Collector appeals over mystery of £50k Jacobite pistols

The ornately crafted pair of Jacobite Doune pistols which date back to 1730. Picture: Neil Hanna
The ornately crafted pair of Jacobite Doune pistols which date back to 1730. Picture: Neil Hanna
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A private collector is looking to solve the mystery behind the original owner of two extremely rare Jacobite pistols now returned to Scotland that date back to 1730 and may have been fired at the Battle of Culloden.

Kevan McDonald, a retired lawyer, bought the pistols which are believed to be worth around £50,000 as a pair from another private collector in London.

They were made for a senior Jacobite officer by renowned gunmaker Alexander Campbell of Doune, in Perthshire, and are believed to have been taken to America at the start of the Revolutionary War in 1775.

The elaborately designed guns were previously owned by a wealthy New York socialite who sold them to a collector based near London through Christie’s Auction House in 2006 and were finally returned home to Scotland by McDonald a fortnight ago.

There are believed to be only five genuine pairs of these type of pistols in the world including McDonald’s. A pair are on show at the Met Museum in New York and the V&A Museum in London – there are also two pistols at Brodick Castle, on the Isle of Arran.

McDonald said: “They came back to Scotland two weeks ago from London where they had been since 2006 after being sold by Christie’s on behalf of an old lady socialite in New York.

“We know they were made in Doune around 1730 but the whole period from 1730 to 2006 is missing.

“Christie’s may give us more information but they generally have an in-house 60-year rule, which means they won’t disclose the seller for 60 years to protect their confidentially.

“We don’t know when the lady bought them – so it’s a mystery which we need help to solve.

“They are undoubtedly pistols that were made for a high-ranking Jacobite sympathiser and may have been at Culloden.”

The earliest surviving Doune pistol was manufactured in 1678 and is in the Neufchatel Museum in Switzerland. The design was attractive, with intricate decoration that made it a fashion accessory for the wealthy.

The pistols were sold in pairs, and allegedly a pistol made in Doune was the first weapon fired in the American war of Independence – the weapon that fired “the shot heard around the world” was fired by Major Pitcairn, a British soldier. George Washington was also presented with two Doune pistols by his staff, which he bequeathed after his death to Major-General Lafayette.

McDonald said: “Somewhere in Scotland there will be somebody sitting in a room in front of a mantelpiece looking at a portrait of one of their ancestors with these pistols tucked into his belt.”

He added: “There were several pistol manufacturers in Doune at the time of the Campbells and others, but Alexander Campbell who made these pistols and whose signature is on them supplied families with a Jacobite tendency.

“The Campbells were generally Hanoverian and supported the other side, but there is a pistol that is almost identical to the pair and was made for Donald Cameron of Lochiel. He met Bonnie Prince Charlie when he landed in Scotland and but for Donald Cameron there would not have been a 1745 [rebellion] because it was his influence that got the clans to come out in support.”

He added: “The bit I love the best is the back of the handles, it’s steel and silver inlay and these pistols have got much more silver in them than Cameron of Lochiel’s and the trigger is in the form of the rose.”