Casimir Lefaucheux’s first pistol and the death of Pauly’s Cartridge System
This story of Casimir Lefaucheux’s first pistol begins in 1812 when Jean Samuel Pauly patented an early breech-loading pistol and rifle. Casimir Lefaucheux worked as an apprentice for Pauly and began to learn the trade of gun making. There are conflicting opinions on exactly what this first gun was at this time as some modern researchers believe that much of the historical documentation is incorrect, or at least conflates Pauly’s inventions and the inventions of Pauly’s successor, Henri Roux.
What is known for sure is that around this time, Pauly created and patented a system of igniting a charge by the use of rapidly compressed air with a fire piston. It is described in a report by a French military commission on 16 July 1812. This design was also patented in England in 1814 and 1816, where Pauly moved after selling his Parisian shop.
What is contested is if this was also the design of his French patent from 22 September 1812. The patent application does not go into details on how the mechanism works and the accompanying drawings show images of a rifle and pistol that use a percussion piston to hit an early percussion compound. Early reviews of the system and the official recorded record of the patent all speak of this percussion mechanism.
Some researchers think it is unlikely that Pauly created the compressed air version for the military review in 1812 and then pivoted to the percussion version in his civilian model later in 1812 and then back to the compressed air version that he patented in London.
Either way, the compressed air version was the earliest style and it has a general design that all of the subsequent pistols will follow.
Pauly’s Compressed Air Ignition Pistol
Henri Roux’s version of Pauly’s Pistol
Here you can see the difference between these two versions. The percussion version of the guns would be further refined by Henri Roux after he takes over the Pauly workshop following Pauly’s departure for London.
We do not see the pistol represented in any of Roux’s patents though he pictures it and describes it in great detail in his 1822 publication, Fusils De Chasse, Et Principalement Des Fusils a Pistons De L’invention Pauly, Avec Quelques Observations Sur La Fabrication Des Armes a Feu, Sur La Chasse, Sur La Poudre Et Ses Effets, a book that describes all of the benefits of the new Pauly rifle and pistol system.
You can see the breech accepts a rimmed cartridge here and these guns really were the beginning of cartridge firearms. A percussion priming compound would be placed in the little hole in the base of the cartridge which would then be hit with the piston, igniting the powder.
The Move to Percussion Caps
These guns never really became a huge success and percussion cap guns really began to take off in the market. Due to this, from 1823 onward, the Pauly system would move more and more toward the typical percussion guns of the day.
The first change was in Henri Roux’s 1823 patent. This patent modified the guns to allow a cartridge with a percussion nipple to fit. This eliminated the extra priming compound needed and replaced it with percussion caps which were easy to find.
On 12 November 1824, Eugene Picherau would take over the workshop and Roux’s patents. He continued to move the Pauly system further from its original design. His 23 January 1825 patent shows the rifle now completely switched to a percussion cap version and the cartridges are modified to essentially just close the breech. They would still screw into a paper cartridge to hold it in place but the ignition now came from outside the gun from the percussion nipple.
His patent addition two months later however still showed the familiar style pistol with its self-contained cartridge and internal piston.
Casimir Lefaucheux and the Death of the Cartridge
In 1828 the Bulletin des lois de la République Française reported on the sale of Maison Pauly and the patent rights from Picherau to Casimir Lefaucheux. This sale occurred on 10 July 1827.
It was also mentioned in the first reference I have found and acquired on Casimir Lefaucheux, in the 25 Feb 1828 issue of Le Constitutionnel.
You may notice that these two references use “Le-faucheux” and “le Faucheux” to refer to Casimir. His earliest guns would be marked this way too.
Sometime after this sale and likely before Lefaucheux’s addition to Roux and Picherau patents on 29 May 1828, I believe this first pistol style was made and marked by Le Faucheux.
This pistol is still based on the Pauly system for how it breaks open and loads at the breech.
However, Lefaucheux replaced the internal piston mechanism with an external lock similar to other percussion guns of the day. And instead of a self-contained cartridge, this gun was made to accept a paper cartridge that could be loaded from the breech. Then an external percussion cap would be placed on the nipple to ignite it.
A similar gun that was made by Casimir Lefaucheux after his 1833 patent, shows this removable breechblock that helps seal the breech. I do not think that the gun in my collection used something similar as the curved design was meant to help with the gas seal.
Additionally, the base of the grip opens up to reveal a storage area where something like this or a handful of percussion caps could be stored.
Overall it is a very nice gun that helps explain an important time in history when inventors were balancing their new ideas with the realities of what people would actually buy. For Casimir Lefaucheux, in 1827, this meant moving away from the cartridge system and back to percussion. Fortunately, his story does not end there and a few years later his new ideas would revolutionize firearms forever.