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Flintlock Pistol Information

by Joe Steel
This flintlock dates to the Revolutionary War.

This flintlock dates to the Revolutionary War.

Coming into wide use in the 17th century, the flintlock replaced the earlier matchlock gun, which required a burning fuse, and the wheel lock, which was complicated and expensive. The basic mechanism of the flintlock is simple: When the trigger is pulled, a spring causes the striker, or frizzen, to strike the flint and create a spark. This ignites gunpowder in the priming pan, which in turn ignites the charge in the barrel, firing the gun.

Early Flintlock Pistols

The invention of the flintlock is usually ascribed to Marin le Bourgeoys, a Frenchman. French influence was considerable in the development and form of flintlock pistols in the 17th century, though regional styles also flourished. Pistols with decorated silver mounts for private owners became more widespread in the early 18th century, but military-issue pistols remained rather plain, according to "Firearms: An Illustrated History," from DK Publishing. The weapons were used for dueling and self-defense, and by the latter part of the 18th century reached their technical apogee.

Notable Pistols

In the first part of the 19th century manufacturers were turning out standardized, mass-produced flintlocks, until the advent of percussion weapons after the mid-1820s. Among the many notable flintlock pistols produced in the two centuries they dominated weapons types were the popular English Queen Anne, noted for its long, tapered barrel; and the American Model 1805 Harper's Ferry, the first pistol produced by the newly established federal arsenal in Harper's Ferry, in what is now West Virginia. Dueling pistols and other flintlocks command attention of collectors, while re-enactors standing in for Revolutionary War soldiers and mountain men, and other enthusiasts, have a plethora of reproduction flintlock pistols from which to choose.

About the Author

Joe Steel is a Northwest-based editor, writer and novelist, former news editor of an outdoor weekly. He also was an editor at a Seattle-based political weekly and editor of a monthly business magazine. He has been published in the "Seattle Times," the "Washington Post" and the "Foreign Service Journal," among other publications.

Photo Credits

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