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  • Writer's pictureT. Logan Metesh

"Watch" out! Why you should be wary of willing victims.

Updated: Oct 10, 2020

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa

"Hand over your watch!" Why certainly, Mr. Burglar.

That's the headline for an article in Popular Science magazine from December 1917. It's proof that some things never change, even after 101 years. If you're approached by a mugger and you've got a nice watch, he's going to want it. Leonard Woods of St. Louis, MO, knew this, so he designed a pocket watch with some firepower inside of it.

Mr. Woods applied for a patent on November 4, 1912, for what was essentially a derringer watch. That is, a single-shot pistol concealed within a pocket watch. On September 16, 1913, he received patent #1,073,312 from the US Government.

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa
Drawing from 1913 patent

In his application, Woods explained the idea behind his design:

"The object of my invention is to provide a pistol that can be carried in the vest pocket like a watch, is as readily accessible, and appears like a watch, whereby it may be presented and fired at a highwayman while apparently merely obeying his command to 'hand over your watch and be quick about it!'"

It only took a few months before Leonard Woods realized that one round of .22 rimfire might not get the job done. So, on January 19, 1914, he applied for another patent on an improved design. More than a year and a half later, he received approval in August 1915.

His new design concealed a diminutive seven-shot revolver inside the case of the pocket watch. Woods' ability to create something so small that actually worked within the already cramped confines of a watch case is quite an achievement. Unfortunately, space constraints meant that the pistol packed very little punch.

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa
Drawing from 1915 patent

The watch stem doubles as the barrel. A small trigger slides along the stem, allowing for perfect ergonomic placement in the hand.

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa
Profile view, showing the cylinder

Popular Science described how a mugging scene might play out if the assailant came upon a victim armed with this pocket watch pistol of Mr. Woods' design:

"As you pretend to be looking at the time, you are actually aiming at the hard heart in front of you. If the thief insists upon having the use of your watch, you can give it to him by simply pressing the trigger."

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa
Illustration from "Popular Science"

Lewis Winant's awesome 1955 book, Firearms Curiosa, features the gun's patent drawing on the cover. Winant discusses Woods' design in the book. I highly recommend picking up a copy because there are plenty of other amazing and unusual concepts within its pages. It definitely lives up to the title! Click here for my full review of the book.

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa
Woods' patent is in the lower right corner.

Despite the ingenuity, Woods' invention caught on. The only one similar that I know of is a British design of which very little is known. I am, however, familiar with a modern-day design that is very similar.

Engraver and jeweler Andreas Von Zadora Gerlof removed the internals of a pocket watch and fitted it with the mechanism necessary to fire tiny .22 CB rounds. Even though it doesn't keep time, it's still right twice a day. If that's something you're interested in, there's one for sale over at AZFirearms.

pocket watch, pistol, firearms curiosa
Modern version of the pocket watch pistol

It's been more than 100 years since Leonard Woods cooked up the idea of a pocket watch pistol. Thankfully, there are plenty of other more powerful pistols on the market today, many of which are just as easy to conceal in your pocket.

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Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.


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