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Wheel lock pistol

Wheel lock pistol

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1600 (made)
    1800 - 1900 (decoration (process))

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Chiselled steel

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by D. M. Currie

  • Museum number:

    M.110-1921

  • 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.

This wheel-lock pistol has a mechanism that enabled it 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. On this example, however, a later collector has had an otherwise plain lock decorated to look more like the princely examples.

Physical description

Pistol with chiselled steel barrel (chiselling was added in the 19th century).

Place of Origin

Germany (made)

Date

ca. 1600 (made)
1800 - 1900 (decoration (process))

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Chiselled steel

Dimensions

Height: 14.0 cm, Length: 74.9 cm, Depth: 7.0 cm

Object history note

This a 16th century pistol, but the chiselling on the lock was applied during the 19th century.

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.

This wheel-lock pistol has a mechanism that enabled it 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

Pistol formerly part of the equipment of the guard of the Electoral Prince Christian II of Saxony (1591-1611), Germany (Saxony), ca. 1600, chiselled steel decoration added in the 19th century

Production Note

The decoration is later

Materials

Steel; Wood; Antler

Techniques

Chiselled; Inlay

Categories

Arms & Armour; Metalwork; Tools & Equipment; Accessories

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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