Loading and Reloading Pinfire Shotshells; and an Original Patent Manuscript by Casimir Lefaucheux
Here is a patent manuscript by Casimir Lefaucheux. It is French patent number 8955 from 1850. It describes a reusable pinfire shotshell that has a base that unscrews to allow easy reloading. It also pictures a tool to extract the shell from the gun and unscrew it.
By 1850, pinfire shotshells had been on the market for 15 years and people were familiar with these new breech-loading guns. But they were still more expensive than buying a percussion cap and powder used by a muzzle-loading, percussion gun. Shotshells that were able to be reloaded was one solution to this issue. And many manufacturers made metallic shotshells that could be reloaded many times.
Loading Pinfire Shotshells
There were many different tools created to reload pinfire shotshells such as the Erskine loaders we talked about before. One of the most common however were wooden handloading tools that would allow you to fill and compress powder and shot in a cartridge as well as roll-crimp the top.
Most paper pinfire shotshells at the time were sold as new-primed empties so you would use these tools to load them with what you needed to shoot that day. Sporting goods or hardware stores would also load them in bulk by using tools such as the Erskine loaders which could fill 100 at a time.
Capping and Recapping Pinfire Shotshells
Some of the paper cartridges were advertised as able to be reloaded a few times and the metallic cartridges definitely were made with the idea that they would be reloaded many times. When loading a pinfire cartridge more than once, you would also need to replace the percussion cap and pin in the cartridge. This required another specialized tool called a recapper. Here is a video showing how one example functions.
Larger tools for capping large quantities of shells were also created such as this example that originated in Spain.
Recapping Without Tools
Manufacturers also created special pins and caps that could reload the pinfire shotshells without the need of a recapping tool.
These pins allowed one to reload a normal pinfire shotshell without any special tools. They would have most commonly been used with metallic pinfire shotshells which would have been more suitable than paper shotshells to reloaded multiple times.
These pins were sold pre-fitted with extra small caps on the end. They were much smaller than the typical caps that were used inside of pinfire shotshells. Since they were a lot smaller they could be pushed right in from the outside of the shotshell through the pin hole to where it would rest inside the shotshell. This allowed one to easily reload the shotshell while out hunting or at home without having to purchase extra recapping tools. Shown below are two boxes by Cartoucherie Français and two tins by Gévelot.
Sometimes, like in this next round container by Gaupillat et Cie, they were sold with just the pins and no caps.
You will also notice that on this container and the previous ones that they mention which gauge shotshell they are for. I think this is more of a marketing gimmick though because there does not seem to be a consistent size difference between the pins or caps.
The caps were also sold alone. The pins would have been able to have been used more than once so I suspect that many more of the containers of caps alone were sold than containers with both the pins and the caps together. Below is a round container of 250 caps by Dynamit Nobel, a few tins by Gévelot and a tin and round box by an unknown manufacturer.
Easily Reloadable Shotshells
Another solution was manufacturing special cartridges that allowed one to simply place a percussion cap on the outside of the cartridge. The most basic versions had a pin that was partially wider on the inside of the case so it would not fall out of the pin hole. They allowed for a percussion cap to be placed on the outside of the cartridge and would use the gun barrel as an anvil for the pin to hit the cap against. The two examples on the right by Jules Chaleyer are the most common examples of this, but others were made by people such as Gévelot and even Casimir Lefaucheux. In fact, the original patent for the pinfire cartridge shows and describes a cartridge like this. I will detail more about the earliest cartridges in a future article.
Another interesting design was patented in France in the 1850s by Jules Boché aîné. This cartridge has an internal, anvil-like pin that would be situated inside the case. An extra-long percussion cap, which could be thought of as a pin with a priming compound in it, was then rested atop that internal pin.
Many other designs were made over decades by various manufactures around the world. There were even a couple American examples such as the one we talked about recently by William H. Smith and one we we go into more detail on in the future by Charles E. Sneider.
The Lefaucheux Patent
One of Casimir Lefaucheux’s last patents was for an easily reloadable shotshell. It is French patent number 8955 that was filed on 26 July 1850 and approved on 23 October 1850. It describes a reusable pinfire shotshell that has a base that unscrews to allow easy reloading. He also patented a tool to extract the shell from the gun and unscrew it. The following cartridges are from the collection of A. Leveau and were pictured in IAA Journal number 490.
During the time period that this patent was filed, people would typically hand write and draw two copies of a patent; one copy for the French patent office and one for the inventor or patent lawyer. The copy in the French patent office is slightly different than the one in my collection since they were hand made. This difference is most noticeable by the different location of Casimir Lefaucheux’s signature.
It is thought that the majority of older documentation from Casimir Lefaucheux and his company was lost during the various German and US occupations of the Lefaucheux family castle. The Lefaucheux family archives have quite a few patents by Eugène Lefaucheux, Casimir’s son and the one who continued part of the business after Casimir’s death, but they do not have any by Casimir.
This particular patent and some others, along with their rights, were bought by Jules Gévelot and stored with many other documents in the attic of one of the Société Française des Munitions factories for many years. When SFM closed down in 1992, one of the workers saved many of these documents from being destroyed and sold a bunch of them to a French collector who has done a lot of research on and has written articles and books on SFM. I was able to acquire it and had a conservator preserve it in museum-grade framing so it will be around for years to come!