The Lefaucheux-Béringer Connection: Uncovering the Secrets of Early Pistols and Cartridges
The world of firearms has a fascinating history, with many twists and turns. One such exciting era involves the early pistols made by Casimir Lefaucheux. Recent discoveries of some of his rare firearms have sparked curiosity about the relationship between Lefaucheux and another inventor, Béatus Béringer. In this article, we’ll take a look at the story behind these two inventors and the intriguing features of their early pistols.
A Lucky Find: Lefaucheux’s Early Pinfire Pistols
It all started with an unexpected find at a French auction this past November. A pair of early-style pinfire pistols created by Casimir Lefaucheux appeared, showing off some of his unique features like the large key style and a design similar to Lefaucheux’s first pinfire shotguns. A curious detail was a small screw in the hammer and a belt clip attached to the solid wood grip, both of which I had not seen before in Lefaucheux’s pistols.
On the underside of the barrel, one can find the characteristic markings that Casimir Lefaucheux used on his early firearms. Both pistols share the same serial number, indicating their matching origins. These distinct engravings help discern the origins of the pistols and their place within the timeline of Lefaucheux’s creations.
When the pistols were closely examined, it turned out that the hammer had a pointed extension. This surprising detail led to an investigation into a possible connection between Casimir Lefaucheux and Béatus Béringer, both of whom were working in the firearms industry by the 1830s.
Béatus Béringer and His Unique Cartridge
Béatus Béringer, a contemporary of Lefaucheux, was known for patenting numerous cartridge and firearms designs. Born on January 29, 1801, just a year before Lefaucheux, Béringer is believed to have started working as a gunsmith by 1828. (4) It was around this time that the initial connection between him and Lefaucheux seems to have emerged, as Béringer either crafted or sold a Pauly-style pistol marked “Beringer A. Paris” on the barrel’s top. (5)
Lefaucheux acquired the Pauly company and patents in 1827, and we previously discussed the earliest Lefaucheux guns built on this Pauly system in another article.
In 1834, Béringer patented an innovative annular-primed cartridge that featured an internal metal disk with a concave edge that held the fulminate against the case wall.
This design allowed the cartridge to be inserted in any direction and was popular for its tight breech seal and reusable metal construction. The early Lefaucheux design and Béringer’s design exhibit striking similarities, as depicted in the engravings from the October 1837 issue of Journal des Chasseurs. The initial versions of these firearms and cartridges are illustrated here, showcasing a rimless cartridge and breech design.
The early Béringer cartridges were available in both shotshell and pistol cartridge varieties, with rimmed and rimless options. The dimensions of the rimless pistol cartridge depicted appear to be compatible with the Lefaucheux pistols.
The unusual hammer extension on the Lefaucheux pistols seemed to match up with Béringer’s cartridge system. This raised questions about whether Lefaucheux and Béringer had some sort of partnership or if Lefaucheux had created a similar cartridge at that time. The removable hammer extension could potentially be replaced with a flat piece, making the gun work with pinfire cartridges.
In Search of a Béringer Pinfire
Intrigued by the connection between the two inventors, the hunt for a Béringer pinfire pistol began. Soon after, another French auction featured what looked like a Béringer pinfire pistol with a lever-over-guard style under-lever, a design that existed here decades before the English Jones under-lever system.
However, when the pistol arrived and was closely inspected, it was revealed that it was actually made by Lefaucheux!
Upon uncovering this information, questions arose regarding the nature of the relationship between Lefaucheux and Béringer. Did Lefaucheux’s patent encompass Béringer’s designs, or did Béringer compensate Lefaucheux for the use of his technology? Delving into historical records provided insight into the connection between these two innovative gun makers.
The Lefaucheux-Béringer Legal Dispute and Settlement
In 1836, Casimir Lefaucheux and Béringer were embroiled in a legal dispute regarding the invention of their breech-loading system. The French newspaper, Le Droit, reported that both inventors claimed that their designs were unique and accused the other of copying their respective inventions. (7) The case went through several stages of legal proceedings, during which each party presented their arguments and expert testimonies were provided. Despite the court-appointed experts, such as Francœur, a member of the Academy of Sciences, and Boillau, a colonel of artillery, favoring Lefaucheux’s position, the court initially decided in Béringer’s favor. However, Lefaucheux appealed the decision, prolonging the legal dispute. (8)
Eventually, a settlement was reached between Lefaucheux and Béringer, putting an end to the ongoing lawsuit. The settlement allowed Lefaucheux to retain exclusive rights to the processes involved in his invention. (9) Another newspaper, Le Courrier Français, acquired additional information that Béringer also maintained exclusive possession of his processes and that Lefaucheux payed a large indemnity to Béringer for the right to use his methods.(10)
A year after the settlement, we learn that Lefaucheux was primarily interested in Béringer’s flexible metallic base for cartridges. Béringer mentioned this in an advertisement in the French newspaper, Le Siècle, that the cartridges that Lefaucheux had presented before the Institut de France was, in fact, his own invention and that he had sold it to Lefaucheux for a monetary compensation. Béringer also claimed that his invention had additional features, which he continued to implement and improve upon. (11)
The recent discoveries surrounding the early pistols by Casimir Lefaucheux have opened up new paths of research into the connections between Lefaucheux and Béatus Béringer, as well as their respective cartridge systems. The unique features found in these firearms have led to fascinating questions about their collaboration and the development of early cartridge technology.
As we continue to learn more about this captivating period in firearms history, we’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the creativity and craftsmanship that has shaped the development of firearms technology. The Lefaucheux-Béringer connection serves as an exciting reminder of the many surprises still waiting to be discovered in the world of firearms.
- Leveau, A. (2015). The cartridges of Béatus Béringer from French patent 6,120. International Ammunition Association Journal, 504, 14-22.
- Bastié, J. P. (1993). LES PISTOLETS DE BEATUS BERINGER. La Gazette des Arms, 235, 33-37.
- (1837). Plate II. Journal des Chasseurs, October, Paris.
- Foucaud, E. (1841). Les artisans illustres. Paris: Béthune et Plon.
- Cowan Auctions. (2017). Cased French breech-loading pinfire pistols. Retrieved from https://www.cowanauctions.com/lot/cased-french-breech-loading-pinfire-pistols-41990
- Bastié, J. P. (1993). UN BERINGER A BROCHE. La Gazette des Arms, 259, 52-54.
- Le Droit. (1836, March 8). [Newspaper].
- Le Droit. (1836, May 22). [Newspaper].
- Le Droit. (1836, July 12). [Newspaper].
- Le Courrier Français. (1836, July 18). [Newspaper].
- Le Siècle. (1837, April 3). [Newspaper].