Flintlock Pistol Information

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Flintlock Pistol Information
Military officers, wealthy duelists and pirates preferred flintlock pistols. (pistol and dagger image by Yuri Tuchkov from Fotolia.com)

Flintlock pistols, like modern pistols, are designed to be self-defence weapons. They are only effective at short range, and since most flintlock pistols have smoothbore barrels, they are not particularly accurate. The term "flintlock" comes from the firing mechanism that was used on most small arms from the 17th century through the mid-19th century. Flintlock pistols come in both civilian and military models, and the most famous American model is the Harpers Ferry Model 1806.

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The Flintlock

Scriptorium states that the flintlock originated in France in the early 1600s, and by 1650 its use had spread throughout Europe . The striking platform (frizzen) and flash pan (where the priming powder is placed) on a flintlock are one piece, which made flintlocks easier to produce and more reliable. One of the first flintlock firearms to achieve widespread use both among civilians and the military is the Brown Bess of the 18th century, a smoothbore weapon.

The Gunflint

Earlier firearms such as matchlocks and wheellocks lacked reliability. The use of gunflints made weapons, like flintlock pistols, much more reliable. A gunflint is a squarish-shaped piece of flint or chert rock (and inch or two in size) that is sharpened along its edges. When the edge of the gunflint strikes the steel frizzen, it creates sparks that ignite the gunpowder in the flashpan, which in turn ignites the powder in the barrel.

Early Flintlock Pistols

The invention of the flintlock created the ability to make smaller, more concealable, pistols, which in turn greatly increased their popularity. They became a popular weapon for hand-to-hand combat in naval battles, and they also became popular as "dueling" pistols for the wealthy. Most military officers also carried flintlock pistols. Great Britain and France produced the majority of early pistols used throughout the world, and by the early 1800s, the United States produced high-quality pistols.

Harpers Ferry Model 1806

The Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn, called the first U.S. military pistols "horsemen's pistols" that were to be made in pairs. The federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry manufactured the .54-calibre pistols, and production peaked in 1808. The barrels of the model 1806 are 10 inches long, and the pistol itself is 16 inches long. Other models followed at Harpers Ferry until the late 1830s when the shift to percussion cap arms began in earnest.

Reproduction Flintlock Pistols

Period flintlock pistols are somewhat rare and valuable, and the firing of historical weapons is not recommended. However, historical firearm enthusiasts can purchase and fire a variety of high-quality, reproduction flintlock pistols that are identical to the historical ones. They are popular among Colonial-era re-enactors. One gunsmith that makes superior reproduction flintlock pistols is Davide Pedersoli & Company of Italy. A popular dealer in reproduction firearms is Dixie Gun Works of Tennessee.

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