Dive into the world of antique and vintage firearms with articles that cover a wide array of gun types and models. From early breech-loading systems to the intricate designs of Lefaucheux and Pauly, these articles will provide insights into the rich history of firearm development, the people behind them, and the innovations that shaped the industry.
Nathan Russell Davis, known as N.R. Davis, was a pioneer in the American firearm industry. Born in 1828, he established N.R. Davis & Sons, a company that would leave a lasting mark on the firearm manufacturing landscape. From its humble beginnings in a small shop in Assonet, Massachusetts, to its evolution into a respected firearm manufacturer, the company’s history is a testament to Davis’s vision and resilience. This article delves into the early years of N.R. Davis’s companies, highlighting their innovative contributions such as a unique pinfire shotgun, and the company’s enduring legacy.
The 19th century was a time of great change, as the world transitioned from agrarian societies to industrialized nations. Despite these changes, one thing remained constant: the deep and abiding bond between humans, their firearms, and their dogs. This bond is evident in a series of fascinating photographs from the 19th century, which showcase people from all walks of life posing with their pinfire shotguns and their loyal canine companions. From hunters to farmers, from kids to couples, these portraits offer a glimpse into a world where the relationship between a person, their weapon, and their dog was seen as an essential part of daily life. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at these intriguing images and the stories they tell about the relationships between humans, their firearms, and their furry friends.
Ready for the Hunt
The first two portraits depict men preparing for a hunting excursion. Dressed in traditional hunting attire and armed with Lefaucheux pinfire shotguns, they stand ready with their trusty canine companions by their side. These hunting dogs, eager for action, seem to anticipate the thrill of the chase that awaits them in the field.
The pinfire system marked a turning point in firearms technology, enhancing safety and reliability. But what is the pinfire system, and why was it invented? Let’s explore its origins and historical significance.
What Is the Pinfire System?
The pinfire system, invented by French gunsmith Casimir Lefaucheux in the early 19th century, introduced a new type of cartridge and firing mechanism for firearms. Distinctively, this system used a small pin protruding from the side of the cartridge. When the firearm’s hammer struck the pin, it ignited the gunpowder, firing the bullet. This innovative approach was a marked improvement over previous firearms, which relied on loose gunpowder and separate ignition devices such as flintlocks or percussion caps.
Lefaucheux, a well-respected inventor in firearms technology, made several key contributions to the field, with the pinfire system being one of his most notable. After patenting the system in France in 1835, it quickly gained popularity and adoption by gun manufacturers globally.
The story of Italian pinfire guns and cartridges begins in the Kingdom of Sardinia with an order of 5000 Lefaucheux model 1854 revolvers. This first order was placed in 1859 and delivered in 1861 and these guns were referred to as the Corto model. They were pretty similar to the typical Lefaucheux model 1854 revolver except they had a 21% shorter barrel around 123mm long. At the time that these revolvers were ordered and delivered it is thought that the arsenals had not yet started producing their own pinfire cartridges yet so cartridges were likely imported from France or elsewhere as well.
The Kingdom of Italy
Shortly after these revolvers were ordered, the Kingdom of Italy was formed and a new order was made for another 12,000 revolvers.
I recently picked up this pair of pinfire pistols designed by Casimir Lefaucheux. I had never seen examples quite like them before and was really excited to get them in. Casimir Lefaucheux was making pistols from the time he took over the Pauly company in 1827 as shown in our recent post on the topic. But these early pistols were much larger and bulkier. In 1833, Lefaucheux was issued a new patent for his fusil à charnière, or hinged gun.
He advertised and promoted the fact that these pistols and rifles were easier to use and safer and better in every way than his earlier Pauly guns, and especially better than other percussion guns of the day. They could shoot 500 rounds without cleaning or even wiping down which was unheard of for typical percussion guns that loaded from the muzzle. Lefaucheux also emphasized that they were easier to take apart and maintain by the average person.
Winchesters and Colts are the major focus at gun collecting organizations in Texas and the American West. If you can associate a gun with a Texas Ranger or a cowboy then it will likely fit right in! European guns and pinfire in particular have often been overlooked by collecting circles in the United States. John Wayne never used one so its appeal never really grew much here.
So I figured if I were going to introduce a pinfire display at one of these shows I had better make it about something unique enough that would really stand out!
I recently took a trip to Germany and France with my wife and I took the opportunity to trace down some Lefaucheux and pinfire related things!
The trip started with a visit to the European Cartridge Research Association international show in Aerzen, Germany where I was able to meet some friends who I had previously only conversed with online and others who I had not seen for a couple years due to COVID. We stayed at a fancy castle and really enjoyed the pristine landscape and atmosphere of the area.
I was able to pick up some great cartridges for my collection including a 13x52R Pinfire carbine cartridge made by the Ottoman Empire. It dates to around the 1880s and was probably made in the Tophane Factory in Constantinople. The headstamp is a tughra (a calligraphic signature of the Ottoman Sultans). This particular one should be of “His Imperial Majesty, The Sultan Abdülhamid II, Emperor of the Ottomans, Caliph of the Faithful” who reigned over the Ottoman Empire from 31 August 1876 – 27 April 1909. It is possible it was made during the time of the prior Sultan as well.
I also picked up a 28g cartridge made for a Czech military pistol made by Anton Vincenz Lebeda that was issued to cavalry officers as well as a 4g Eley pinfire shotshell.
But the highlight would have to be a Pichereau-patented percussion nipple used on his Pauly system rifles. These were also used on the first rifles Lefaucheux made after buying the company from Pichereau.
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.
On 12 September 1859, a Norwegian military commission recommend contracting with Eugène Lefaucheux to acquire some of his model 1854 pinfire revolvers to begin updating their service handguns. In October 1859 they ordered 800 revolvers and 120,000 pinfire cartridges for the Norwegian Navy with a delivery date of summer 1860.
There are various sources that claim differing serial number ranges of this first order, but The Lefaucheux Family Archives has matched up original purchase orders and invoices to determine that they are around the LF14597 – LF15936 range. Some of this is detailed in the excellent book on the subject, La Production des Modeles d’Eugène Lefaucheux by Guillaume Van Mastrigt.
Norwegian Model 59
This first order of revolvers followed the below design as shown in this example from the Norwegian Armed Forces Museum where they have it labeled as an example of the Norwegian Navy Model 1859. It is thought that there are no special markings that specifically indicate which guns Lefaucheux made specifically went to fulfill this first order.
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.
Here are a couple variations of the 7mm pinfire revolver made by the Mariette family of gun-makers who lived in Cheratte, Liège, Belgium. This particular design was patented in 1862 by Servais Joseph Celestin Mariette, the son of the well known gun maker, Guillaume Mariette.
Across the Mariette family there were dozens of firearm patents registered and the designs often crossed over into patents by others in the family. There is also a lot of crossover when making the actual guns as well; for example, guns patented by Guillaume Mariette could be made and have a mark of his brother, Gilles Mariette.
The Lefaucheux model 1859 carbine was a small carbine Eugène Lefaucheux made with hopes to gain military acceptance. It is a very simple design with few moving parts. It only weighs 4.5 pounds and has an overall length of 3 feet 4 inches.
There are multiple variations of this gun; some with a full metal frame, some with an automatic cartridge extractor, a percussion cap version, a double barrel version, pistols, and various bores.
This example is chambered for 12mm pinfire cartridges, has a manual extractor and a solid wood stock.
There are two levers on the gun. The one on the right is the cocking lever and also serves as the breechblock. When you raise it it opens the breech, allowing you to insert a new pinfire cartridge or remove a spent cartridge. It also cocks the extra-long hammer. The following video and image shows how this works.
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 | 1825-03-31
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:
Hello, my name is Aaron Newcomer. I am a collector and researcher of early 19th century breech-loading firearms systems, with a particular focus on the work of Jean Samuel Pauly and Casimir Lefaucheux. I collect cartridges and documents related to these types of firearms and conduct research on these topics, furthering my understanding and knowledge of these historical firearms and their place in the evolution of firearms technology. My collection and research reflect my dedication to preserving and understanding the history and technical innovations of these early firearms systems.
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.