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#574708 07/02/20 01:39 PM
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Sidelock
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There are wonderful threads on this board that follow individual makers, and models. In keeping with the spirit of sharing, and to provide a different distraction in these trying times, I am starting a thread on the pinfire game gun.

When I started researching and collecting British pinfire game guns some 25 years ago, there were few suitable reference books, the Internet was a plaything for University academics, and knowledge was something painstakingly gathered. Now there are amazing print and on-line references on British gunmakers and gunmaking, and sharing and exchanging information on-line is commonplace. While the research part has gotten easier, the gaps in knowledge are still there.

I expect some followers of this board already know quite a bit about pinfires. Many of you will have one or several in your collections, and I hope you will contribute to this thread. To those who are very familiar with the story of the British pinfire, I ask for your patience -- something in these posts will surely be new to you. I will try to cover as many makers, types and features as I can to make this interesting. I will be adding to this thread every few days.

So, here's going right back to the beginning of British breech-loaders.

At the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 an example of Casimir Lefaucheux's pinfire was on display, and Eugene Lefaucheux was on hand to answer any queries about its features. The British shooting press didn't make any notable mention of Lefaucheux's gun prior to the Great Exhibition, despite the gun being in use in France since the 1830s. Perhaps it was believed the British sportsman would stick to the muzzle-loader, and leave the "crutch-gun" to foreigners. With the benefit of hindsight it is easy to differentiate a curiosity from a real developmental step, but it was clearly not obvious back then.

British gunmakers could have just copied Casimir Lefaucheux's pinfire, much as the earlier generation of makers copied the French flintlock. The pinfire gun was, after all, a design in working use and not just a prototype. A straightforward copy with recognisable names on the lock plates might have been reassuring enough for at least some sportsmen to try the new system, and to make this possibility easier Lefaucheux did not patent his invention in Britain. This left the door open to anyone copying the gun and the cartridge system. That this didn't happen is an indication of the tremendous reluctance that existed towards this invention, pre-dating the Great Exhibition. Trusted names spoke ill of the French breech-loader, which seems to have deterred even the slightly curious. Who would want to try a gun boldly proclaimed by the experts to be unsafe? The muzzle-loader was also at its highest level of refinement, with quick-firing locks, strong barrels and quality craftsmanship. There would have to be a change to the design to make it palatable to the shooting community.

Giving a British character to the Continental pinfire was indeed the first step towards its acceptance. Not just a respected name, but a design make-over was needed. This is what Joseph Lang accomplished, by having a wooden fore-end instead of an iron one, substituting a discrete lever to release the barrels instead of the long Lefaucheux lever, limiting decoration to tasteful acanthus-leaf engraving and fine chequering, and, most importantly, sticking to the lines, proportions and dimensions of the British double-barrelled muzzle-loader.

The version offered by Lang is believed to have been first built by Edwin Charles Hodges, who convinced Lang to market it. Hodges became the most sought-after actioner of early breech-loaders, and his work was used by the top makers (this is not surprising, few at the time knew how to accomplish this task well). The Lang gun has the lever engaging with a single notch or bite on the barrel lump, relatively close to the hinge pin. This proved adequate but less robust than the later double-bite fastening mechanisms. The original Lefaucheux patent of 28 January 1833 clearly shows a double-bite fastener, and the addendum of 13 March 1833 shows the typical double-bite fastening mechanism found on Lefaucheux sporting guns. The Lefaucheux gun illustrated in The London Illustrated News of July 1851 appears to have had this typical double-bite mechanism, so it is anyone's guess as to why this engineering feature was not copied by Hodges and Lang. Perhaps they surmised that a single bite was sufficient to the task. It was nevertheless a good working design, as guns with this mechanism have survived hard use, and single-bite guns were made by many noted makers well into the 1860s, even after the double-bite fastener (the Henry Jones double screw grip) came into widespread acceptance.

The following is a good example of the early design, a 16-bore forward-underlever pinfire sporting gun by John Blissett of London, number 3742, possibly made before 1860. This is an early Lang-type single-bite forward-underlever action with the assisted-opening stud, and the action is signed by Edwin Charles Hodges. When the lever is opened fully, a rising stud on the action bar lifts the barrels slightly and makes it easier to fully open the gun and load/remove the cartridges. Curiously, Hodges or Lang never patented this feature. The 29 7/8" damascus barrels, signed "John Blissett, 322 High Holborn, London," still have mirror bores, despite the gun showing signs of great use and period repairs. The gun has thin fences typical of pre-1860 gun, and the hammers have prominent stylized cap guards, a carry-over from percussion guns. The back-action locks are signed "John Blissett London" and have foliate scroll engraving, with dog and game scenes. The stock escutcheon is vacant, but it is in gold instead of the usual silver.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
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[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

The IGC Database tells us that John Blissett was the son of Isaac Blissett, a gun maker and jeweller. John's father set him up in business as a gun maker and jeweller at 74 High Holborn, around 1834. In 1835 John Blissett moved to 321-322 High Holborn as a gun maker and repository for guns (selling second-hand guns), but his principal business address was 321 High Holborn. The 322 High Holborn business address started to be used in 1851. In the 1861 census John was recorded living at 322 High Holborn with his son William, also a gunmaker. In about 1866 the firm was re-named John Blissett & Son. John Blissett died in 1872, and William died in 1876. William James Tomes took over the business re-naming it Blissett Son & Tomes. In 1883 he moved the business to 98 High Holborn where he changed the name to Tomes & Co., and ceased trading in 1885.

Last edited by Steve Nash; 02/03/21 03:50 PM.
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Steve,
Very interesting, thank you.

An observation on the 'single bite.' Powell's patent action lifters (No.1163 of 1864)
were, for the most part, single bites (Some were fitted with a doll's head extension.).
The last pinfire lifter was sold in 1891 and the last centerfire in 1909.

Many of the centerfire version are still in active service with modern ammunition and seem to be holding-up quite well.

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Looking forward to your posts, Steve. This could be very interesting.


The world cries out for such: he is needed & needed badly- the man who can carry a message to Garcia
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I'll be looking in on this thread.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your notes on these guns.

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It's always a lot of fun to hear what Mr. Nash has learned over the years on pinfires and other subjects. I look forward to more posts.

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Here's another post before everyone gets busy with weekend festivities, to keep the momentum. Before delving into the various actions that blossomed in the 1860s, I'd like to stick with the first pattern a bit longer.

Finding any pinfire possibly made before 1860 is a real treat in my book. Various authors have proposed that before 1860 there were no more than a few hundred pinfire game guns in Britain, and that makes sense to me. In January 1857 Joseph Lang published a pamphlet in which he claimed to have been using his breech-loader for three years. This meshes well with the story that Edwin Charles Hodges built his breech-loader after the close of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and took it to Lang. By his own account, the first Lang breech-loader might have been produced in 1853, or early 1854. If so, that does not give much time to hand-build and sell a lot of guns. The earliest builders of breech-loaders, from contemporary accounts, were Lang, John Blanch, and Edward Michael Reilly. Blanch built his first pinfire in 1856. Exactly when Reilly might have started is unclear. A few provincial makers might well have started building breech-loaders around this time, but I can' confirm it. Purdey's first pinfire was built in 1858, and Boss & Co., under Stephen Grant, started producing pinfires in 1859, and sold 15 in that year. Before 1860, it was a small number of makers producing a small number of sporting guns, for a shooting public that already owned fine muzzle-loaders. It didn't help that sporting guns were built to last, as shown by the examples in still-usable condition surviving today.

The real business for a gunmaker was in fulfilling military contracts involving thousands of arms, and in cheap-but-serviceable guns as items of trade and barter in distant lands. A firm meeting these demands would have a large in-house capacity, afford water- or steam-powered machinery and factory space, as well as provide work for hundreds of outworkers supplying the trade. Of this type of business operating in the 1850s, I can't think of a better example than Barnett's. John Edward Barnett established his business in London in 1796, stocking pistols for the East India Company. In 1842 the firm was recorded as John Edward Barnett & Sons, in business at 134 Minories until 1859, and additionally at Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, from 1860 to 1874. Barnett's guns were usually simply marked "Barnett." Barnett supplied flint and percussion trade guns for the North American fur trade (notably to the Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company), and Barnett was also the most prolific of English manufacturers associated with the American Confederacy, having made and sold to them thousands of Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle-Muskets and P-1856 cavalry carbines.

With such a profitable business in martial and trade arms, you wouldn't think Barnett would bother with the tiny sporting gun market -- but they did, though Barnett sporting guns are rarely recorded. Perhaps with the emergence of the pinfire breech-loader in the 1850s the firm saw an opportunity to expand its trade, though in practice it never did go in that direction. They nevertheless sold the gun shown below under their name, but whether they made the gun from a barrelled action, or bought a ready-made gun and added their name to it, is anyone's guess. As to who would have wanted a Barnett-signed pinfire, rather than a gun from a respected sporting gun maker, is even more of a head-scratcher.

The gun is a 12-bore, number 7076. It has the Lang-type single-bite forward under-lever with assisted-opening stud, and the action bar is signed "Joseph Brazier". The back-action locks are signed "Barnett", and the top rib is simply signed "Barnett London". The 28 7/8" barrels are marked with London proofs. The gun is decorated with bold foliate-scroll engraving, and I particularly like the detail on the classic "dolphin" hammers. It has seen hard use and a few screws look to have been replaced, but it is in generally good order for what may be an 1850s pinfire. The bores are moderately pitted, and the gun weighs 6 lb 11 oz.

[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]
[Linked Image from i.imgur.com]

While the Brazier name is welcome information, it does not clarify how much of the gun was provided, or made, by this firm. Joseph Brazier was recorded as a gunlock maker and gun and pistol maker at The Ashes, Brickkiln Street, Wolverhampton, since at least 1827, and in the 1861 census he was listed as a master gunmaker employing 70 men and 20 boys. His firm might have provided the barrelled action and the locks, or it might have made the entire gun to Barnett's wishes. Brazier locks have always been in particularly high regard, and the locks on the Barnett still speak beautifully.

I did consider whether it could have been made by another "Barnett," but there were no others in the 19th Century that I could find. I also considered whether it was a spurious naming, as simply having "London" on a rib without a street address usually sends up a red flag -- but such guns are usually of a lesser quality (they probably wouldn't have Joseph Brazier parts), the name might be misspelled (eg. "Barnet"), the proof marks might be suspect, and so on. Such guns tended to show up in the 1870s and 1880s, and not in the 1850s when so few craftsmen were able to action a breech-loading gun to begin with. And at the end of the day, why choose a maker such as Barnett to plagiarize, when many other names would be better used in a scam? Last year at Holt's auction a superb percussion double-barrelled sporting gun signed Barnett was sold, so the firm did indeed make a small number of sporting guns. I've not encountered any other, and I'd appreciate hearing if anyone out there has encountered Barnett sporting guns.

Last edited by Steve Nash; 02/03/21 03:53 PM.
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Barnett is a new one for me. I hope someone can add information on him.

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I have a centerfire gun made about 1869 and is signed Joseph Brazier, Ashes all over, including “JB” on the extractor. Jones underlever. Signed “Thomas Johnson, Swaffham, Norfolk” on the rib. It is number three of a three gun set. I am convinced Brazier made either all of the gun or all the metal work. I have seen ads listing him as a gunmaker. IMO he did not continue with this venture long.


If we feed our faith our fears will starve, if we feed our fears our faith will starve.
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Powell used a Brazier action (as well as locks) on one or more of their earliest (1862)
breech loading pinfire guns. Brazier also has an action patent (No.259 of 1864).

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Stephen Nash knows more about UK pin-fires than any living man. I recently sent him a message about a March 1858 Reilly pin-fire extant gun...and received the usual gentlemanly and erudite reply. Birmingham is unlikely to have been able to have built center-break breech loaders for the trade - and there are very few London gunmakers who could have done it in early 1858.

One supposes that It was hard to image what turmoil was going on in the London gun-making fraternity at this time. There were very few gunsmiths who could turn out barrels with lumps, or actions with under-levers at the time. Blanch's epitaph mentions this..."everything was new..."

The fact that Reilly did change from the Lefaucheux forward under-lever to the Berringer around the trigger guard under-lever for the 1859 "The Field" trials was mentioned...here is the evidence: (book published early 1860 - but note the use of "Reilly & Co." used from Jan - Oct 1859....The text was probably written in Summer 1859 shortly after the trials:
https://books.google.com/books?id=gVIBAA...lly&f=false



And Stephen Nash...all of us need your reference book. Thanks for your intellectual work and your unfailing optimism and courtesy.

Last edited by Argo44; 07/05/20 09:04 PM.

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