the flintlock is replaced by the capsule

Forsyth double-barreled pistol, approx. 1824 Horizontal sliding batcher. Length 22.9 cm. Length with barrel 10.3 cm; caliber 14 mm; weight 1199.2 g. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Kuzya broke the trigger at the gun,
Matchesk carries a box with him,
Sits behind a bush – lure a grouse,
He will attach a match to the seed – and it will break out!
(N.A.Nekrasov)

“… St. John’s wort took the weapon from his friend’s hands and cocked the trigger. On the shelf was gunpowder, hardened like slag under the influence of time, dampness and pressure … This discovery puzzled the Indian, who was accustomed to renewing the seed of his gun every day and carefully examining it. – White people are very careless, – said St. John’s wort, shaking his head … ”
(Fenimore Cooper, “St. John’s Wort, or the First Warpath”)

The history of firearms. The previous article in this series told about the emergence of the French battery flintlock. But … when he was, as they say, in the prime of his years, he, nevertheless, already had a rival – a capsule lock, and almost immediately a weapon was created for it!


Göllner’s capsule pistol from Suhl. .50 caliber, rifled barrel, 9½ “long, richly inlaid in silver with floral motifs, manufacturer’s name and Gothic” In Suhl “letters. The inscriptions on the lock with “Goellner / In Suhl” are inlaid with gold. Walnut stock. Around 1830-1840 Photo by Alain Daubresse

And it so happened that in 1799, the English chemist Edward Howard appeared before the Royal Society of London with the message that he had managed to create an explosive mixture of explosive mercury (discovered in 1774 by the royal court physician Boyen) and saltpeter, which he hastened to name “Howard’s mercury.” It was about using it instead of gunpowder. But it turned out that the mixture is dangerous: it easily explodes on impact, and the force of the explosion was such that the rifle barrels could not withstand it. But in small doses, instead of gunpowder, it could be used as a flammable substance on the seed shelf.

The fact is that the traditional flintlock still gave a lot of misfires. This was due to three circumstances at once: flint, flint (shelf cover) and a powder charge on it. The latter could become damp, caked, that is, it had to be regularly checked and updated. The surface of the flint could be damp at the time of the shot. The flint could wear off. But even if everything was in order, a shot from a flintlock rifle brought a number of inconveniences to the shooter: flash and smoke in the castle area covered the target, the shot itself stretched out in time, which ultimately made the shooting “wrong”.


The lock of the primer pistol that belonged to King George III. By R. Wogdon, circa 1775. At first the pistol was a flintlock pistol. It had an 11-inch octagonal barrel made of .52 caliber Damascus steel. Walnut stock. Original rosewood ramrod with horn. Vogdon’s signature is on the lock and on the inlaid oval cartouche on the barrel. The classic Wogdon dueling pistol, converted into a capsule pistol in the 1820s. It is possible that this is the work of his successor, Barton Richard Sefferns, who worked until the late 1820s or early 1830s. Photo by Alain Daubresse

All this was known to the Reverend Alexander John Forsyth, priest of the parish of Belewy in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, who, firstly, was fond of chemistry, and secondly, hunting.


Diagram of the Forsyth “bottle lock” device: images from left to right:
1 – the central cylinder with an opening going into the barrel is motionless, 2 – the bottle rotates around it, the lid of the container with the detonating mercury powder is open, 3 – we pour the powder into it, 4 – when the bottle is turned, the spring-loaded firing pin is above the ignition hole. Fig. A. Shepsa

He began to work on the creation of a fundamentally new type of lock and already in April 1807 received a patent – initially for the use of explosive mercury as an initiating charge, and then created a lock of a new design, in which it was used.


Scheme of the Forsyth “bottle lock”: images from left to right:
1 – position before preparing for a shot: gunpowder and a bullet in the barrel, 2 – turn the bottle and pour the detonating powder into the firing hole, 3 – rotate the bottle again, and now the firing pin is above the firing port with the powder charge, 4 – the trigger strikes the firing pin, the powder ignites, the flame enters the barrel, a shot follows! Fig. A. Shepsa

And you can’t deny him inventiveness. The Forsyth lock received a small cylinder, which was attached to the lock shelf in place of the powder shelf with a lid. Its shape resembled a perfume bottle, which is why Forsyth’s castle began to be called “bottle”, although Forsyth himself gave it the name “explosive castle”.


The very first Forsyth lock with a V-trigger

To activate it, it was necessary to turn the bottle over. Then the powder of explosive mercury spilled onto the shelf, which then ignited when the trigger hit a special striker.


Forsyth Castle 1807 “Flacon” turned slightly differently than on subsequent models. Fig. from the book: Jaroslv Lugs. Hand-feuerwaffen. Systematischer Überblick über die Handfeuerwaffen und Hire. Geschichte. Band II. DDR, Berlin, 1982. P.63

In 1809, the pastor even opened a company for the production of shotguns equipped with “bottle locks”. However, in this matter, he was not very successful. But his example prompted gunsmiths around the world to improve his castle.

There are three main modifications of Forsyth locks. In the first case, it was a device in the form of a perfume bottle, which was also a dispenser for an explosive mixture, which was ignited by hitting the trigger on the striker on the bottle. In the second, it was a sliding dispenser magazine connected by a pull rod to the trigger. In the third, the hammer blow with the striker occurred on the seed mixture granules in the ignition, where they fell from the store, fixed on a separate lever.


“Flacon Castle” by François Prela, 1810. Fig. from the book: Jaroslv Lugs. Hand-feuerwaffen. Systematischer Überblick über die Handfeuerwaffen und Hire. Geschichte. Band II. DDR, Berlin, 1982. P.63

This is how balls appeared from a mixture of explosive mercury with wax, resin and drying oil. Often this mixture was glued into paper tape – similar to the piston tape for children’s pistols (the development of Mainard, which was widely used in the United States during the Civil War). A copper foil tape was also invented, which, when the trigger was cocked, was automatically superimposed on the nest of the brandtube.


Bute’s “horizontal lock” (two figures above) and Kontrine’s “swinging lock”. Fig. from the book: Jaroslv Lugs. Hand-feuerwaffen. Systematischer Überblick über die Handfeuerwaffen und Hire. Geschichte. Band II. DDR, Berlin, 1982. P.64

And already in 1814, the American Joshua Shaw came up with the idea of ​​making caps from iron, and then from copper foil, filled with an explosive composition. Also between 1814 and 1816. gunsmiths from Great Britain, Joseph Menton and Joseph Egg, came up with copper caps that were put on the brand pipe, and this lock, on the development of which Menton worked a lot, began to be called the capsule.


«Качающийся замок» Г. Коля. Рис. из книги: Jaroslv Lugs. Hand firearms. Systematic overview of handguns and hire. History. Volume II. GDR, Berlin, 1982. P. 65


And this is Augustine’s capsule lock. It had a socket for primers, which was covered from above with a lid with an anvil. The trigger hit exactly this anvil! Why such a complication is not at all clear, but it is clear that the capsule was very well protected from extraneous influences. Fig. from the book: Jaroslv Lugs. Hand-feuerwaffen. Systematischer Überblick über die Handfeuerwaffen und Hire. Geschichte. Band II. DDR, Berlin, 1982. P.65

Outwardly, the new castle looked very elegant. The trigger with two flint jaws was replaced by a trigger with a small recess in the front, which just contained the capsule put on the brand tube. This was done so that the fragments of the capsule did not fly apart. No longer required a seed shelf, a flint cover, or a bending spring. All these details were missing. There was also no seed hole. Instead, a small-sized hollow tube made of hardened steel was screwed into the barrel from above to the right, through which the flame from the primer that had flared up from the impact passed into the barrel, and, by the way, that is why it was called a brand tube. The trigger spring and trigger device remained unchanged. That is, the cost of converting old flintlock guns into primer ones was minimal, which, naturally, was of great importance for the military, first of all.


Rollin-Nancy .36 pistol, 8-inch barrels, walnut burl grip. Headset. Each pistol has two barrels, a double trigger and a single folding trigger. The locks are decorated with gold inserts. “ROLLIN” is inlaid with gold in a gold oval on the right side of each frame, and “A NANCY” on the left side. Rollin worked in Nancy, France, back in 1836. The round trunks are not decorated. The bag-shaped handles are crafted from walnut burl and inlaid with a tiny silver shield engraved with the “LS” monogram. Photo by Alain Daubresse


But on this side it says “A NANCY”. Photo by Alain Daubresse

Well, the very loading of the gun barrel did not change: it was necessary to bite off the cartridge and pour all its powder into the barrel, which made the fight of the gun significantly improved. Then a bullet with a wad or shot in a bag was driven into it with a ramrod. After that, the trigger was put on a safety platoon, retracted, while a capsule should be put on the brand tube.

Capsule guns appeared – hunting and combat (although the military at first believed that the soldiers would rub the caps, and then – that they would not be able to put them on with their coarse fingers!), Then pistols (including and even above all – dueling) and revolvers.

Forsyth’s idea found application in the British army, although not immediately, and not quite in the way he proposed. In 1839, the first percussion rifles entered service with the British infantry. But instead of a complex “bottle” in the lock, they began to use the same copper cap of Menton and Egg. The government even decided to make some appropriate payments to Forsyth, since he was the holder of a patent for the very principle of ignition with an explosive composition, but due to legal delays, this was not done in connection with his death in 1843.


Capsule pistol by Mark and John Pattison. The so-called “Rigby system”, which appeared around 1825 and was used for a very short time. Invented by William and John Rigby of Dublin, it should come as no surprise that other Dublin gunsmiths like Mark and John Pattison have copied it. Rigby’s system was very simple. Instead of turning the barrels or having two triggers, a small disc with a striker was installed on one trigger, which must be turned manually after each shot. Photo by Alain Daubresse

But be that as it may, a humble pastor from Belelvi made no less, but a revolution in military affairs. Now rifles and pistols with capsule locks could shoot in rain or fog, they practically did not give misfires, it became much more convenient to shoot from such weapons, and its striking power increased. Well, then the capsule was connected to the cartridge, and a unitary cartridge appeared, which we all know today.

To be continued…

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