Toy Musket

English, probably London

Not on view

Miniature firearms, dating from between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, were produced across Western Europe and in Asia. These objects, which vary in the complexity of their design, are believed to have been made for a variety of purposes, including, in Europe, as toys, objets d'art, badges for shooting societies, and jewelry, and in Asia, as votive objects and demonstrations of a gunsmiths’ skills. The simple construction and the capacity to fire miniature bullets of this rare miniature musket, which dates from the late sixteenth–early seventeenth century, suggest that it is a toy. It will be a notable addition to the Department’s group of miniature firearms as an early example of the genre.

The toy, which is functional and could fire a miniature bullet when loaded with gunpowder and ignited at the touchhole with a flame, belongs to a distinct and recognized group of similar toy muskets that appear to have been produced exclusively in England (see Howard L. Blackmore, “Elizabethan Toy Guns,” 1989, pp. 10–14). All are cast in one piece from copper alloy. They vary slightly in size, shape, and decoration and in only a few cases do they appear to have come from the same mold. The type’s shape, distinguished by a flat, fish-tailed butt, mimics that of the standard military matchlock musket used in England during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. The trigger guard is proportionally oversized and was likely intended to make the toy easier to hold. Examples have been found across England but primarily in the London area, often in archaeological contexts.

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