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Chinese Or Japanese Hand-Cannon Info Needed


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Hello everyone,


Over the past couple of weeks I've been striving to research the history of a small 3-1/2 inch bronze "hand-cannon" found illustrated at the upper left-hand corner on page 61 of Francis Bannerman 1907 Military Goods catalog, but to no avail. Below is the illustration:





In my research, all I've been able to find on the above are 20th century reproductions made in brass stating that it's a Chinese hand-cannon. Sadly, some auction houses and internet auctions are offering/selling these crude 20th century reproductions as "original period" hand-cannon. Below are a couple of images of the reproduction and a 1981 Dixie Gun Works catalog entry showing they are reproducing these "Chinese hand-cannon" and selling them at $5 USD each:







My question(s) on another thread (http://www.militaria.co.za/nmb/topic/21648-pistols-avaiable-in-new-york-in-1907/) was/is.... can someone here please shed some light on this weapon? and member Piers D wrote:


"Jo, it is a Japanese Kayaku-dameshi powder tester. 火薬試し Ignore the original description. Most of it is wrong.

They are rare but not über rare. I have owned three of them. When a new batch of black powder was made up the gunsmith could test fire in the hand or nailed or strapped to a bench, judging the flash, the smoke and the report whether it looked good.
By the same token as you say there are crude modern castings going around of inferior quality, so be aware! I have taken two or three of them in hand. A good one today should not cost more than $500 US in modern dollars unless it is of particularly fine or unusual workmanship. (No idea what a modern brass copy would make, but I would not want to pay even $50 for one.)" 



My question(s) should have been.... can someone here please help shed some light on the actual weapon illustrated in the 1907 Bannerman's catalog?


Is it Chinese or Japanese in origin? 


Why can't I locate other examples of this exact "hand-cannon" anywhere other than 20th century reproductions?


Why are all of these internet auction and even some reputable auction houses such as Bonhams offering/selling these repros as originals:






Can someone please help?


Thanks in advance for your time and replies.

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The feeling I get from the original 1907 catalog illustration is that this object itself was made for the tourist market! The chrysanthemum was a popular symbol used post-Edo, ie in the Meiji Period. It seems to be a mini mixture of different weapons, almost a toy. Certainly there would be no use for both rear and fore sights. The description underneath is suspiciously vague...

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I thank both of you for your replies and thoughts.


Please excuse me for being a bit shocked and for my ignorance. But you both think that the item in question is some sort of souvenir and/or toy? That one of, if not the most renowned arms and military goods supplier of its day (Francis Bannerman & Sons, Inc.) would offer a souvenir and/or toy for sale in its catalogs? That every other weapon offered for sale on this page.....




.... in their catalog is a real and/or authentic weapon except for one? The one in which I'm researching/inquiring about? I just find this a bit hard to believe.


What makes you think this? Because of its size and having sights? 


If I'm not mistaken, researching gunpowder testers here on this site posted by members show a number of these testers being small and having sights. Is this not correct?


Has anyone here actually seen an example of this bronze hand-cannon outside of the catalog in which it was/is illustrated in? 


Kind regards 

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I forgot to add...


From research, it appears most, if not all(?) of the weapons illustrated within the catalog's page posted above were pieces purchased by Bannerman and a number of experts who went with him on a weapons collecting trip to the Orient circa, 1904-05.

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Well, this might be a case of ”one bad seed...” After a quick glance on the page you added, I can say that most of the weapons depicted, looks to be genuine (the multi-barrel matchlock in the top right corner, might be a bit suspect ) and demonstrate many different styles and schools.

Even in the finest collections there are fakes. I have yet to find an auction-house in the world, which has not sold an object of suspicious origin.

Also, this ”hand-cannon” is completely unpractical. It’s not even 9cm in total length. The reason for two sights, can only be decorative.

I myself got one of those genuine Japanese powder-tester, and I’ve handled a few more. Mine only got a small front-sight, which of course is a purely decorative feature.

I don’t think I can add so much more to this topic. Let’s call this a decorative artifact within the field of antique firearms.



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Read their description again carefully. It is phrased in exaggerated terms with nothing precise. They admit that no-one they showed it to could shed any light on it, and they cannot even remember where they bought it. I am guessing it was quite possibly cast by the same process as genuine old testers but extra features and decorations were added to it for attractiveness and appeal in the contemporary market place, as with many Netsuke and other artefacts of the time. My gut feeling is that one of their dealers got sold this at too high a price, so they whipped up some fluff in order to move it off their books.


PS The first line is making out that it is some ancient hand gonne, a single-shot Chinese gun from the beginnings of powder weapons, which it most definitely is not.

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"Let’s call this a decorative artifact within the field of antique firearms"


My apologizes, but I don't believe this is something a can accept at the moment without evidence. I mean..... I respect your opinion and appreciate your replies and thoughts, but I'm not ready to throw in the towel just yet and toss this item up as a mere decorative tourist item/toy.


If the item is just that (decorative tourist item/toy) where are they?


If this item was made for the tourist market, why can't any be found for sale or have sold anywhere?


Was there only one made and then sold to Bannerman's group in search of rare weapons in that era? Highly unlikely.


Where are these other decorative tourist items/toys? 

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I think I managed to cover all bases by calling it a ”decorative artifact” ;)

To me that elevates it from toy to something, well I just don’t know.

One thing I’m pretty sure of; this is not a gun. As it doesn’t look like a genuine Japanese powder-tester, I guess it’s anyone’s guess to what it is.



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If you’re referring to the swapping of parts and stamping CS (Confederate States) on some of those parts, yes, I’ve read this in my research.


It appears this was done due to the changing market and favorable lean towards CS weapons. But still, the weapons being offered for sale by Bannerman’s were authentic ‘of the period’ (19th C. ) weapons and not something for decorative use or a toy.

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Looking again at the catalog gun again it is quite different from the photograph Chinese 'repro' you posted. I was kind of assuming they were the same. 


Compare the bores for a start. Although I strongly disagree with the inferences in the Bannerman catalog, the narrowness of the bore and the thickness of the barrel walls do suggest the 'original' could have been a later Meiji period powder tester. Were some perhaps elderly gunsmiths still using crude traditional ways of measuring gunpowder mixtures? Assuming that Banneman staff bought it in Japan on their travels (but later forgot even which country they found it in), then a Meiji period chrysanthemum-decorated Kayaku-dameshi powder tester might indeed be possible. In such a scenario I would would be willing to retract my earlier suggestion of 'toy'! A feeling still remains that just as Hinawa-Ju continued to made in the Meiji Period, a swansong from gunsmiths who yearned for the good old days or had been unable to adapt, or needed to record their skills for posterity, there was no real market for them outside of the curios and tourist and perhaps unsuspecting collector market.

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"Looking again at the catalog gun again it is quite different from the photograph Chinese 'repro' you posted."


Without question they are and this is what I know (or have learned about the items over these past few weeks) for a fact that's different: 



The one in the catalog is made of thick heavy hand-forged bronze ~vs~ the repro being of thin light cast brass.

The one in the catalog's decoration is hand-chiseled ~vs~ the repro's decoration being embossed due to casting.

The one in the catalog has a maker's mark, proof mark and/or mon hand-incised near the base ring (please see image below) ~vs~ the repro having nothing/neither.


The one in the catalog can fire a projectile ~vs~ the repro cannot and will most likely below-up in your hand if one tried to fire a projectile.

The one in the catalog appears to be the only know example of its kind ~vs~ the repro being of many.



How do I know about these facts regarding the catalog version? Because I own the one in the catalog. 


And before you or any others might ask......why not post images?  


The reason why....................because I don't want to burn it! I don't want some folks out there to copy it. To have some folks make reproductions of what the actual original piece looks like before I get the chance to decide on what I actually want to do (keep or resell) with my piece first. Does this make sense to you all?


Yes, they (copyist) have some idea of what the original looks like via the woodblock image within the 1907 catalog, but nobody from my understanding knows what the actual original looks likes. This is why so many (in my opinion) 20th century reproduction of this piece are being misidentified and sold by internet auctions and auction houses as originals.


How did I obtain the original? It was once housed in the collection of a well respected NYC antiques collector/dealer who himself misidentified the piece as being something it wasn't. He's since passed away and family members (wife & son) sold-off a number of items from his collection via auction.  


Hopefully, with you all help and continued research, more can be learned and gathered about this item. 





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Somewhere on this site and/or the Samurai Arms and Armour forum there is a thread illustrating Kayaku-dameshi black powder testers. Anyone wanting to make reproductions could have visited there. In fact I have seen several reproductions in Japan but they tend to be cruder than the original used to make the mold.


It is true that you could fire a projectile from it, but the touch hole is relatively large so it would be fairly inefficient if used in that way.

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I found this image:




These are your items, correct?


If so, why does the piece at left look more refined than the other two pieces? What period is the one at left from? Is that 'decorative stippling effect' on the side common? Also, why is the touch-hole smaller than the other two?


My apologies for all the questions, just striving to understand the differences.

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Jan, It seems Bannerman was a dealer who owned a mock castle on an island. He bought up mountains of gear after the civil war and stashed it in the castle where it decayed away, ammunition going unstable - a nightmare. I would have to read it again to get the details but it seems the whole place was a death-trap.


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I am not sure what the issue is behind much of this thread. Bannerman serviced American gun collectors - many of whom were interested in the evolution of guns. For that reason there was a market in what were understood to be early stages of firearm development. Bannerman certainly put that simple hand cannon up there in the left corner to show a "primitive" gun. I also bet that he really didn't know the differences between Japanese and Chinese things.

I am not familiar with the whole "Powder tester" category. I do recall that in thje old days, Dick Dodge used to come uo with lots of those neat little cast bronze cannons. When I asked about them, he said they were CHINESE and used as fireworks play things. He said that in addition to a small charge, the barrels were packed with confetti to give both a a bang and a burst of stuff.


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After some consideration, I decided to post images. 


As you can see, the piece is quite different in refinement compared to the 20th C. brass reproduction that as been selling on the market for years as the original. The touch-hole is very small compared to Piers & Jan's powder testers, but mirrors this "stippling" effect at sides that's found on Piers's 'miniature cannon' with wooden base seen in my last post above. It's 3-1/2 inches in size, weighs nearly 1/2 lbs. and is marked near the base ring with an unidentified hand-incised maker's(?) mark.


Your thoughts, if any?















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Well, being far from an expert on these miniature guns/testers/artifacts, my first impression is that the touch-hole looks very small. How would it be possible to ignite the main cache of black powder?

The shape of the end is also interesting. Pretty sure that I never seen anything like it before.

Again, the vaste majority of Japanese powder testers I’ve seen, sports a fish tale at the back. Piers got in interesting theory about that :)

So my humble conclusion is that this can’t be a weapon and I doubt very much that it’s a Japanese powder tester. But in this game you must have an open mind...



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Well, I think you have described it rather well. I agree with your comparative observations too. The patina on yours suggests younger rather than older, so I would stick by my sense of Meiji at the earliest, although the one you own seems to differ in several respects from the one in the catalog, so it could in fact be even later.


Iam not sure what the mark behind the touchhole represents.


(My little stippled cannon you posted above has a mekugi bridge loop underneath for fixing to a base; there is also a Mei underneath.)


Yours seems to have crossover attributes of miniature cannon and powder tester. Good luck with your research. I hope you will keep us updated as there is still much to learn in this area.

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Gentlemen, Two points strike me as significant. First is that the barrel is texture / stippled on top but not below. This suggests it wasn't seen and that originally it sat in a wood 'stock' of some kind that was confined between the muzzle and breech moulding. Secondly I can see a change of patina behind the touch hole, especially on the right side. This suggests a band of some kind to hold it into a stock. Now here is a mad idea. If it did sit in a wood stock on a smooth board and was charged with a given quantity of powder, the distance it slid on firing would indicate the 'strenght' of the powder. Just a thought.

Ian Bottomley.

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Thanks everyone for your time, thoughts and replies, most appreciated!



@Jan who said: "So my humble conclusion is that this can’t be a weapon and I doubt very much that it’s a Japanese powder tester."

I agree...I don't believe this piece to be a Japanese powder tester, but humbly disagree it can't be a weapon, when it so obviously is. As to the who, when and where,.....is yet to be determined. 



@Piers who said: "The patina on yours suggests younger rather than older, so I would stick by my sense of Meiji at the earliest, although the one you own seems to differ in several respects from the one in the catalog, so it could in fact be even later."

I disagree a bit. My thoughts is this little guy is at least 19th C., if not older. Although my piece might differ just slightly from the catalog's version, I believe they're one-and-the-same. What you have to remember is the catalog's version is only the artist's rendering (drawing/etching/woodblock print) of the item and will differ a bit when comparing the actual weapon.................................just as all the weapons on that catalog's page differ a bit when comparing. 


@Malcolm who said: "Can you please show a close up down the bore, I am curious as to the mottled effect shown in the wider shots. As to the mark behind the touch hole that Piers mentions, it does not look like a normal Kamon, perhaps an interpretation of Maru Ni Yotsume?"

I will get that image for you as soon as day brakes here and there's better lighting. The mark behind the touch hole appears to be a Solar Cross/Sun Cross/Wheel Cross ???  very similar to this image here:



@Ian, quite interesting your theory of this piece might of once had a wooden stock. The barrel is only textured/stippled on the sides where the floral decoration has been carved, not on the entire top half of the barrel. 


Hopefully, more answers will soon come. To be continued.................









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I just wanted to add a couple of close-up images for you alls viewing I thought to be interesting.


The texture/stippling on each side of the barrel as well as the "maker's mark" is all hand-applied/punched.
















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