Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Cookson Repeater

In our last post, we studied the Lorenzoni Repeater, which was invented by Michele Lorenzoni of Florence, Italy. While Mr. Lorenzoni was the inventor of this repeating system, he is known to have made only a few guns (albeit, of very high quality) in his lifetime. While his family continued producing guns using his system until the 1800s, there were other people who produced many more guns using the system that he pioneered. One of these guns was called the Cookson Repeater and we will study it in this post.

John Cookson was a British gunsmith from London, who made several repeating guns using the Lorenzoni system.

Side view and top view of a Cookson repeater. Click on image to enlarge. Public domain image.

The above weapon is an example of the Cookson repeater, found at the National Museum in Washington DC. It dates from about 1686 and has the inscription "John Cookson Fecit" (Latin for "Made by John Cookson") on the top barrel. The long lever that operates the Lorenzoni repeating system can clearly be seen in the above image. It is hard to tell if the barrel is of the laminated type or the twist type. The front side is an upside down crescent and practically all of the metal on this gun is engraved with flags, drums, cannon balls, cannon being fired, muskets, pikes etc.. On the lock is a scroll bearing the maker's name and held up on the left side by the figure of an angel and on the right side by a female figure (presumably Queen Elizabeth I).

The gun has a smoothbore barrel, uses a flintlock firing mechanism and fires spherical balls weighing about 260 grains, with about 125 grains of powder. The bullet magazine has the capacity to hold ten bullets and the powder magazine holds enough powder for ten shots.

In the above diagram, we see the workings of the Cookson repeater. The bullets and powder can be loaded via a flap on the left side into the two compartments A and B. Compartment A holds the bullets and B holds the powder. The round piece C is the revolving breech block and it has two cavities D and E within it, to hold the powder and the bullet ball. When the breech block C is revolved, a ball drops into the first cavity D and the powder falls into the second cavity E. Note that the front of the cavity E has a diaphragm G in front, which divides the cavity in half. This diaphragm is there to prevents a bullet from falling into cavity E, as the width of the entrance to the cavity is too small for the bullet to fit. As the breech block is revolved all the way around, the ball and powder drop into the rear end of the bore at F. Some of the powder also dribbles into the firing pan. Moving the lever further also cocks the flintlock and closes the pan's cover (the frizzen) and the weapon is now ready to fire. The whole process of reloading a new shot only takes two or three seconds, giving its user a huge advantage over other firearms of that era.

The stock is made of a type of wood that is not found in North America. This gun appears to have made its way to Maryland, probably brought by one of the early British colonists to America.

Two images of a Cookson Repeater in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, England. Click on images to enlarge.

The above two images show a fine Cookson repeater dating from about 1690, which is currently at the Victoria & Albert museum in London, England (British Galleries, room 56d, case 5). John Cookson is known to have made several repeaters and one of his guns is even marked "Fecit Londoni" (Latin for "Made in London"), suggesting that he was a London-based gun maker and he's known to have been active in the last quarter of the 17th century.

Incidentally, there is a record of another John Cookson, a gunmaker in America. This John Cookson is also known for making repeaters and is known to have lived in the city of Boston between 1701 and 1762. Some authorities say that this John Cookson was related to John Cookson from London and others say that he was the same man and had merely moved from London to Boston. Regardless, in 1756, he published an ad in the local newspaper, Boston Gazette, advertising his nine-shot repeaters. He is also known to have made some seven-shot repeaters as well.

The video below shows a Cookson-type twelve shot repeater in the National Firearms Museum.

The above repeater was made around 1750 by John Shaw, who lived in London and Boston. He is reported to have died in Boston under rather strange circumstances. Apparently, he was attempting to demonstrate the waterproof nature of one of his repeaters in the middle of a thunderstorm, when he was struck by lightning!

Since John Cookson made so many examples of repeating guns, people in Britain and America tend to know his name better than Michele Lorenzoni, who actually pioneered the system behind the Cookson repeaters.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Lorenzoni Repeater

In our last post, we looked at an early weapon that was capable of rapid reloading, the Kalthoff repeater. In today's post, we will look at another weapon's system from that era that attempted to solve the same problem, the Lorenzoni repeater.

As was mentioned in our previous post, the main issue with early firearms was that, after shooting a shot, the user would have to spend some time reloading the weapon, before he could fire again. Before the invention of technologies such as cartridges and breech-loading weapons, reloading was a process that took a minute or two. Since a firearm is useless unless it is loaded, gunsmiths were trying to reduce the reloading time as much as possible. One of these inventions was the Lorenzoni repeater.

The Lorenzoni repeating system was invented by a gunsmith named Michele Lorenzoni from Florence, Italy around 1660 or so. He used it for both muskets as well as pistols.

Click on images to enlarge.

It consists of a firearm which has two magazines located above the trigger. The top one holds bullets and the bottom one holds the gunpowder. There is a long lever located on the left side, which can be used to move a revolving breech drum. The drum has two chambers within it.

To reload this firearm, the user points the gun downwards and rotates the long lever forward and back. On the forward motion, a measured amount of gunpowder and a single ball fall from their respective magazines into their separate chambers in the revolving breech drum. As the lever is pushed to its forward most point, it also cocks the flintlock and closes the frizzen cover. Then as the lever is pushed back, the ball and gunpowder that were loaded into the revolving breech chambers earlier, fall into the firearm breech. A little extra gunpowder falls into the firing pan and the gun is now ready to fire.

A pistol using the Lorenzoni system. Click on image to enlarge.

The revolving breech block is very precisely made, so that it seals off the powder magazine when the long lever is moved back into position. This is so that when the weapon is fired, the flame does not travel backward into the powder magazine and ignite it. A typical weapon of this type holds about 6-10 shots and it only takes a few seconds to reload between shots. Therefore, this weapon gave its user an immense advantage over other firearms of that era.

Here's a video demonstrating how the system works from the Forgotten Weapons blog:

As with the Kalthoff system, a firearm using this system needed very skilled machinists to manufacture and repair it. Therefore, this was not used for mass produced firearms. Also, because black powder burns dirty, powder fouling becomes a problem after a few shots. Firearms using this system were of high quality and usually purchased by wealthy people.

Michele Lorenzoni is known to have made a few of these weapons using this system, but they are very rare today. His family continued to make weapons using this system, well into the 18th century. His invention was also used by other people. It is recorded that an English gunmaker named Abraham Hill appropriated and patented the Lorenzoni system in London on 3rd March 1664. The very next day, the famous English diarist, naval administrator and member of parliament, Samuel Pepys, recorded in his diary that "There were several people by trying a new-fashion gun brought my Lord this morning, to shoot off often, one after another, without trouble or danger, very pretty".

The Lorenzoni system also saw use in America, in the form of the Cookson gun, which we will study in the next post.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Kalthoff Repeater

In the early days of firearms, when most of them were muzzleloaders, reloading a firearm after it was shot took some time to accomplish. Today, we will study a firearm that attempted to solve this issue, the Kalthoff Repeater.

First, we should go into the origin of the name: This repeater was actually invented by an unknown inventor in the 17th century, but many of them were later manufactured by the Kalthoff family of gunsmiths and hence, they are now commonly referred to as Kalthoff repeaters.

The first known member of this gunsmithing family was Herman Kolthoff (1540-1610), who came from the town of Kultenhof in the Westphalia region of Germany (back in Herman Kolthoff's times, this area was part of the Danish duchy of Schleswig). He was a well known and rich person, famous for his iron manufacturing factories. He had several sons, who served as gunsmiths for various royal families across Europe: Peter Kalthoff (1600-1672), who served Fredrick III of Denmark as Head of Armory; Matthias Kalthoff, another Danish gunmaker; Caspar Kalthoff the Elder (1606-1664), who served under Charles I in England; Henric Kalthoff (1610-1661) who founded several ironworking foundries in Sweden and Norway etc. Some of their other descendants were also gunsmiths, e.g. Caspar Kalthoff the Younger, son of Caspar Kalthoff the Elder, who served as gunsmith for both Charles II of England and Tsar Alexis I of Russia.

The Kalthoff repeater is a smoothbore musket with two magazines. The first magazine is located in the forearm section of the musket and contains round bullet balls. A second magazine is located within the stock of the firearm and stores gunpowder.

A Kalthoff repeater. Click on image to enlarge.

Much like the lever-action rifle which was invented two centuries later, the trigger guard is actually a lever that helps operate this weapon. Upon pushing and pulling the trigger guard, the mechanism puts a charge of gunpowder and a ball into the breech of the weapon and then cocks the weapon. A small carrier device carries the powder from the magazine to the breech, to prevent the danger of the flame reaching the powder magazine. The user only has to manipulate the trigger guard lever, add some priming powder to the firing pan and the weapon is ready to fire. In some models, there is no need for the user to add priming powder to the pan manually, as there is a third magazine to feed the priming powder automatically.

Firing mechanism on some early models were wheel-locks and later models were flintlocks. Early models held six or seven shots, later there were some twelve shot models made and even one that claims to hold thirty shots. Typical reload time was one or two seconds, which gave this weapon a huge advantage over any other weapon in the 17th century. In fact, it wasn't until the middle of the 19th century that any other weapon came close to matching the rate of fire of a Kalthoff repeater.

However, this type of weapon was mostly used by rich people only. The mechanism was complicated and needed a specialized gunsmith to assemble and repair it. Also, wet powder and powder fouling could jam the mechanism easily. Therefore, this made it unsuitable for general military use and only rich people and elite military units used it. One example of military use was about 100 of these guns used by the Danish Royal Foot Guards in the Scanian war.

Some fine examples of this type of weapon exist in museums today:

Seven shot Kalthoff repeater

The above fine hunting gun is a seven-shot model that was made in London in 1658 and is now in the Moscow Kremlin museum. Inscriptions on it say that it was made by Caspar Kalthoff the Elder and Harman Barne (otherwise known as Haerman Barnevelt). This weapon was presented to Tsar Fyodor Alexeevich of Russia in 1664, by the British ambassador Prince Charles Howard. A similar gun with the inscription, C. Kalthoff, from around 1660, is in the Royal collection in Windsor Castle.

The gun has a seven bullet magazine in the fore-end and a powder magazine in the lock part of the wooden stock. In the safety catch is a transporter that holds a little more gunpowder than is necessary for firing. To reload, the user points the gun upwards and then moves the trigger guard 180 degrees forward and back. This has the effect of moving the sliding blocks to load a bullet and gunpowder into the breech and cocks the weapon. The remaining gun powder that is left in the transporter is then tipped out on to the priming pan and the gun is ready to fire.

The gun is made of steel, copper alloy and high quality walnut wood. A hunting scene featuring dogs and a deer are engraved on the lock plate, a dragon is engraved on the cocking piece and there are other decorative engravings, carvings and gold inlays on the weapon as well.

The Kalthoff family were not the only people that made this type of firearm though:

Five shot repeater

The above example can also be found in the Moscow Kremlin museum. It is a five-shot repeater and was made in London around 1660, by the above mentioned Harman Barne (Haerman Barnevelt). Harman Barne was a Dutch gunmaker, who moved to London and became a Gunmaker to King Charles I and Charles II, as well as Prince Rupert of England. This fine weapon is also made of steel and walnut wood with fine engravings, carvings and gold inlays. Unlike the previous example, this weapon has a rifled barrel with 8 grooves in it.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Nock Gun

In today's post, we will study a multi-barrel firearm known as the Nock gun.

Henry Nock was originally a British locksmith, but in 1775, he invented a firearm lock and received a patent for it. During this period, the London Gunmakers guild (The Worshipful Company of Gunmakers) had influenced lawmakers in England to pass laws that made it impossible for non-guild members to manufacture or trade in firearms. As Henry Nock was not yet a member of the Gunmakers guild, he could not legally form a firearm company under his own name. Hence, he took on a couple of partners: William Jover and John Green. The new company was named Nock, Jover & Co. and William Jover was already a Master of the Gunmakers Company guild, thereby allowing the company to legally trade in firearms. The American Revolution caused Nock's company to receive a large amount of business and his company began to grow. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars were also profitable for this company, as it received several orders from the British Army and Navy.

What we know as the Nock gun was not invented by Henry Nock. It was actually invented by a British engineer named James Wilson in 1779, but since James Wilson could not himself manufacture the firearm, he came to Nock's company to manufacture the prototypes for him. In 1780, the Royal Navy commissioned Nock to produce 500 of these guns for use on their ships and the firearm was popularly referred to as the Nock gun instead of the Wilson gun.

Click on image to enlarge. Public domain image

The Nock gun is a 7-barrel fiream using a flintlock firing mechanism. Six of the barrels are arranged in a hexagonal arrangement around the seventh central barrel. The central barrel has small vents that link to the other six barrels. The firing pan connects to the central barrel and when the charge in the central barrel ignites, the flame spreads through the small vents to the other six barrels and discharges all seven barrels almost simultaneously (at least in theory. In practice, not all the barrels would always discharge). The first three firearms delivered to the Royal Navy had rifled barrels, but since they took too long to load, all the later models came with smoothbore barrels.

Click on image to enlarge. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license by jim.rocco at wikipedia.

The British Navy had decided that since shipboard battles generally involved sailors and marines packed together in tight masses, what was needed was a weapon that could shoot a large volume of shot. This firearm was intended to be carried onto a ship's rigging and to fire at the deck below, in the event that the ship was boarded by the enemy.

In theory, this weapon could inflict heavy damage to an incoming group of enemy soldiers. In actual practice, this weapon was actually much more hazardous to its user. Due to the simultaneous discharge of seven barrels, the recoil was pretty large and often ended up bruising or breaking the shoulder of the person operating it. The recoil also made the firearm hard to control and accuracy suffered as a result. Hence, many sailors didn't want to use this weapon at all. On top of that, firing the weapon would often cause a large number of sparks to fly out of the side of the firing pan. Hence, the naval officers were reluctant to use these firearms near their ships rigging, because they feared that they could start fires and burn through the rigging and sails. The Nock company tried producing a smaller and lighter version, but the recoil was still too much for an average sailor to operate and the British Navy ended up phasing these out of service by 1804.

Meanwhile, Henry Nock was officially accepted as a Freeman of the Gunmakers Company guild in 1784 and as a Master of the Gunmakers Company guild in 1802. His company became well known for their quality double barreled hunting rifles and duelling pistols. After his death in 1804, his company was continued by his son-in-law James Wilkinson, who later brought his son, Henry, into the business and renamed the company to Wilkinson & Son around 1818. The company diversified into making firearms as well as swords and was later renamed to Wilkinson Sword in 1864. In 1903, when British firearm laws were modified to make it harder to sell firearms to the public, the company started to diversify into several other products, such as automobiles, ceremonial swords, typewriters, gardening tools, scissors and even razor blades (in 1965). In fact, the company continued to make ceremonial swords for British officers until 2005 and the company is still known for its razors and razor blades (they are one of the few manufacturers that still make the old-fashioned double edged safety razor blades)

While the Nock gun was only used in service for a few years, one showed up in the iconic 1960 movie, The Alamo, starring Richard Widmark as Jim Bowie.