November 01, 2013
By Joel J Hutchcroft
The Knox County Historical Museum in Knoxville, Illinois, will be opening an exhibit this November on the evolution of handgun technology from the hand cannon to the cartridge-firing revolver. One of the guns in that display is a Minneapolis Palm Pistol. I was allowed to handle and photograph it for this column, and it's an interesting handgun, indeed.
The Minneapolis Firearms Co. Protector Squeezer Type Palm Pistol, as it's officially known, is a .32-caliber centerfire handgun with a seven-shot capacity. It has internal chambers that are arranged around a rotating disk that has to be removed for loading. The cartridges point outward from the disk, and the disk is accessed by removing the hard rubber sideplate.
The action type is sometimes referred to as a turret revolver, and instead of a traditional trigger, the cartridges are fired by the shooter squeezing his fist while the gun is held in the hand. The usual way of holding the Palm Pistol is with the barrel protruding from between the shooter's fingers, and the action is operated by squeezing the hinged lever on the rear of the gun's circular frame. This type of handgun was originally patented and built in France in 1882 by Jacques Edmond Turbiaux and later produced in the United States as well as other countries.
The barrel length is 1.75 inches. Overall length is 4.5 inches. Weight, unloaded, is 10.5 ounces. The standard finish is nickel, but a scarce few are blued.
The Minneapolis Palm Pistol was sold under license by the Minneapolis Firearms Co. from 1891 to 1892, but research indicates these guns were actually made by James Duckworth of Springfield, Massachusetts. As the photo shows, they are marked "The Protector."
The Minneapolis Palm Pistol is not to be confused with another perhaps more well-known U.S.-made palm pistol called the Chicago Palm Pistol. The Minneapolis pistol is slightly smaller in size and is, as I mentioned, chambered for a centerfire .32-caliber cartridge. The Chicago pistol is chambered for a rimfire .32-caliber cartridge.
According to some experts, the biggest flaw in the Turbiaux design is that the cartridges have to be very short. The .32 Centerfire Extra Short (.32 Protector) and .32 Rimfire Extra Short were blackpowder cartridges, and they look similar to .22 rimfire BB caps. According to the Ammo Encyclopedia by Michael Bussard, muzzle velocity was an anemic 650 fps with a 54-grain lead roundnose bullet, and muzzle energy was a mere 51 foot-pounds.
The pistol shown here is one of the guns that Gil and Mary Hebard (of Gil Hebard Guns fame) donated to the Knox County Historical Museum. Because I used to work for the Hebards, I had seen this Minneapolis Palm Pistol a time or two before coming to work at Shooting Times some 21 years ago, but I never got up close and personal with it. This past summer, I was allowed to get my hands on it, and in fact I was able to bring it to the Shooting Times photo studio so that in-house photographer Michael Anschuetz could make these nice images of it. Along the way, I learned that the Hebards acquired this neat little .32 back in the mid-1980s.
The gun shows little wear, although it has obviously been fired. The pistol was probably carried in a purse or pocket way more than it was fired, but despite that, the nickel finish is quite good for being 122 years old.
According to Flayderman's Guide to Antique American Firearms and Their Values, only 3,000 Minneapolis Palm Pistols were made, whereas 12,800 Chicago Palm Pistols were made. Hence, the centerfire Minneapolis Palm Pistol seems to be the rarest of the palm pistols.
Some younger readers might think that the idea of a small, concealable handgun for personal protection is a fairly new idea what with all the recent developments in that regard. Obviously, they would be wrong. Small personal-protection handguns go all the way back to the days of the flintlocks and the cap-and-ball pistols, and they really bloomed after Smith & Wesson brought out the .22 rimfire No. 1 revolver in the early 1850s and pretty much started the whole cartridge-firing form of handgun. The Protector Squeezer Type Palm Pistol is an example of the evolution of that type of handgun, and as such it enjoys a special place in the history of handguns.