The Allen revolving pistol or "pepper box" as it was commonly called, created and patented by Ethan Allen in 1837, marked a revolution in the world of firearms history during a revolutionary time of the history of the world itself, and by the start of the California gold rush was the most popular pistol available.
The double action pistol featured five or six cylinders depending on the model. Each cylinder would hold a primer, powder, wad, and ball, and would allow its user to fire repeatedly without having to reload; the only major difference from Samuel Colt's revolver was the fact that each cylinder was an individual barrel. Colt's revolver, used by Army officers, was unpopular due to its price and its constant malfunctions, so the Allen's popularity soared during a time when personal security was more times than not the responsibility of the individual, and nearly everyone who wanted to purchase one of the pistols could afford it. Made primarily for the civilian sector, the pepper box was the first pistol manufactured that featured interchangable parts, which allowed the owner to choose different barrel lengths, from 2 to over 6 inches, or styles of grip.
A major drawback of the pistol was that it was extremly hard to aim, as it had no sight apetures, the user simply lined the barrel up with the intended target and fired, and the smooth-bored barrels did not enhance accuracy by spinning the round as with modern rifled pistol barrels.
Another flaw in the system was the weapon's propensity to malfunction and fire all of its barrels, either all at once, which would knock the weapon out of the shooter's hand, or individually, which would cause the weapon to jump uncontrollably and pepper anyone in front of it, hence the name "pepper box".
"Simply drawing the trigger back, cocked and fired the pistol. As the trigger came back, the hammer would begin to rise and the barrel to turn over, and presently down would drop the hammer, and away would speed the ball. To aim along the turning barrel and hit the thing aimed at was a feat which was probably never done with an "Allen" in the world... It was a cheerful weapon--the "Allen." Sometimes all its six barrels would go off at once, and then there was no safe place in all the region round about, but behind it."
Mark Twain, Roughing It
In the mid 1850's, after Samuel Colt had revised his first designs for a more accurate revolver which featured only one barrel for its six cylinders and started to mass produce them, the pepper box began to lose its popularity, though its ground-breaking abilities set a new standard for firearms and their private use.