A treat for you today. I've invited an expert in antique firearms to talk about a subject near-and-dear to my heart -- pistol packing spies.
|Random armed person of the Eighteenth Century|
Not the sort of thing you could comfortably cart around in a purpose-sewn pocket in your jacket or cloak.
|Not this small|
It is those guns that I want to look at today. So let me introduce my guest, 'Arizona'.
Jo: Welcome, Arizona. We're glad to have you and your expertise with us. Tell me about sneaky little guns in the era of the French Revolution and Regency. These would have been ladies' guns?
Arizona: Yes, they were. Ladies had some firearms built specifically for them in the 1700's to early 1800's. They were called "Muff Pistols". These were small handguns which were easily hidden in a lady's muff, or handwarmer. They were also small enough to hide within the voluminous clothing women wore in those days.
Jo: Did men carry them?
Arizona: Though they were called ladies', or muff, pistols, many men carried them as they were considered to be what our small .380's and such are today.
Jo: I notice men called them 'pocket pistols' when they carried them. *g* They weren't like modern guns, right?
Arizona: These were flintlock pistols. Percussion caps were designed in 1805, so it would be unlikely an actual percussion firearm would have been immediately available.
You will note, as you consider the various designs below, that firearms don't seem to have changed much since the early 1700's through the early 1800's. That is true, though the "lines" of the firearms became more elegant and less "blocky".
A little aside here, what we, today, would consider too large for one's pocket was indeed a "pocket pistol" during the period we are talking about. Men wore greatcoats which had rather large pockets. Thus, a pistol we would consider far too large for a pocket today would indeed fit into a man's greatcoat pocket.
Jo: Can you show us some examples of these small Regency-era pistols?
Arizona: Here's a VERY good description of muff pistols, and the pocket type in particular.
|Lady's muff pistol|
From the 18th century small concealable pistols for self protection, were manufactured in Europe in large numbers. The picture shows a flintlock example manufactured in 1820 from Birmingham England.
While there were several notable firearms manufacturers, there were far more "cottage industry" gunsmiths who would make pretty much anything you requested. Almost every medium to large city had several such gunsmiths. The only comparable situation today is Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, where everything from matchlock firearms to AK-47's are made in home workshops. Ammunition is made in the same way.
Measuring just over 4 inches (11.8cm) these lightweight guns were intended mainly for women. As they could easily be concealed in a Ladies hand warmer, they gained the name of Muff pistols.
Like many of this type of weapon it is fitted with a sliding safety catch to prevent accidental discharge.
Jo: Ok. How does my heroine load her pistol?
Arizona: The shooter loads the firearm with black powder followed by a round lead ball.
This is usually done from the muzzle end, though, with some muff pistols, you unscrewed the barrel, seated the powder and ball, then screwed the barrel back on.
The ball was normally wrapped with a cloth patch, (though a piece of paper could be used in a pinch).
Once the powder was measured and poured down the barrel and the patched ball placed on the crown of the muzzle, a ramrod was used to force the ball down to the chamber where it was tamped against the powder, creating the charge.
On larger pistols the ramrod was in it's familiar place under the barrel, for those who have seen "Kentucky Rifles" and other muzzle loaders. In the case of smaller pistols, such as muff pistols, they generally came in a case, with a small powder flask, some balls, and a ramrod, which was generally kept in the case.
Remember, these were not thought to be used in a battle. Rather, they were a last ditch self protection instrument, to be used when all else had failed. You generally wouldn't have time to reload them, thus there was no need to keep the ramrod with the pistol.
Jo: This took a while, this business of loading a pistol?
|A three-barrel flintlock pistol|
Arizona: Muzzle loading firearms were extremely slow to reload. Even experts were reported to need 15 seconds to reload a smooth-bore musket, with a much longer reload time for any rifled firearm.
So some flintlock pistols were produced with anywhere from two, three, or four to as many as 24 barrels. (The larger capacity firearms were of later manufacturer.)
This photo and some of the information are from the Flintlock wiki, here.
This photo and some of the information are from the Flintlock wiki, here.
Arizona: No, they were generally pretty heavy and rather large and bulky.
Most of the flintlock pepperboxes and multi-barrel pistols were of six or fewer barrels. This was more due to the method of ignition (powder in the pan, which could be easily ignited by sparks from another barrel) than inability to design and build such a handgun. These designs tended to be costly to make and were often unreliable and dangerous.
While weapons like double barreled shotguns were reasonably safe, weapons like the pepperbox revolver would sometimes fire all barrels simultaneously, or would sometimes just explode in the user's hand.
It was therefore often less expensive, safer, and more reliable to carry several single-shot weapons instead.
Jo: Right. Carry a couple guns. This sounds like such excellent advice I will have to have Doyle give it to somebody one of these days.
You have some audio-visuals for us?
This video shows the loading and firing sequence of a flintlock pistol. Here.
And this one is an excellent example of loading and firing a flintlock musket through the use of paper cartridges. Here.
Here to the side is the firing sequence for a flintlock.
Jo: Let me add some more excitement --
See and hear the action of a frizzen, here.
See and hear the action of the hammer here.
See and hear the gun fire here.
And some more interesting firing of period weapons here.
Now, Arizona, you have some pictures of the actual period pistols.
Arizona: Here is a link to a small(er) double barreled French Flintlock Coat Pistol, ca 1750. Another link to a French "Greatcoat Pistol" here. And another small pistol. Here. This one shows some of the markings a royal arms dealer would have placed on their wares. Here.
Jo: That's beautiful workmanship on those. And we see how the double barrels work.
I know there are number of folks who want details on the anatomy of a flintlock and the exact firing sequence. I've put this below the cut . . .
Delve down below the cut and you will learn the origin of phrases like, 'flash in the pan,' and, 'to go off half-cocked'. When we talk about 'lock, stock, and barrel', the 'lock' is the flintlock.
You will also become acquainted with the word 'frizzen' - which is not the past perfect of an unfortunate day at the hairdressers.
Photos and basic information can be found at How Stuff Works.
See the front and back of a flintlock mechanism, with all the parts labeled.
The main parts of a flintlock are:
* The hammer. This holds a piece of flint via a small screw type vise.
* The mainspring. Though small, this powers the hammer.
* The frizzen. This is a piece of steel which is struck by the flint to produce the sparks needed to ignite the powder in the pan.
* The pan. This is the receptacle where a small amount of fine (what is termed fffg) gunpowder is placed prior to firing to receive the sparks to ignite the charge inside the chamber itself.
These four pieces are all that the flintlock actually needs to accomplish its goal, but all flintlocks also solve the problems of loading the pan, protecting the pan from the weather and triggering the hammer, so there are three additional parts:
* The tumbler. This holds and releases the power of the mainspring, allowing the hammer to do it's job.
* The sear and sear spring. These engage the tumbler and allow the shooter to release it when the trigger is pulled.
* The frizzen spring. This part holds the cover attached to the frizzen over the pan to make the flintlock weatherproof. Some earlier flintlocks didn't have the frizzen spring and cover attached to the frizzen. They made the flintlock only slightly more reliable than the matchlock. It was the addition of the cover to the frizzen which made the flintlock a true all weather firearm.
Though it appears to be a simple piece of metal which has been bent into a narrow V-shape, the mainspring has a great deal of strength. It presses against the tumbler where, upon "tripping the trigger", it rotates the hammer with a great deal of force.
This is what allows the hammer and flint to strike the frizzen with enough force to create the sparks needed to ignite the powder in the pan (anyone remember the term "flash in the pan"? It means there were enough sparks to ignite the powder in the pan, but not enough powder/sparks/heat to allow the fire from the flash to travel through the vent, or touch hole, to ignite the powder in the chamber). The sear engages the tumbler when the gun is cocked and holds the force of the mainspring. When you pull the trigger, it pushes the sear, which then releases the tumbler allowing the hammer to strike the frizzen with the flint.
When you work with a flintlock and watch a flintlock in action you can see how all of these pieces work together. A flintlock has three positions for the hammer: uncocked, half-cocked and fully cocked.
The fully cocked position places the firearm in a ready to fire condition. By pulling the trigger the sear releases the tumbler.
The half-cocked position is used for loading the firearm. In this position the trigger is locked and cannot be tripped.
The firearm is in the un-cocked position after you fire.
The following images show you these three positions from both sides of the lock, which allows you to understand how the sear and tumbler work together:
The flintlock in the uncocked position here.
And the back of the flintlock in the uncocked position here.
Note how the shape of the tumbler locks the half-cocked position:
The flintlock in the half-cocked position here.
The back of the flintlock in the half-cocked position here.
The flintlock in the fully cocked position here.
The back of the flintlock in the fully cocked position here.
The frizzen at the flint's point of impact here.
In addition, the frizzen has the ability to move. In the cocked position the frizzen is down, covering the pan. When the flint strikes it, the frizzen pops out of the way to expose the pan. The frizzen spring holds the frizzen in both positions.
Operating a Flintlock:
To use a flintlock, you follow these steps:
* Half-cock the hammer, where the sear falls into a safety notch on the tumbler, preventing an accidental discharge.
* Pour a measure of gunpowder down the barrel.
* Wrap a lead ball (the bullet) in a small piece of cloth or paper and ram it down the barrel on top of the gunpowder. The bullet/cloth combination will have a nice, tight fit.
* Place a small amount of gunpowder in the flintlock's pan.
* Snap the frizzen in place over the pan.
* Fully cock the hammer.
* Pull the trigger to fire the gun.
When you fire the gun, the flint strikes the frizzen and shaves off iron to create sparks. The hammer's blow also snaps the frizzen back to expose the gunpowder in the pan. The pan's gunpowder ignites, and it flashes through a small hole (the vent or touch hole) in the side of the barrel to ignite the gunpowder inside the barrel. The gun fires!
Once loaded and primed the gun is in a "primed and ready" state, and this is how it would typically be carried while hunting or if going into battle.
* The cock is further rotated from half-cock to full-cock, releasing the safety lock on the cock.
* The gun is aimed and the trigger is pulled, releasing the cock holding the flint.
* The flint strikes the frizzen, a piece of steel on the priming pan lid, opening it and exposing the priming powder.
* The contact between flint and frizzen produces a shower of sparks that is directed into the gunpowder in the flashpan.
* The powder ignites, and the flash passes through a small hole in the barrel (called a vent or touchhole) that leads to the combustion chamber where it ignites the main powder charge, and the gun discharges.
The British army used paper cartridges to load their weapons. The powder charge and ball were instantly available to the soldier inside this small paper envelope. To load a flintlock weapon using a paper cartridge, a soldier would
* move the cock to the half-cock position;
* tear the cartridge open with his teeth;
* pour a small amount of powder into the flashpan;
* close the frizzen to keep the priming charge in the pan;
* pour the rest of the powder in the cartridge down the muzzle and stuffed the cartridge in after it;
* take out his ramrod and ram the ball (still in the cartridge) all the way to the breech;
* replace the ramrod; and
* shoulder the weapon.
Now he is ready to place the weapon on full cock and fire on command.
[link to the utube here. It is also placed above the cut]
Jo: I am now anxious to go have my characters shoot somebody.
Thank you so much, Arizona. You have contributed to much lethal Regency fun.
(cue for a big round of applause.)
all material contributed to this post remains the copyright of the contributor, not Jo Bourne's