All You Have to Do is Move Your Little Finger

As we go back to the early ages of firearms, in the beginning was the matchlock system, which led to the wheellock system, which led to the snaplock system, which led to the snaphance and miquelet system, which led to the flintlock system, an interesting and impacting gun operating method.

Developed in the 1600s, the flintlock system was simple.  Gunpowder was stuffed in the barrel, along with a lead ball (often wrapped in fabric).  A metal rod was then used to jam the powder and ball as far back as possible, and as close as possible.  Next, a hammer was pulled back half way and remained there until the gun was ready to fire (This was considered cocking).  When the time came to fire the gun, the hammer was pulled all the way back and the trigger was squeezed.  On occasion, the gun would fire when the hammer was pulled half way back, as these weapons were not made to hold such a position.  When the trigger was pulled, the hammer released a piece of flint that hit a metal plate, known as a frizzen.  A spark would then be ignited, lighting the gun powder and ejecting the lead ball, while making a loud booming sound.

French 17th Century Flintlock Pistol:

French 17th Century Flintlock Pistol

The first flintlock mechanism was crafted by French courtier, Marin le Bourgeoys, for King Louis XIII in 1610.  Le Bourgeoys used his intellect and skill in taking features from previous firearms through the centuries and improving on them to make the flintlock.  The flintlock rapidly rose to popularity and was used for various purposes, including the English Civil War in 1630.  By 1650, various breech-loading flintlocks had been developed.  One of the most popular was the Queen Anne pistol, which had a barrel that could be unscrewed from the gun.  Another pistol developed contained a screw plug set into the side or top or bottom of the barrel, making loading easier.  In 1704, an improved flintlock system came about, in which the barrel could be opened with three revolutions of the triggerguard, allowing the ball and the powder to be loaded from the top of the gun.  Further improvements came in the 1770s and rifles with the new system were used in the American Revolutionary War, the Napoleonic Wars, The American Civil War, and by the Austrian Army.  Flintlock weapons were used until the 19th century when they were replaced by percussion lock weapons.

Napoleonic Flintlock Pistol, 1806:

Napoleonic Flintlock Pistol, 1806

While the flintlock system was very effective for its time, it was not perfect.  One of the biggest setbacks was moisture.  If the powder was damp or wet, it would not ignite.  For this reason, flintlocks could not be used in damp or rainy areas.  Another caution was misfire, which would occur if the flint in the weapon was dull or in poor condition.  Accidental fire was also a potential issue.  This could happen due to a burning ember left in the barrel after initial fire, thus igniting the powder, or as a result of an accidental frizzen strike, which would in turn ignite the powder as well.  Despite these drawbacks, the flintlock was still the best system there was up to that point.

While the flintlock system is not practiced today, flintlocks still continue to be produced.  In addition, this system has had a lasting impact on language, giving us terms such as “lock, stock, and barrel” and “going off half-cocked”.  Also, standardized methods of loading and carrying originating with the flintlock system remain intact as standards up to this day.  For our flintlock collection and other pistols, go to:

This entry was posted in Pistols and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *