Title Firearms at the Tower of London

  1. rhmc24
    My employer's business often took me to London from 1950s to '75, from a few days to a few weeks at a time. England was slow to recover from WW2, not being in the Marshall plan that helped Germany rebuild. People were selling their old stuff, making it great for antique fanciers & old gun buffs like me; before the tourist influx. I had been in Europe from 1947 to '50 & was getting experience in gun collection, having sent home what was to me a good collection from France, Germany & Austria. With little experience in English guns, the Tower of London was the source of all knowledge.

    Guns we put on display in my Father's business in 1949, had the American pieces, and the others I had collected in Europe.

    Working as a traveling inspector for the airline it cost me nothing to travel & I went several times from NY to London & back in 24 hours & had my few hours in the Tower examining pistols, measurements & drawings. Frequent airplane travel, I slept well enough in flight.

    My livelihood had me travelling about 100 days per year & doing my old gun restoration work part time at home. I had a job in my shop on a 1717 French musket a very rare gun & found the info I needed at the Tower of London. With something of a friendship with a Tower employee, I learned that after Waterloo the British had sacked the French Musee de l'Armee of their collection of historic guns. The 1717 musket, like new, probably never fired was one of those. Another super rarity was a 1733 French carbine I had heard existed & now held in my hands.

    It had been a practice to store in the Tower an example of guns the Crown had collected in their military adventures around the world. In a room not open to the public I saw hundreds of different types standing side by side in many aisles. Curiously, I saw no foreign pistols. I was able to pick up & hold a seven-barrel flintlock volley gun, one of several thy had.

    One benefit of being a restorer, when I had established my reputation with major collectors & dealers, I held in hand & worked on guns so old & rare that they are usually seen behind glass if seen at all. In the Tower, I held guns that had been fired by men in the 1600s.

    Top down -- Wheellock belt pistol ca. 1650; English/Scottish Snaphaunce belt pistol ca. 1610; English 1640s doglock military; English James II 1680s flintlock;`English 1650 gentleman's doglock; Germanic wheellock military ca.1640s; English lock 1640s military. The wheellocks are original pieces, and the others are from my shop.​

    Lacking illustrations of actual Tower pieces, my accurate "re-creations" of the early English pistols are used, with ID info.

    The matchlock ignition system used a glowing cord. Simple to make & little training needed for its use, it had been in use for a couple centuries but had its limitations of weather, visible at night, frequent adjustments, etc. & improvement was needed, although the matchlock still saw some use well into the 1600s.

    Making fire with sparks from stone had been used since the stone-age & was adapted for firearms ignition. The first wheellock ignition dates from the 1500s, in pace with the technology of clocks & security devices. In the wheel lock, the stone (actually iron pyrite, not flint) was pressed against the wheel which is at the bottom of the pan, immersed in priming powder. On firing the wheel makes a 3/4 turn against the pyrite which reliably fires the gun. At first, due to complexity & cost, it was only affordable by the affluent, but by the mid-1600s military wheellocks were in common use. Along with the wheellock came the mechanism in which the flint is struck against steel much the same as for making a fire. The snaphance is the best known of the primitive flintlocks, in which the flint strikes a steel surface on a separate arm, with the pan having its pan cover. Soon the 'steel' is combined with the pan cover, making what we know as the frizzen. The lock mechanism, holding the hammer at cock & releasing it had many lateral methods, hook on the tumbler, a member reaching thru the lock plate to the hammer itself. We illustrate some of these. Early in the 1700s the French vertical sear is invented & quickly became the standard. The external hook known as the dog lock was a safety device holding the hammer secure, disappears around 1800 with the exception of Scandinavia for few more decades.

    Two lock types of lateral sear --


    Note also the internal frizzen spring.

    In the 1640s the simple flintlock begins to replace the costly wheel lock but with similar appearance --

    This 1640-50 flint lock is of wheellock shape but only in its appearance. It is a transition piece from the wheellock. The lock plate has no wheel parts inside & its stock inlet did not have material removed to accommodate a wheel mechanism. The rest of the gun is of the then familiar style.

    Some Pistols of types seen in the Tower --

    English dog lock military pistol ca. 1640, with sear thru a hole in the lock plate, directly on the hammer itself.​

    English gentleman's pistol ca. 1650, internal frizzen spring, ebony stock & silver furniture.​

    Snaphaunce belt pistol ca. 1610​

    Collier Flintlock revolver, invented by an American. Over 10,000 manufactured in England 1819-1824.​

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