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Flintlock mechanism

Flintlock mechanism

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (made)

  • Date:

    mid 17th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Chiselled and engraved steel

  • Credit Line:

    Bought with funds from the Major V.A. Farquharson Gift

  • Museum number:

    M.74-1912

  • 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 gunmaker 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Flintlocks displaced older matchlocks as they were much more efficient and reliable and superseded wheel locks which were more expensive.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.

Physical description

Flintlock gun mechanism of chiselled and engraved steel. The cock is supported by a winged cupid standing upon a grotesque mask. On the lockplate is another cupid blowing a trumpet. The striking plate is enriched with a grotesque mask.

Place of Origin

Italy (made)

Date

mid 17th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Chiselled and engraved steel

Dimensions

Length: 4.9 in, Height: 3 in

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 gunmaker 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.

Descriptive line

Flintlock gun mechanism, Italy, mid 17th century

Materials

Steel

Techniques

Chiselled; Engraving

Subjects depicted

Cupid; Trumpet; Mask

Categories

Arms & Armour; Firearms; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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