Antique Pistols 1690-1815

By the mid 15th century the matchlock had become the first hand-held firearm. Pulling a lever attached to the serpentine dropped a lighted match into the flash pan igniting the priming powder which travelled through the touch hole igniting the main charge in the gun barrel. The wheellock was the first self-igniting firearm. Its name arises from a rotating steel wheel to provide ignition. It works by spinning a spring-loaded steel wheel against a piece of pyrite to generate intense sparks, which ignite primer in a pan. Until the middle of the 19th century pistols were carried by all who could afford them for personal safety. It is therefore understandable why they have exerted such a powerful influence over us. Marin le Bourgeoys, gunsmith to the French Court, made a firearm incorporating a flintlock mechanism for King Louis XIII in 1610. Firearm lock mechanisms had proceeded from the matchlock to wheellock to the early flintlocks. (Snaphances, miquelets, and doglocks were early forms of flintlock). The flintlock system was known and used in various forms throughout Europe by 1630 with older systems continuing in use for some time. Manufacture became specialised as craftsmen would concentrate on locks or barrels and sell their products on.

The prints measure 43 cm wide x 25.5 cm high (17” x 10”). Minor variation in size is possible based on the actual guillotine cut made by the printer over 50 years ago. Shown here are photographs which have been carefully corrected to remove most distortion. Published in 1963 by © Hugh Evelyn Limited, London; drawn by Ronald Paton.

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