Italian Military Pinfire Cartridges and Revolvers
Kingdom of Sardinia
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.
This new order called for a unique version of the Lefaucheux model 1854 revolver. They kept the short barrel like the previous order had but changed to the rounded trigger guard and removed the extractor rod. They also allowed for up to 2000 of them to be the same as the previous model mentioned above.
Many Lefaucheux model 1854 revolvers that show up for sale are missing their extractor rod but this model made for the Italian Carabinieri does not even have a slot for an extractor rod. They were instead issued with a separate extractor that was not part of the gun.
There were multiple Italian military journals that documented memos and legislation and even manufacturing specifications for various guns and ammunition. One is the Giornale Militare. It’s 1861 compilation focuses on the memos from 1861. Many of these journals, such as the following example from 1861, are stored in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma who has digitized them.
On page 374 there is a memo recording the Ministry of War’s approval of these new Carabinieri revolvers. It mentioned that each Carabinieri will receive one of these revolvers and an extractor rod to replace the two m. 1847 percussion pistols they carried previously. They specified that these new revolvers would be called the Revolver da Carabinieri Reali, M. 1861. The ones they made the exception for that match the old style would be called the Revolver M. Lefaucheux.
On pages 898 – 901 a detailed set of instructions and specifications of the revolvers is given.
They again mention the three different models in service and proceed to describe in detail every single part of the gun and how it is meant to function. They also give very detailed instructions for how to use it. For instance, here are the instructions for how to load it:
1. Put the hammer on the notch.
2. Hold the pistol in the palm of the left hand on the left side of the pistol
3. Open the door by placing the thumb of the right hand against the head of the clip
4. Successively insert a cartridge into each chamber of the cylinder by turning the cylinder left to right with thumb
5. Close the door
6. Arm the hammer, Aim and Fire
They put an interesting note saying that It sometimes happens that in arming hammer one encounters a greater resistance than the ordinary. In this case, you must be careful to move the cylinder by turning it until one of the pins is under the hammer. Not doing so runs the risk of damaging the weapon.
They indicate that the revolver should be cleaned after each shot. Only the barrel and cylinder needs removed and then everything wiped with wet rags. They also indicate that the inside parts need greased more often than the locks of the older percussion pistols but should only be done by a gunsmith and not taken apart by the Carabinieri.
This indicates that the revolvers are shipped in crates of up to 100 revolvers with wooden boards separating each layer so the weight is not pushed down on the lower ones. Each revolver is wrapped in paper and there is crumbled paper between them for packaging.
In May of 1862 another 10,000 of the Carabinieri-style revolvers were ordered from Lefaucheux.
State Production of Cartridges
On 26 May 1862, a couple weeks after the order of 10,000 more revolvers the Ministry of War approved the proposal from the Artillery Committee of the production of pinfire cartridges. This is notated in another military journal called the Giornale D’artiglieria. Many of these are also stored at the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma including this issue from 1862.
The document gives the drawing and written descriptions of the dimensions of the cartridges and box. It indicates how to package them in the box as well.
Toward the end of 1862 another order was placed to Lefaucheux ordering spare parts for the revolvers.
In 1864 the Artillery Committee produced a new drawing and proposal for the cartridges. This 1864 issue of Giornale D’artiglieria is one not held by the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Roma but I was able to acquire a copy!
They again go into a lot of detail on the loadings and production of the cartridges with pretty clear information. They even indicate how the cartridges should be loaded into the box and how the box is sealed. It’s also kind of neat to see how things change over the years and they even reference that by indicating that this new information replaces previous information and drawings from 1862.
The following two cartridges from my collection were made following this design. The first was made at Laboratorio Pirotecnico Di Torino in 1866.
And the next one made in 1875 at the Arsenale Pirotecnico Di Bologna.
In April of 1863 the final order of revolvers was made from Lefaucheux. These revolvers followed the typical style and no longer had the short barrel.
1881 Updates to the Cartridge
In 1881 a new cartridge design was published which superseded all of the previous ones. These cartridges were now made with brass cases and the headstamp would have the initials of the Italian Capotecnico, the head technician and inspector assigned to the arsenal at the time of production.
The boxes would now hold 6 instead of 50 cartridges. And 36 of these boxes would be packed together in larger boxes.
The following cartridge was made in 1881 under this new design at the Arsenale Pirotecnico Di Capua under the Capotecnico, Giuseppe D’Auria.
And lastly, an excavated example of one made at Laboratorio Pirotecnico Di Torino in 1881 under the Capotecnico, Formica Ottavio.
These cartridges are relatively rare and do not show up for sale often. And there are a few more examples I need to find for my collection. The book, Munizioni Militari D’Italia, 1861-1946 Military Ammunitions of Italy has the following table of examples found in collections or literature.