This article will take a look at some of the smallest pinfire guns and cartridges. The 2mm pinfire cartridge showed up around 1880. This is when Société Française des Munitions began producing the variations shown in the following factory drawing.
These cartridges were made for tiny pinfire revolvers that looked like miniature versions of the normal pinfire revolvers. The following image is an example of one sold by Wayne Driskill Miniature Firearms.
When it comes to pinfire cartridges, everything is a variation. Though there are thousands and thousands of variations, in this article we will focus on the 80 that came from the White & Munhall reference collection.
Henry P. White & Burton D. Munhall ran a development engineering lab that was founded in 1936. They were acknowledged as the leading private laboratory engaged in small arms and ammunition research and development. The following sales brochure from the company gives a lot of detail on the work that they did.
This article will take a look at some leather cases for holding, storing and transporting pinfire cartridges. Since pinfire cartridges had to be handled with a little more care than other types of cartridges, some people purchased pouches such as these shown to make it safer and more convenient to carry the cartridges.
First up is a leather cartouchiere that holds twenty-four 7mm pinfire cartridges. It has a simple brass locking mechanism on the front that unlocks the case when you slide it and hold it down.
Here is a selection of factory drawings/blueprints for how Eley Bros made pinfire cartridges. These blueprints date to the early 1900s.
First up is the 5mm pinfire cartridge drawing. There is a lot going on here! It lists the dimensions for the bullet, the pin, the percussion cap and the case. They also give all of the dimensions in imperial units though these cartridges were always sold by their metric designation, “5mm.”
The bullet is described of being made of 98% lead and 2% antimony. The antimony was an additive used to harden the alloy. It was a hollow bullet with an overall diameter of .207 inches, or 5.258 millimeters. It had an overall height of .300 inches or 7.62 millimeters. The bullet weight is 18 grains and the powder charge is listed as “about 1.5 grains.”
This matches up closely with examples in my collection which have a bullet weight of 18.0 grains and a powder charge of 2 grains. The overall weight is 35.2 grains.
The brass case is listed to have a mixture of 70% copper and 30% zinc to make up the alloy they used. The case had an overall length of .450 inches or 11.43 millimeters. They give the exact specifications of where to put the hole for the brass pin and even what angle the pin should be placed in the cartridge to ensure the hammers get the best hit.
There have been many articles written about Jean Samuel Pauly and his contribution to the history of firearms development. One excellent source recently looks in detail at the patents by Pauly, Roux, Picherau and Lefaucheux. You can read about it here:
Priestel dives deep into the modifications by Pauly and the successors to Pauly’s company, but there are a few other improvements to the Pauly system by other prominent gunmakers of the day that are not addressed in this publication. A couple of these were mentioned in a French gun magazine’s article in the 1970s, but other than the brief mention there, there is nothing I could find published that goes into detail on the following improvements to the Pauly gun and cartridges.
So I gathered the patents, transcribed them and will detail the improvements here!
Jacques-Joseph Plomdeur was a well known gunmaker who had a business at 25 rue des Fossés-Montmartre and later at 5 bis, rue du Faubourg-Poissonnière. He was best known for his improvements to primers and percussion caps which he held a few patents on. In the 1830s he took out many advertisements for his improvements to guns and primers such as the following:
On 31 Mar 1825, Plomdeur took out a French patent for 5 years for an improvement on Pauly guns.
There are two main areas that he addresses. First is how the hammer is connected to the plate, passing all the way through, which allowed for considerable fouling throughout the inside.
James Erskine, a gunmaker and inventor from Newton Stewart, Scotland had a prolific career inventing and patenting many improvements to guns and cartridge loading machines. His patented cartridge filler was universally accepted and used by all of the great British gunmakers of the day!
Erskine was born on September 12, 1812, in Penninghame, Wigtownshire, Scotland, the son of Mary Watson and Thomas Erskine. He married Elizabeth Sinclair on December 4, 1854, in his hometown. They had eight children over 21 years. He died on November 20, 1891, in Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, Scotland, having lived a long life of 79 years.
During most of those 79 years Erskine was active learning and then working in the gun trade. The IGC Historical Database indicates that Erskine began his apprenticeship at 14 years old, working as a gun finisher for Williams & Powell, or their predecessor, Edward Patrick in Liverpool.
Sometime after 1841 and before the 1851 Scotland Census, Erskine moved to Newton Stewart and began working for himself as a gun maker.
He displayed two guns at the 1851 Great Exhibition and was awarded a bronze metal.
On July 20, 1859 he delivered the following provisional specification to the British patent office for an update to the Lefaucheux-style pinfire shotgun:
August G. Genez was a French Gunsmith that began working in the gun-making industry at 13 years old in France. He died on June 17, 1897 and over the course of his career he had many successful ventures as well as challenging tragedies.
This article will take a look at A. G. Genez, the gunsmith in New York, New York, and follow his 50-year career in the gun industry. We will also take a look at his successors of his gun shop, Vincent Bissig and John P. Dannefelser.
When August Genez was 21 years old he immigrated to the United States from a port in Le Havre, France on a ship named Charles Thompson and arrived in New York, New York on April 10, 1854. The ship log of his emigration record states he was from Germany but his naturalization record, son’s wedding record, various ads of his, son’s various census records all state his birthplace was France.
The Genez name first shows up in the 1856/1857 issue of Trow’s New York City Directory where Genez August is listed as a gunsmith at 221 William. The same year the Wilson’s business directory of New-York City list him under the Gunsmiths section with his business at 221 William.
We have examined this cartridge previously in our exploration of the relationship of pinfire cartridges and The United States. You can read about it here:
The August, 31 1861 issue of The Scientific American reviewed this new cartridge and gun made by Casper D. Schubarth in detail. I found an original copy and transcribed it here to preserve for the future.
South American Pinfire Cartridges are pretty uncommon! Pinfire guns had a relatively significant use in South American countries such as Argentina and Uruguay as many were imported for many decades. The large 15mm pinfire guns were especially popular by farmers as a large side arm to protect from wild animals.
This is a high-end 15mm pistol that came out of Uruguay. It was made by the luxury gun manufacturer, P. Boissy somewhere around the late 1850s to 1860s. He manufactured his guns in Saint-Étienne, France and even won an award at the Exposition Universelle of 1855 in Paris for his “pistolets de luxe.”
One of the most famous American ammunition manufacturers was William Tibbals. William Tibbals was the partner in the company, Crittenden & Tibbals, who supplied mostof the rimfire ammunition during the American Civil War.
Part of what made Crittenden & Tibbals so successful was their early relationship with firearms manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson. Crittenden & Tibbals made some of the earliest rimfire cartridges for Smith & Wesson, Bacon, Spencer and others. I am sure that within their relationship with Smith & Wesson they were well aware with the issues of many people trying to circumvent or infringe on the Rollin White patent that Smith & Wesson had an exclusive license to use; especially since some of their main customers were some of the infringing companies.
The Rollin White patent was actually a fairly ridiculous pistol design that would have unlikely ever been made. However, there was one interesting feature about it that Daniel B. Wesson was interested in; the concept of a revolver with a bored-through cylinder which allowed metallic cartridges to be inserted from the back. This concept already existed with pinfire revolvers in Europe but it was the first time the concept was patented in the United States. So from 1855, through the next 17 years, anyone who wanted to make a revolver that loaded from the back had to go through Smith & Wesson.
During this time period there were a few notable designs that effectively evaded this patent such as the cupfire, teatfire and thuer cartridges. The revolvers that used these were designed to be loaded from the front of the cylinder and have a back that was not bored all the way through.
In this article we will look at a few American companies who loaded pinfire cartridges. Von Lengerke & Detmold was a well-respected New York dealer of fine European-made sporting guns and fishing tackle. They were founded in 1882 and were sold to Abercrombie & Fitch in 1928. They had these pinfire shells custom made by Kynoch & Co. of Birmingham, United Kingdom, and then loaded them in the United States. They also sold their custom shells as new-primed empties
The firm of A. G. Genez was a manufacturer of high quality double barrel shotguns. They also made conversions on guns from earlier types of detonation forms, such as pinfire or percussion, to newer formats, such as centerfire. They also loaded and sold shotshells for their manufactured or converted breech-loading shotguns. The company was established by August G. Genez and spent most of its history at 9 Chambers Street. Genez operated there until November of 1880 when it was advertised as succeeded by Vincent Bissig.
A much more detailed article on A. G. Genez can be found here:
Over the past few posts our exploration of the relationship between pinfire cartridges and the United States has taken a look at the cartridges used in the American Civil War and we have taken a look at some of the uncommon pinfire cartridges that never made it into mass production. In this article we will look at the most prevalent American manufacturer of pinfire cartridges, Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC) of Bridgeport, Connecticut.
There are many articles and books about UMC that go into great detail about the beginnings and history of the company so we will only glance at history that pertains to their production of pinfire cartridges.
The last few posts of our exploration of the relationship between pinfire cartridges and the United States has focused on their use in the American Civil War. In this article we will take a look at some lesser known pinfire cartridges that played their part in the constantly evolving history of ammunition in the United States. First up is the .58 Schubarth.
The .58 Schubarth was patented and made in 1861 by Casper D. Schubarth who resided at 6 North Main Street, Providence, RI.
The whole idea of the cartridge and rifle is based on a modification and improvement of Gallager & Gladding’s cartridge and rifle that was created a couple years prior. It is an inside-primed pinfire that was made to be easily reloadable with the common Minié bullets and percussion caps. Schubarth’s improvement also made it gas-tight and waterproof by dipping the cartridge in melted tallow after inserting the bullet. The design also called for a small cork wad to be placed between the bullet and the powder to clean the barrel on each shot.
In Schubarth’s interview with The Scientific American he described a rimfire variation of this cartridge by stating that “for army use a ridge may be formed entirely around the cartridge and filled with fulminating powder, in place of the wire, and cap, so that the cartridge may be inserted in any position. But for sporting it is more economical to adopt the arrangement represented, as the same case may be refilled and used many times.”
While I do not have ballistic information on the cartridge, in 1861 Schubarth said that “the powder is fired in the middle of the charge thus causing a rapid combustion […] that causes so great force be generated that 60 grains of powder has driven a bullet through 15 one-inch boards at a distance of one hundred yards” so it sounds like a fairly powerful cartridge!
You can see and read this whole Scientific American article here:
The example in my collection was once owned by the well-known author and ammunition researcher, Colonel Berkeley R. Lewis of the United States Army Ordnance Corps. He acquired it from the Smithsonian Institution.
Over the past few posts we have taken a look at the three American companies that manufactured pinfire cartridges for use in the American Civil War. Between Allen & Wheelock, Christian Sharps and C.D. Leet they manufactured a total of 1,572,000 pinfire cartridges.
However there is no known documentation on which manufacturers we imported additional cartridges from. We know that the Union Army purchased at least 200,000 cartridges with the large order of Lefaucheux revolvers from France. We know some of the smaller purchases also came with cartridges. We also know that the Confederate States Army had pinfire cartridges stored in their arsenals and used pinfire revolvers.
So I figured the only way to answer this question was to acquire the actual cartridges they used. And that is exactly what this article is going to focus on.
On August 13, 1864 an arsenal inspection of the Selma Arsenal showed that the Confederate States Army had 52,800 pinfire cartridges in stock. Various inspection reports also list cartridges in Union arsenals as well as pinfire revolvers in use by various Union and Confederate units.
The Pinfire Page was a recurring column I had in each issue of the bimonthly publication, The International Ammunition Journal. This compilation book combines together the first 5 years of my column, showcasing my research, images and other documents related to the pinfire system which was the first major breakthrough in modern ammunition.