portrait of Dunmore dressed in a kilt. Major John Pitcairn, a Scot in the British Marines, carried a nearly identical pair during the American Revolution. His pistols were captured at the Battle of Lexington and are on view at the Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, Mass.
“This gift is only the most recent of John and Betty’s generous and longstanding support of the foundation’s notable collections,” said Ronald L. Hurst, Colonial Williamsburg’s vice president of collections and museums, and Carlisle H. Humelsine chief curator. “Colonial Williamsburg is indeed fortunate to have such friends.”
The John Campbell Scottish pistols currently are on display in the Masterworks Gallery of Colonial Williamsburg’ award winning DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum. The museum is supported by the DeWitt Wallace Fund for Colonial Williamsburg and displays the foundation’s exceptional collection of British and American decorative arts. Entered through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773 on Francis Street near Merchants Square, the museum is open daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is included in any Colonial Williamsburg admission ticket or by separate one-day or annual museums ticket. For program information call (757) 220-7724.