Sidelock and “Queen-Anne” pistols with turn-off barrels
This chapter refers to the cross-section of the standing part of the breech that remains attached to the stock after the barrel has been unscrewed. In most – but not all – early Sidelock and “Queen-Anne” pistols with turn-off barrels, the standing breech is octagonal in cross section. In later pistols it is usually round.
Hayward, The Art of the Gunmaker, Vol. II, page 7: “The earliest pistols of this type [turn-off barrel] have octagonal breeches, but subsequently, 1725 - 1750, it became usual to finish the breech with a circular section.”
Burgoyne, The Queen Anne Pistol 1660-1780, page 27: “The existence of a round breech does not assist in dating pistols; although generally, an octagonally formed breech is a clear indication of manufacture in the first quarter of the [18th] century, the lack of this feature does not necessarily denote later manufacture.”
Burgoyne, The Queen Anne Pistol 1660-1780, page 30:. “The octagonal breech is an element of construction found in pistols produced before 1725.”
Burgoyne, The Queen Anne Pistol 1660-1780, page 31: “By 1730 breeches were almost always round in cross-section.”
Dixon, Georgian Pistols page 126: “When this type of pistol [“Queen-Anne”] first appeared the breech was invariably octagonal, but from about 1750 it became rounded in form.”
Dixon, Georgian Pistols, page 117: “The round breech chamber was a fashion generally favoured …. from about 1730 onwards.”
George, English Guns & Rifles, page 51: “The octagonal breech is the shape most commonly found in pistols with turn-off barrels made 1700 - 1720.”
George, English Guns & Rifles, page 52: “The round breech was typical of pistols [Sidelocks and “Queen-Annes”] made after 1720.”
Sidelock, “Queen-Anne” and Boxlock pistols with fixed barrels
Early pistols had very ornate forward ramrod pipes with multiple baluster turnings, or a series of facets. In later pistols these were reduced to a plain slightly curved surface with one or two raised rings at the ends. When the fashion changed to neoclassical, ramrod pipes followed suit, reducing to a flat surface with raised rings at the end, and finally to what appears to be nothing more than a simple undecorated tube.
Rear ramrod pipes were usually decorated en suite with their forward companions, but occasionally (particularly with very early pistols) they were omitted, or were plain but had a little discreet engraving on their finials.
Sidelock and “Queen-Anne” pistols
To prevent the corrosion of touch-holes, (which caused their enlargement, allowing the escape of gas pressure and thus loss of power) expensive pistols were fitted with touch-hole linings, initially of gold, but later of platinum, both of which are very resistant to corrosion. Platinum is harder than gold and was, at the time, less expensive.
On occasions barrels that had originally been made without lined touch-holes, were bored and lined; accordingly the presence of a lined touch-hole cannot be taken as an infallible guide to ascribing a date to a weapon. Similarly gold touch-holes were often replaced with platinum ones during the working life of a pistol.
I have not seen a Boxlock pistol with a lined touch-hole, although the reason for lining them is just as valid as for Sidelock pistols. Lined touch-holes are not found on Sidelock pistols with turn-off barrels because they had ceased to be made before lined touch-holes were developed. This does not apply to neoclassical “Queen-Anne” pistols, e.g. the example by Harcourt on page XX
Atkinson, Duelling Pistols, page 51: “Gold touch-holes had been used long before the duelling pistol was thought of.”
George, English Pistols & Revolvers, page 85: “It was common in the early 19th century for touch-holes of pistols of the better quality to be lined with platinum.”
George, English Guns and Rifles, page 198: “[Gun by Pattison] would seem to have been made shortly after 1800 – the use of gold in the touch-holes being a feature that fell into disfavour only a few years later when platinum vents became the order of the day.”
Dill, London Gunmakers and the English Duelling Pistol 1770-1830, page 27: “John and Joseph Manton were using platinum-lined touch-holes by 1805. The conversion to platinum was complete by about 1810.”
Dill, London Gunmakers and the English Duelling Pistol 1770-1830, page 27: “Platinum-lined touch-holes are no guarantee of a dating assist. Many pistols were sent back to the gunmaker’s shop for maintenance and repairs. [Touch-holes, originally of gold, were replaced with platinum].”
Akehurst, Antique Weapons, page 85: “Useful as a guide to the date of early 19th century (after 1800) guns is the change from the use of gold for touch-holes, to platinum, between 1805 and 1810.”
Akehurst, Sporting Guns, page 54: “Both John and Joe Manton took to making touch-holes of platinum between 1805 and 1810.”
Bedford, Early Firearms of Great Britain and Ireland, page 131: “Joseph Manton is credited with the use of the first platinum-lined touch-hole in 1805”
Hayward, The Art of the Gunmaker, Vol. II, page 200: “The insertion of a gold plug in the barrel where the touch-hole was drilled, to avoid corrosion when the priming was ignited had become standard fittings on first-quality firearms by 1750-1775.”
Hayward, The Art of the Gunmaker Volume II, page 212: “From about 1810 onwards firearms of second quality had touch-holes of platinum. ……. the explanation is that at that time platinum was regarded as a laboratory plaything rather than a precious metal.”
Atkinson, The British Duelling Pistol, page 34, page 80: “To say that the changeover from gold to platinum began in 1805 may be a reasonable approximation.”
Touch-holes, linings, Sidelock pistols continued
Copyright © Marsden B Robinson - 2012