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Flintlock pocket pistol

Flintlock pocket pistol

  • Place of origin:

    London (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1680 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Wornall, Edward (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Zebrawood and steel

  • Credit Line:

    Given from the collection of the late Col. G. Stovell.

  • Museum number:

    M.185-1928

  • Gallery location:

    British Galleries, Room 54, case 2

Object Type
In late 17th- and early 18th-century England such small single-shot pistols with a flintlock mechanism (one of several types of mechanism) were carried for protection. It was designed to be carried in the pocket of a travelling coat. Like other English pistols of this type, it has no trigger guard or steel furniture on the butt (grip).

People
The maker is Edward Wornall or Wornell, who was a member of the London Gunmakers' Company. He is recorded as a gun-barrel maker between 1692 and 1704. He is known to have supplied barrels to a stockmaker named Ralph Wright who may well have made the stock (the wooden support that holds the barrel) for this pistol, since it is of good quality. An advertisement in a London journal The Postman dating from 1698 refers to 'a case of pistols made by Mr Wornell, with his name upon them' left in a Hackney coach. This suggests that he was well-known as a gunmaker in London at the time.

Ownership & Use
The trigger is not protected by a guard so the lock is fitted with a sliding safety catch which prevents the pistol from being fired accidentally. The short barrel contrasts with the comparatively large calibre (the diameter of the bore or hole). In form and use these small pocket pistols anticipate the American Derringer of the 1840s by nearly 200 years.

Physical description

The figure of the wood stock has been heightened artificially.
The barrel is octagonal and forged in one with the lock. Signed on the upper face of the barrel is the maker's mark 'Wornall Londini'.
The lockplate and barrel are engraved with birds and foliage.

Place of Origin

London (made)

Date

ca. 1680 (made)

Artist/maker

Wornall, Edward (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Zebrawood and steel

Marks and inscriptions

Signed 'Wornall Londini'
Upper face of the barrel.

Dimensions

Height: 7.5 cm, Width: 13.2 cm, Depth: 3 cm

Object history note

Made in London and signed by Edward Wornall (active 1692-1704)

Historical context note

Arms and armour are often dissociated 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 and were presented as gifts to honour ambassadors and other dignitaries.

Firearms combined virtuoso craftsmanship with high quality engineering. This gun is fitted with a flintlock firing mechanism. Flintlock guns largely superseded wheel-lock guns by the late 17th century. The flintlock's invention is credited to Marin Le Bourgeois, gunmaker to Louis XIII of France, in around 1610.

The flintlock was less complicated and more reliable than a wheel-lock. Its simplicity encouraged the development o fsmaller, lighter guns. Flintlocks could fire accurately for up to 100 metres. Their increasing accuracy encouraged wars to be fought at longer range.

Some flintlocks had spirally grooved or rifled barrels improving their accuracy and range. Flintlock guns with rifled barrels needed more cleaning and took longer to load. They were more commonly used in hunting than on the battlefield where guns were fired quickly in volleys.

Flintlocks in Operation

The flintlock was fired when the flint held in the cock, struck the steel pan (frizzen) opposite, causing sparks to ignite the priming powder. A detailed description of loading and firing a flintlock gun follows:

Most flintlock guns were loaded from the muzzle with gunpowder and lead shot. These are pushed into the breech of the barrel with the ramrod. The ramrod is stored in a slot beneath the barrel.

An arm, or cock, at the back of the lock holds a sharp piece of flint. This is moved part of the way backwards until it clicks into position at half-cock. It has a safety catch to prevent the gun being fired accidentally.

On top of the lock is a flash pan which is charged with priming powder, a fine powder that ignites easily. The flash pan is opened by lifting the cover, called a frizzen. When the flash pan is filled with a measured dose of priming powder, the frizzen is then closed presenting a pan-shaped steel surface towards the cocked flint.

The cock is pulled back further, from half-cock to full-cock, releasing its safetly catch. When the trigger is pulled, the cock holding the flint springs forwards. The flint strikes the frizzen, opening it to reveal the priming powder, and causing sparks to fly when it strikes the hard steel surface. The sparks ignite the priming powder in the flash pan. The flash passes through a vent or touchhole into the breech of the barrel and ignites the main powder charge, and the gun fires.

Descriptive line

Flintlock pocket pistol, by Edward Wornall, English, ca. 1680

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

J.F. Hayward, European Firearms, London, HMSO, 1969, cat. 71

Labels and date

British Galleries:
GENTLEMAN'S TRAVELLING ACCESSORIES

About 1700 British gentry often travelled with extensive luggage. Candlesticks, toilet sets, clocks and eating utensils made travelling more comfortable and were a sign of status. Small pistols were carried in the pocket for personal protection. The clock was probably intended for use at sea, supported in a case on a bracket fixed to a cabin wall. [27/03/2003]

Categories

Arms & Armour; Firearms

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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