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Flintlock pistol

Flintlock pistol

  • Place of origin:

    Liège (city) (made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1730 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Devillers, H. (maker)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Steel and engraved silver

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

In 1672 the Prince-Bishop Maximilian Heinrich of Bavaria established a proof house at Liège by decree. About the same time, the earliest signed, and therefore identifiable, Liège-made firearms were produced. In 1743 the arms industry of Liège is said to have been turning out 100,000guns a year for the various armies of Europe. Towards the close of the ancien régime (French, ‘old regime’, that is, before the French Revolution), nearly 6,000 persons are said to have been engaged in it. These figures make it clear that production was mainly concentrated on military arms. Nevertheless, there was an important trade in fine-quality arms from about 1672 onwards.

Liège-made firearms by such masters as Devillers and de Selier followed French fashion of the time. They seem to have had the current Parisian pattern books at hand to serve as examples, especially those of Simonin. These, for instance, provided the patterns of silver inlay on the grips.

Physical description

Cannon barrel, rifled with 7 grooves, stock of silver engraved with late Baroque strapwork, the butt decorated with a grotesque mask, the thumb plate has an escutcheon with engraved arms of Counts of Bethlen de Bethlen of Hungary.

Place of Origin

Liège (city) (made)


ca. 1730 (made)


Devillers, H. (maker)

Materials and Techniques

Steel and engraved silver

Marks and inscriptions

Sliver stocks engraved with the arms of Count Bethlen of Bethlen (Hungary)

locks: signed 'H DEVILLERS A LIEGE'

Object history note

An exactly similar set of pistols by this maker can be found in the castle of Konopiste, Czecholslovakia.

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.

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

Hayward, J. F., European Firearms. London : HMSO, 1969, Cat. 77


Arms & Armour; Metalwork


Metalwork Collection

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