This is a very rare Lyle Life-Saving Rescue pistol that comes complete in its original Wooden transit case. Their basic purpose was for sending lines or small ropes to boaters or even swimmers in distress. Inside the box, the kit is remarkably complete containing 17 original rounds of .44 rimfire "H" marked blanks, 5 of its original 6 nickel-plated line darts, and its original wooden spool of rope. The instructions are in beautiful condition and still posted on the inside of the lid. The directions clearly illustrate the figure standing with the pistol holding the identical spool of rope that's in the case.
The pistol is a standard Hammond Patent Single Shot Deringer also nicknamed the "Bulldog" mfd by the Connecticut Arms Co. The top of the barrel is marked Connecitcut Arms & Mfg Co. Naubuc Conn. Hammond's patent is located on the top of the breech and reads "Pat. date Oct,25,1864." There were 8,000 Bulldog Deringers produced from about 1866 through the 1880's. Flaydermans Guide to Antique American Firearms notes a few rare variations of this gun including the line throwing variation.
We have relatively little experience with line guns as there aren't many around. Over the years, we've seen a few by various mfr's including single shot shotguns, rifles with Martini-style actions, and even a few Winchester 1886's with 14" smooth bores in 45-70 used by the US Coast Guard. Interestingly, of those we've seen through the years, I recall all of them as having smooth bores. I guess it makes since...the dart or spear would have trouble fitting down a rifled bore. When we found this gun, I had just assumed it would be smooth-bored like all the rest. To our surprise, this little line pistol has a rifled bore! That's right, this is just a standard Bulldog Deringer with a standard rifled bore with the Lyle Co. design built around the gun. So the next question I asked myself? How do those little darts fit down a rifled bore without being too tight or too lose? My question was answered as soon as I took a closer look at the metal darts. If you look at the pictures, you'll notice that each one has a set of flutes cut down the sides 180 deg. apart. Inside each flute is a little metal fin made of softer brass or bronze alloy that is cut to match the grooves of the rifling. The fins look somewhat like a pocket clip you'd find on almost any ball-point pen and they're slightly spring-loaded so as to allow good contact with the wall of the bore. What a fascinating design for something mfd 130 years ago and probably more advanced than most modern-day line guns!!! Whoever came up with this concept sure went to a lot of trouble to retain the benefits of longer range through a rifled bore. I guess the only side-effects would have been your line twisted a little more when it was launched. The 5 darts are also in different length, therefore weights vary, which I assume translated into different ranges for propelling the line.
Overall, this gun shows very little use. It was probably fired a few times and put away for decades. It was only recently discovered in a town along the Eastern Seaboard. There is still original blue inside the bore and the face of the breech still has all of its original color case hardened finish. The outside of the gun in in Fine+ condition but with some freckling from storage. The barrel has 75% bright vivid original high polish blue with the balance turned small patches of brown patina that are mostly smooth with no signs of significant corrosion. The original blue is very high quality...not a low-sheen rust blue but a high polished surface that was nitre blued....something you might see once in a while on a fine Colt 1851 Navy. If not for the storage issues, it would probably be near Mint. The frame and breech are so contoured that its hard to photograph but there are at least 70-75% good discernable case colors visible with the balance a dark mottled grey patina. Again, the colors are strong with more loss to age than any sort of wear. Even the screws show nearly 100% of their original tempered fire blue which range from bronzed purple to a brilliant electric blue. Screws are all look unturned with zero slot wear. Checkered hard rubber grips are excellent plus with no wear to the checkering, no chips, no cracks, and no repairs of any kind. Action is mechanically excellent and bore is bright and shiny and excellent too.
The box has also survived in Fine condition with most of its original varnish intact with some dirt and patina on the outside that has never been cleaned (just the way collectors like to find stuff). The brass latches are sturdy and are identical to another Lyle Box we've seen on the internet that houses a short barreled Sharps Line Gun. The metal darts are made of steel with brass fins. Overall, the retain 90-95% of their original nickel plating. This is a very rare pistol and for one designed to be near the water, it has survived in fantastic shape. There were very few of these built....and probably even fewer survived having lived in such close proximity to water. This is the only example we've ever seen.