During the American Civil War, Rolla, Missouri was a heavily garrisoned town that played a strategic role protecting the terminus of the Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad. This section of the railroad branched off the main Pacific Railroad of Missouri 40 miles southwest of St. Louis in Pacific City. It began construction in 1855 and the first train pulled into Rolla on December 22, 1860.
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.
This article will take a look at a horizontal pinfire cartridge that has been unknown for quite some time. For awhile after I acquired it I could not figure out much about its history. But after discussing it with Fede Graziano we were able to get a little better understanding of it. This is the 14.5×48/49R Horizontal Pinfire cartridge and it was manufactured for or by Johann Jacob Peter of Stuttgart, Germany.
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 have had the reprint of this book for some time and always thought it was a neat resource giving examples of various cartridges tested at the Frankford Arsenal. It is especially pertinent to me as there were experiments on a horizontal pinfire cartridge. The hope was that the front ignition would give higher pressure and a higher velocity which it did. However it was very complex and had many other issues in their trial.
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.
In 1983, the collective knowledge of pinfire firearms was greatly increased when Chris C. Curtis and Gene P. Smith wrote The Pinfire System, a new book detailing pinfire guns and ammunition from around the world.
The book featured images of guns, patents, advertising, cartridges and more. It was the first book that focused on this often neglected topic that played such an important role in the history of firearms. This book has been out of print for many years and often shows up on the collectors market for a couple hundred dollars. This book has more of a focus on the cartridges than his next book, with many pages dedicated to showing pinfire cartridges and even identifying headstamps.
Chris Curtis recently sent me the last of his pinfire cartridge box collection. Some of the boxes went to my collection and the rest are offered for sale here. I will notate the ones that appeared in his books.
A lot of people get Galand and Perrin cartridges confused, so we will take a look at these French thick rim cartridges over a few upcoming articles. The 9mm French thick rim cartridges are the most straight forward so we will start with them. Above all, the important take-away from this article is that, even though it is repeated in various articles and references, there is no such thing as a “Galand-Perrin” revolver. And these cartridges were never meant to be interchangeable nor were they ever designed to be used in the same guns.
What is a Perrin Cartridge?
A Perrin cartridge is an early centerfire cartridge invented by Louis Perrin in 1859. It was designed as an internally-primed cartridge which had a percussion cap resting in a metal anvil or frame inside the cartridge.
The pinfire system was one of the most important developments in the history of firearms. It mainstreamed the concept of fully-self-contained cartridges and breech-loading firearms.
Pinfire guns were made and used everywhere and were adopted at some point by nearly every major military in the world. Read through the following articles to learn about the relationship between the United States and pinfire.
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.
C.M. begs to call the attention of Gentlemen to his PATENT FIELD CLOCK GUN. It is admirably adapted for Scaring Rooks, Wood Pigeons and other Vermin; also for the protection of Young Game in the Breeding Season. It can also be used as an ordinary Alarm Gun against Burglars, Poachers and other Trespassers. The construction of the Gun is simple, and can be managed by a boy. It holds nine 16 Pin-fire Cartridges at one time, these can be set to fire at intervals from 15 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, and can be set to fire a shot at any given hour during the night or early morn by winding and setting the night before. It is one of the most useful things ever invented for Farmers, Gamekeepers and Nurserymen. The works are strong, and with care, will last a lifetime,
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.