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Wheel lock pistol, a pair

Wheel lock pistol, a pair

  • Place of origin:

    Augsburg (made)

  • Date:

    late 16th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Blued, chiselled and partly gilt barrels; inlaid stocks with engraved stag horn

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Major Victor Alexander Farquharson

  • Museum number:

    M.489&A-1927

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

Arms and armour are rarely associated with art. However, they were influenced by the same design sources as other art forms including architecture, sculpture, goldsmiths' work, stained glass and ceramics. These sources had to be adapted to awkward shaped devices required to perform complicated technical functions. Armour and weapons were collected as works of art as much as military tools.

These wheel-lock pistols have a mechanism that enabled them to be carried loaded. The jaws of the lock clamped a piece of flint or a piece or pyrites designed to rub against the rough edge of the wheel projecting into the pan. The wheel was revolved at speed by a tightly coiled spring, wound by a separate spanner, and released when the gun's trigger was pulled causing sparks to ignite the gunpowder in the breech.

Sketches for wheel-locks were made by Leonardo da Vinci but their first common use was in Germany in around 1520 and they continued in use until the late seventeenth century. They were the first devices to fire guns mechanically and accelerated the development of firearms by negating the need for long and dangerous 'match' cords which had to be kept dry. The increasingly powerful gunpowder of the mid-16th century encouraged the development of smaller guns including the pistol, and many were fitted with wheel locks. A loaded pistol could be concealed under a cloak, to the concern of European rulers. Elizabeth I forbade anyone from carrying a mechanical firearm within 500 yards of a royal palace and in 1584 William the Silent was the first monarch to be assassinated with a wheel lock gun.

As technical devices wheel-locks attracted princely collectors. Many are finely chiselled and engraved as works of art, some even on their insides, to be taken apart and reassembled at pleasure. The stocks were also often decorated with fine bone and horn inlays drawing on the skills of furniture makers and engravers. Wheel-lock guns were expensive, however, and most ordinary gunners were equipped with the older style match-locks until well into the seventeenth century.

Physical description

A pair of pistols, the wooden stocks overlaid with marquetry of cow-horn and stag-horn, engraved with scenes from the chase, monsters and grotesque masks. On the pommels, lions' mask medallions. The lock-plates were originally blued but are now bright, the wheel covers and springs gilt, together with the triggers and trigger guards. The barrels are blued and gilt, chiselled with two bands of conventional foliage, and at the breech, a grotesque mask. On the barrels, the Augsburg town-mark and barrel-smith's mark of Jäger, a hunting horn.

Place of Origin

Augsburg (made)

Date

late 16th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Blued, chiselled and partly gilt barrels; inlaid stocks with engraved stag horn

Marks and inscriptions

Augsburg town-mark and mark of Jäger, a hunting horn
On the barrel The Augsburg town-mark and barrel-smith's mark

Dimensions

Length: 490 mm, Depth: 80 mm

Object history note

Historical significance: This is the standard type of pistol for mounted troops of the latter years of the sixteenth century. The German city arsenals used to contain them in large numbers, as does the Zeughaus of Graz (Styria), to this day. They were carried in holsters at the saddle bow, and contemporary woodcuts show mounted men with as many as four of them, e.g. Jost Amman. Kunstbüchlein, fol. T iii.

Historical context note

Arms and armour are rarely associated with art. However, they were influenced by the same design sources as other art forms including architecture, sculpture, goldsmiths' work, stained glass and ceramics. These sources had to be adapted to awkward shaped devices required to perform complicated technical functions. Armour and weapons were collected as works of art as much as military tools.

These wheel-lock pistols have a mechanism that enabled them to be carried loaded. The jaws of the lock clamped a piece of flint or a piece or pyrites designed to rub against the rough edge of the wheel projecting into the pan. The wheel was revolved at speed by a tightly coiled spring, wound by a separate spanner, and released when the gun's trigger was pulled causing sparks to ignite the gunpowder in the breech.

Sketches for wheel-locks were made by Leonardo da Vinci but their first common use was in Germany in around 1520 and they continued in use until the late seventeenth century. They were the first devices to fire guns mechanically and accelerated the development of firearms by negating the need for long and dangerous 'match' cords which had to be kept dry. The increasingly powerful gunpowder of the mid-16th century encouraged the development of smaller guns including the pistol, and many were fitted with wheel locks. A loaded pistol could be concealed under a cloak, to the concern of European rulers. Elizabeth I forbade anyone from carrying a mechanical firearm within 500 yards of a royal palace and in 1584 William the Silent was the first monarch to be assassinated with a wheel lock gun.

As technical devices wheel-locks attracted princely collectors. Many are finely chiselled and engraved as works of art, some even on their insides, to be taken apart and reassembled at pleasure. The stocks were also often decorated with fine bone and horn inlays drawing on the skills of furniture makers and engravers. Wheel-lock guns were expensive, however, and most ordinary gunners were equipped with the older style match-locks until well into the seventeenth century.

Descriptive line

Pair of wheel lock holster pistols with blued barrels and inlaid stocks, Augsburg, Late 16th century.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Hayward, J. F., European Firearms London, HMSO, 1969, cat. 10

Materials

Steel; Gold; Wood; Staghorn

Techniques

Carving; Forging; Inlay; Blued; Gilding

Subjects depicted

Masks; Foliage; Monsters

Categories

Arms & Armour; Metalwork; Firearms

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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