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Flintlock mechanism

Flintlock mechanism

  • Place of origin:

    North Africa (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    18th century to 19th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Forged steel, chiseled

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Maj. V. A. Farquharson

  • Museum number:

    M.804-1927

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

This flintlock mechanism once enabled a gun to fire. When the trigger was pulled a piece of flint held in the jaws of the lock struck at high speed against the plate opposite (called the frizzen or hammer) causing sparks to fly. The sparks ignited the priming powder in the pan at the base which in turn ignited the charge in the breech of the barrel. This high-pressure explosion forced the shot from the barrel of the gun.

The French gun maker Marin le Bourgeois is credited with the development of the true flintlock mechanism. He worked at the court of Louis XIII (1610-42), one of the first great gun collectors in Europe. However, attempts at similar mechanisms were made in late 16th-century Holland and Spain. (The Dutch types were later used in North Africa.) They were reputedly invented by robbers unhappy that lit matchlock guns were revealing their presence at night. In the Netherlands this type of lock was known as a 'snaphaan' ('chicken thief'), often changed in English to 'snaphaunce'. The Spanish form of flintlock is known as the 'miquelet'.

Flintlocks displaced older matchlocks as they were much more efficient and reliable and superseded wheel locks which were more expensive. However, even among experienced users they took time to reload (usually over 15 seconds) encouraging the production of multiple barrelled guns. Flintlocks were in common use from the second half of the 17th century until the mid 19th century.

Physical description

Kabyle type with dog lock?

Place of Origin

North Africa (possibly, made)

Date

18th century to 19th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Forged steel, chiseled

Dimensions

Length: 18.0 cm main plate, Length: 18.5 cm full, Height: 8.6 cm, Width: 5.5 cm

Historical context note

This flintlock mechanism once enabled a gun to fire. When the trigger was pulled a piece of flint held in the jaws of the lock struck at high speed against the plate opposite (called the frizzen or hammer) causing sparks to fly. The sparks ignited the priming powder in the pan at the base which in turn ignited the charge in the breech of the barrel. This high-pressure explosion forced the shot from the barrel of the gun.

The French gun maker Marin le Bourgeois is credited with the development of the true flintlock mechanism. He worked at the court of Louis XIII (1610-42), one of the first great gun collectors in Europe. However, attempts at similar mechanisms were made in late 16th-century Holland and Spain. They were reputedly invented by robbers unhappy that lit matchlock guns were revealing their presence at night. In the Netherlands this type of lock was known as a 'snaphaan' ('chicken thief'), often changed in English to 'snaphaunce'. The Spanish form of flintlock is known as the 'miquelet'.

Flintlocks displaced older matchlocks as they were much more efficient and reliable and superseded wheel locks which were more expensive. However, even among experienced users they took time to reload (usually over 15 seconds) encouraging the production of multiple barrelled guns. Flintlocks were in common use from the second half of the 17th century until the mid 19th century.

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 awkwardly shaped devices required to perform complicated technical functions. Armour and weapons were collected as works of art as much as military tools.

Descriptive line

Flint lock of forged and chiselled steel, possibly North Africa, 18th or 19th century

Materials

Steel

Techniques

Forged; Chiselled

Categories

Arms & Armour; Black History; Firearms; Metalwork

Collection

Middle East Section

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