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Wheel lock mechanism

Wheel lock mechanism

  • Place of origin:

    Germany (made)

  • Date:

    late 17th century (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Blued steel, engraved and gilt

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Major Victor Alexander Farquharson

  • Museum number:

    M.699-1927

  • 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 awkwardly 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 is the mechanism that once enabled a gun to fire. 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. They enable guns to be carried loaded and as gunpowder became more powerful in the mid-16th century encouraged the development of smaller guns including the pistol.

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. Wheel-locks were expensive, however, and most ordinary gunners were equipped with the older style match-locks until well into the seventeenth century.

Physical description

Wheel lock mechanism of blued steel, engraved and gilt, decorated with monsters amid leafy scrolls and with a dragon-headed hammer

Place of Origin

Germany (made)

Date

late 17th century (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Blued steel, engraved and gilt

Dimensions

Length: 12.25 in

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 awkwardly 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 is the mechanism that once enabled a gun to fire. 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. They enable guns to be carried loaded and as gunpowder became more powerful in the mid-16th century encouraged the development of smaller guns including the pistol.

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. Wheel-locks were expensive, however, and most ordinary gunners were equipped with the older style match-locks until well into the seventeenth century.

Descriptive line

Wheel lock mechanism of blued steel, engraved and gilt, decorated with monsters amid leafy scrolls and with a dragon-headed hammer, German, late 17th century

Materials

Steel; Gold

Techniques

Blued; Engraved; Gilt

Subjects depicted

Scrolling foliage; Monsters

Categories

Arms & Armour; Firearms; Metalwork

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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