Key Guns

Steve Johnson
by Steve Johnson

I have seen many types of weird and wacky guns, but these key guns take the cake. From at least the 17th century untill the mid 1800s, some lock makers integrated guns into lock keys for use by jailers. The idea was that if the prisoner tried any funny stuff, the jailer could fire a round through the lock at the prisoner.

Flintlock Key Gun

Some of the key guns were very basic, requiring the jailer to use a a cigar, cigarette or match to ignite a touchhole, while others used sophisticated percussion cap and flintlock mechanisms.

1850s .32 Cal blackpowder gun with touchhole. (Photo from Webteek Auctions)
British made and Birmingham proofed percussion key pistol. Approx. .45 cal. Made 1850 – 1860. (Photo from Horst Held Antique Handguns)

My hunch is that these were marketing gimmicks from lock makers, not useful tools for prison guards and jailers. I suspect they were carried around unloaded, but cocked, so prisoners would think twice before attacking a guard.

[Hat Tip: Sven via. Boing Boing]

Steve Johnson
Steve Johnson

I founded TFB in 2007 and over 10 years worked tirelessly, with the help of my team, to build it up into the largest gun blog online. I retired as Editor in Chief in 2017. During my decade at TFB I was fortunate to work with the most amazing talented writers and genuinely good people!

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2 of 14 comments
  • Tom Tom on Dec 18, 2011

    i have a key gun still in the box! never opened whats something like this worth?

  • Tate Tate on May 12, 2012

    I believe the key was for protection of a manor...

    Knock, knock, knock...

    Who's there?

    Mr. Sherlock Holmes

    Okay, wait a minute while I unlock the door. killing the trespasser.

    Just my thought...