A host of unusual firearms have been floated and (mostly) abandoned over the two centuries of largely trial-and-error design. After our recent coverage of Arsenal Firearm's AF2011-a1 double barrel semiautomatic pistol, we wondered if more extreme versions of multi-barrel repeating handguns existed. The outlandish Pistola con Caricato three-barreled revolver is a definite candidate.

This revolver was manufactured in Italy during the early part of the 20th century, complete with three barrels and 18 chambers in 6.35 x 16 mm semi-rimmed caliber (.25 ACP). While rather more bulky than one would want in a pocket handgun, 18 shots would provide a certain feeling of security in back alleys and dark lanes.

The only markings visible on the gun appear in the following photograph. They indicate that the revolver was made in Italy, and was given the name Pistola con Caricato. Caricato is an Italian word meaning either "stuffed" or "caricature" - either definition could apply to this rather strange handgun.

Markings on the triple-barrel revolver identify it as a Pistola con Caricato in 6.35mm. Caricato is an Italian word meaning either stuffed or caricature. Either could apply to this handgun (Photo: Horst Held)

After the name of the gun appears the marking "01-CAL .6.35." In addition to identifying the caliber of the revolver, the 01 suggests that it may be a prototype, as does the rather sloppy stamping of the characters. If so, it does not appear to have made it into production, as there is virtually no historical record of this gun. There are additional markings in the photo, but they have been worn into illegibility. The view of the barrels from beneath shows that the bluing of the gun has probably been taken off during polishing, which may also explain the worn markings.

The 6.35 x 16 mm cartridge is traditional for light pocket handguns, as it is so low in power that safely containing the firing pressure does not require thick (and hence heavy) metal. In fact, the 6.35 x 16 mm cartridge is the lowest power standard cartridge still in manufacture, save for the rimfire .22 short. Having a impact momentum about one-fifth that of serious self-defense ammo, it is normally considered no substitute for a more powerful firearm.

On the left is seen the selector slide that chooses which of the firing pins (on the right) will be activated when the revolver is fired (Photo: Horst Held)

The revolver has four firing settings and a safety. The selector (above left) allows the shooter to select which firing pin and barrel will be used to fire the gun, and it also has an option to fire all three barrels on each pull of the trigger. There is also a mechanical safety that prevents the hammer from hitting any of the firing pins.

The revolver uses moon clip speedloaders to hold the 18 rounds of ammunition, thereby greatly reducing the difficulty of loading and reloading the gun (Photo: Horst Held)

The Pistola Con Caricato also made an early use of moon clips, as seen above, to load and unload cartridges from the gun. Moon clips were first introduced around 1908, and only became common in revolvers used in the First World War. The moon clips for the Pistola Con Caricato sandwiches the 18 rounds between a holding plate and a firing access plate, through which the firing pins strike the cartridges. With 18 rounds that just drop in and the top-break loading design, the gun must have been a quick loader.

Little solid history is associated with this handgun, again supporting the notion that it may have been a once-off prototype. It is rumored that this revolver once belonged to the firearms collection of the Smithsonian Institution, but confirmation of this claim has proven elusive.

Unfortunately, the Pistola Con Caricato has apparently been sold to a Russian collector, so if you were looking to add a triple-barrel pistol to your collection, you'll probably have to make one yourself.

Source: Horst Held