When did handguns become popular?
English: Small fire arms (pistols, revolvers); French: Armes à feu portatives; Italian: Armi da fuoco portatili.
Hugo Schneider (1979)
RDK VII, 866-875
The main feature of these predominantly powder-powered weapons is that they only require one hand for use and are held in the fist. They therefore have a relatively short run. As an analogy to the heavier rifles, the handguns, the use of which requires both hands, a more manoeuvrable, lighter weapon was sought early on, not only used by the infantry but especially by the mounted, whose one hand is reserved for the reins was, could be used. The carbine, in use by the cavalry since the 17th century, is an intermediate structure with its medium-long barrel. The oldest surviving F.s come from the early 16th century, although it is quite possible that there were already around 1500 individual ones .
There are three main groups: pistols, revolvers and machines (for naming the individual parts, see p. Fig. 1). Pistols were usually single-barreled and front-loaded. The exception was the turner, which had two or more barrels and had to be turned by hand around the longitudinal axis until the ignition hole was above the pan. But also rigid, superimposed barrels, operated by two locks, had been in use since the 16th century.
A German pair of pistols in the K.hist. Mus. Vienna, around 1550, and one in Tøjhusmus. Copenhagen, around 1550, should be mentioned [12, vol. 1, figs. 26 and 27].
The bundle pistol was developed in the 18th century, which led to the “Pepperbox” system around 1800 (cf. Fig. 4). Several bundled barrels with ignition pans, rotated around a central longitudinal axis by the trigger, enabled multiple shots to be fired. - Revolvers have a drum behind the single barrel, originally by hand, later automatically rotatable with several chambers for the loads. Simply by cocking the hammer or the trigger, the drum with a new charge is rotated behind the barrel opening and enables a faster firing sequence. - The machine, which has been ready for production since the 19th century, has a cartridge magazine from which shots can be fired individually or in series.
It is conceivable that the oldest F. were provided with matchlocks. However, no originals have survived. F. only became popular with the introduction of the wheel lock, which probably came from Italy (cf. Fig. 2). One of the oldest surviving pieces is dated 1534 and may have been the private weapon of Emperor Charles V.
According to recent studies, Leonardo da Vinci is the likely inventor of the wheel lock [13, vol. 1 p. 39]. In the Habsburg hereditary lands, the making and wearing of such "self-striking hand thugs that ignite" was forbidden in 1517 and any violation was severely punished. But already twenty years later this ban could no longer be upheld; Emperor Charles V himself seems to have shown great interest in the invention.
Around the same time, the snap lock was also developed in Central Europe. An early copy from 1580 is in the Germ. Nat.mus. in Nuremberg and comes from a workshop in Suhl.
This type, whose place of production can be deduced from the maker's mark on the lock plate [13, vol. 1, p. 179], was influenced by a Nordic system and imitated by Suhl masters, who since the 2nd half of the 16th century Thuringian city had developed into one of the most important centers of German handgun and F. production.
This system led to the invention of the French at the beginning of the 17th century. Flintlock or battery lock, which was adopted by almost all European gunsmiths for 200 years and which was only slightly improved (cf. Fig. 3). Only in Spain was the Miquelet Castle, popular there, a name from the 19th century, but which is generally recognized today, until after the Napoleonic period.
The shape of the franz. Flintlock is commonly referred to as the classic style. The pioneering gunsmiths were the French Thuraine and le Hollandois, who ran a workshop together, François Marcou and Bertrand Piraube [13, vol. 1 pp. 309-11].
It was only with the introduction of the blasting powder and the metal cartridge, shortly after 1800, that percussion ignition was made possible, although flintlock weapons were still used in parallel until the middle of the century. The rear loading developed from this time on, which was suitable for use in the field, allowed the revolver system to prevail at the expense of the pistols.
The barrel is mostly made of forged iron, but attempts have also been made with bronze. The masters in Liège were particularly specialized in this. The Zurich gunsmith Felix Werder knew how to make very thin brass barrels around 1630–50.
The barrels of the F were designed analogously to the handgun. The outer shape was originally round and tapered towards the muzzle. The wall thickness was accordingly thickest in the powder chamber in which the charge was located. But as early as the 16th century, angular barrels were forged in the back and round in the front half. There were also barrels with "compressed", thickened mouths to prevent them from cracking. In Scotland this thickening grew into a thistle blossom, with Turkish weapons it grew into a tulip shape [13, vol. 1 p. 13J. Since the F. were always only calculated for close combat, a reasonably precise aiming device with a sight notch and front sight is only found in the revolvers and modern automatic machines (Fig. 5). The earlier pistols had at most a lenticular grain. Likewise, there have only been drawn cartridges since the development of the metal cartridge. H. with twisted F. barrels.
Wood was mainly used for the stock, but horn, ivory and brass are also used as basic materials. Iron shafts were often preferred in Scotland. The modern machines have those made of sheet steel and plastic.
The stock had to ensure the best possible shot. It should lie well in the fist, it had to be connected to the barrel so firmly that the recoil could be absorbed when the shot was fired without damaging or losing the weapon, and at the same time the lock mechanism had to be mounted on it or in it. This is why the piston in particular is subject to constant changes in shape as the mechanisms change. We therefore find dagger-hilt, fishtail, and dagger-butt pistons (Fig. 2) in the 16th and early 17th centuries [13, vol. 1 p. 168f.]. The classical form developed in France around 1640. Special forms are regionally identifiable throughout the West. Modern machines contain the cartridge magazine in the piston.
When we mentioned that pistols were mostly muzzle-loaders, one must take into account that attempts were made with rear-loading early on to increase the readiness for fire. So rear-loading wheel-lock pistols from around 1540 are already known. Because the system can be closed like a tobacco box, it goes by the name “à la tabatière” [13, vol. 1 p. 211]. Another solution consisted of unscrewable barrels. It has been known since the 17th century and was still used occasionally around 1850. Likewise, attempts were made with tiltable barrels shortly after 1650. Similar systems have in part survived to this day.
The name F. indicates that powder was usually used as a propellant. However, experiments with compressed air were also initiated as early as the 17th century. It was generated with a pump in the cylinder located in the piston or mounted below it. As an exception, the pressure chamber was mounted as a jacket around the barrel. When the shot was fired, a recoil valve was operated. With individual weapons several shots could be fired with the same filling. In the external form, such weapons mostly retained the design features of the powder-blown pieces. An interesting pair of air or wind pistols comes from the Dresden master Georg Fehd and is dated 1655.
This couple is in tǿjhusmus. Copenhagen. Until around 1840, attempts were repeatedly made with compressed air. Such mechanisms were intended for hunting weapons. In military terms, wind-powered firearms were only ever used once.
While the weapons of war were mostly built in series and therefore worked very simply, the private weapons often had the characteristics of ostentatious objects. Barrel, shaft and lock offered the artisan and artist great opportunities. Several masters were involved in the production of such a luxurious F.: barrel and lock blacksmiths, stock makers, engravers, etchers and exchangers. Draftsmen and engravers designed and edited sample books, which the various masters used as models.
Anonymous French designs are known from the 16th century; in the 17th century names such as Jean Henequin from Metz, Philippe Cordier Daubigny in Aubigny, Thomas Picquot, François Marcou, Jean Bérain, C. Jacquinet (cf. Fig. 3), Claude Simonin, all Paris, to be particularly emphasized. The French The tradition was continued in the 18th century by Le Languedoc, De Lacollombe, Nicolas Guérard and Gilles de Marteau. For a long time the engraver Johann Smischek was the leader for the German-speaking area, who, coming from Prague, published engravings for rifle ornamentation in Munich under the title “Neues Groteschgen Büchlein” in 1604. The work was reprinted by Joh. Christoph Weigel. Sheets by the Augsburg engraver Joh. Elias Bidinger, whose first series of hunting scenes appeared in 1722, were often used as a source for German engravers, etchers and stockpakers.
The early barrels were either finely fluted and structured with bead rings for decoration, later they were exchanged for silver or gold, a technique in which French. and Spanish gunsmiths. A special achievement was the gilding of fish roe, in which gold was applied to a granulated surface on recessed iron. Ital. Masters specialized in iron cutting, with the ornament remaining sublime. Bluing or browning of the barrels was common. Damascene, i.e. welding iron rails of different hardness and their subsequent etching (cf. Damascus steel RDK III 1007–14) is well known from Southeastern Europe. English, French and German barrel smiths, who did not master this oriental technique, tried to simulate this precious damask by etching and painting on normally forged barrels in the early 19th century.
Probably the most widespread type of jewelry on the lock plates and fittings of the F. was the engraving (Fig. 3f.) and the iron cut. The masters from Northern Italy, especially those from Brescia, distinguished themselves as special specialists. The quality of the workshops of the Cominazzo family, Carlo Bottarelli or Stefano Scioli is illustrated by the fact that they had orders to perform for almost all European royal courts. The specialty was the very deep, figurative and plant-based relief decoration as well as the iron fittings, which are pierced in the manner of fine points, such as butt caps, lock and lock counter plates [5, Plates 17, 20, 56]. In the 18th century, heavily influenced by France, fittings were increasingly cast in non-ferrous metal, re-engraved and silver-plated or gold-plated throughout Europe.
The shaft jewelry was given special care from the very beginning. In the beginning mainly burl wood was used; In the 18th century, the more stable walnut wood was chosen, whereby raised tendril carvings were also often used as decoration on army weapons. German stockmakers developed great skill in inlay work. Bones, often colored, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, thin wires made of silver, gold, non-ferrous metal and iron were used as inlay material (cf. Fig. 2). Ivory was popular in Maastricht, although the ends of the shafts were usually carved into helmeted warriors' heads. The surviving specimens not only prove the high level of skill of the Dutch masters, they also shed light on the flourishing trade with Africa.
The most valuable shafts were made between 1630 and 1770, with Franz. Schäfter are probably among the greatest artisans in their field. The finely grained walnut wood formed the basic material, with particular emphasis on the contrast between light and dark wood. This effect was artificially increased by slightly scorching the surface above the flame [12, vol. 1, fig. 21 and 29].
While the barrels and locks were often provided with master's marks and logos (Fig. 4), the stockmen remained anonymous in most cases. Nevertheless, clear centers of the widespread gunsmithing trade can be identified from the mold jewelry, the quality of the material processing and the technical development. In the German-speaking area, Augsburg, Nuremberg (Fig. 2), Dresden and Munich are particularly emphasized. In the 17th century, Berlin, Braunschweig, Düsseldorf, Strasbourg, Suhl and Vienna joined them, and for the 18th century the families Stockmar in Suhl, Kuchenreuter from Regensburg and Zellner from Salzburg should be mentioned, whereby the list is essential could be enlarged. Since the 2nd half of the 17th century, however, the influence of France can be felt almost everywhere, an influence that did not diminish until the post-Napoleonic period. To the same extent, however, it can be ascertained that great impulses radiated from the individual centers, in that foreign gunsmiths passed their apprenticeship here or local masters emigrated voluntarily or forcibly - one thinks, for example, of the repeal of the Edict of Nantes in 1685; it may also be that the aforementioned pattern books became known in almost all of Europe. By the 18th century, Paris was a luxury producer of luxury goods. the absolute primacy.
Usually the pistols were made in pairs. The rider carried them in two pistol pouches mounted on either side of the front saddle arch. F. could also be part of a set that z. B. consisted of a bird shotgun, rifle, pair of pistols, powder and fuse flask and hunting knife. Pistols could also have a spring hook on the side with which the wearer stuck them to the belt. This fashion developed particularly in Scotland. As a result, the weapons manufactured there, in contrast to continental products, had the locks mounted not only on the right, but on the left in one piece and on the right in the other.
At the end of the 18th century, instead of the sword, the pistol became the popular dueling weapon, which - mostly in pairs - was embedded in the pistol case with all imaginable accessories. The fittings of these weapons were made less of precious or non-ferrous metal and more of blued and engraved iron. Pistol cases, often made of precious wood and lined with valuable material, belonged to the possession of every gentleman in the upper class [18, p. 96, 109 and 113].
Revolvers and machines were carried in leather bags, partly on a belt, partly on a shoulder strap. Pocket pistols and revolvers formed a special group. They were constructed so small that private individuals could carry them in their pockets, often wrapped in a rag, for reasons of self-protection.
The miniature F. They are only a few centimeters tall, form handicraft masterpieces, have the finest decor and are absolutely functional. The noble ladies wore them as gifts on necklaces and bracelets [21, p. 260].
Pomp-F. were very expensive and could only be bought by wealthy aristocrats or merchants. Sets were usually made to order for gift purposes, as can be seen from the inserted coat of arms and the corresponding dedications.
1. Schematic drawing of an F. with naming of the individual parts. Zchg. Author.
2. Zurich, Switzerland. L.mus., Inv. No. KZ 1118, wheel lock pistol with anus ball. Shaft and butt with leg inlays. Nuremberg, around 1600. Photo. Mus.
3. Zurich, Switzerland. L.mus., Inv. No. LM 51741, lock of a flintlock pistol by Jacques Aubert I, Geneva; Engraving based on models by the Parisian gunsmith and engraver C. Jacquinet 1660. Around 1665. Photo. Mus.
4. Zurich, Switzerland. L.mus., Inv. No. LM 51671, flintlock bundle revolver, "Pepperbox", with seven barrels, views from the right, above and below. Jean Henri Mairet, Les-Ponts-de-Martel, Neuchâtel, around 1750. Photo. Mus.
5. Bern, Confederation. Modellslg., Revolver by Rud. Schmidt, 1875. Photo. Switzerland. L.mus., Zurich.
1. John Nigel George, English Pistols and Revolvers, Onslow County 1938. - 2. William Keith Neal, Spanish Guns and Pistols, London 1955. - 3. Karl Dinklage, 400 years of Ferlach gunmaking, Klagenfurt 1958. - 4. Gerh. Buck and Wolfg. Weigel, Handguns, Melsungen 1962. - 5. Agostino Gaibi, Le armi da fuoco portatili ital., Milan 1962. - 6. Anthony William Finlay Taylerson, The Revolver 1865–1888, London 1966. - 7. Jack Dunlap, American, British and Continental Pepperbox Firearms, Palo Alto 1967. - 8. Claude Blair, Pistols of the World, London 1968. - 9. W. H. B. Smith, Book of Pistols and Revolvers, Harrisburg 1968. - 10. Nolfo di Carpegna, Armi da fuoco della coll. Odescalchi, Rome 1968. - 11. Frederik John Wilkinson, Flintlock Pistols, London 1969. - 12. John F. Hayward, The K. of the old gunsmiths, 2 volumes, ed. 1968–69 (German edition). - 13. Arne Hoff, Firearms, 2 volumes, Braunschweig 1969. - 14. Geoffrey Brothroyd, The Handgun, Kassel and London 1970. - 15. Eugène Heer, Business and development of military handguns in Switzerland from 1800 to the present, vol. 1, Die handfeuerwaffen from 1850 to the present, Graz 1971. - 16. Norman Dixon, Georgian Pistols, London 1971. - 17. Hans Schedelmann, The great gunsmiths, Braunschweig 1972. - 18. Merill Lindsay, Hist. of the arm à feu du XVe au XXe s., Freiburg i. Ü. 1972. - 19. Chrn. Reinhart and M. am Rhyn, Handguns I, muzzle loading pistols, revolvers, Dietikon and Zurich 1974. - 20th year B. Kist, R. B. F. van der Sloot, J. P. Puype and W. van der Mark, Dutch Muskets and pistols, Graz 1974. - 21. Helmut Nickel, Ullstein Waffenbuch, Bln., Ffm. And Vienna 1974. - 22. N. di Carpegna, Firearms in the Princes Odescalchi Coll. in Rome, Rome 1975. - 23. Hans-Peter Muster, Revolver Lex., Dietikon-Zurich 1976. - 24. Arne Hoff, Dutch Firearms, London 1978.
Recommended citation: Hugo Schneider, handguns, in: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. VII (1979), Sp. 866–875; in: RDK Labor, URL:
This text is published under the "Creative Commons Attribution - Non-Commercial - No Derivatives 3.0 Germany License". Re-use is permitted for non-commercial purposes in unchanged form, stating the author and the source in accordance with the above citation note. Please note the detailed information at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/de/.
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