Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Shakethetrees 30th July 2014 04:25 AM

Bronze cannon breech?
1 Attachment(s)

Some time back I picked this item up at an estate sale. The bore is roughly 2 inches in diameter. I included a ruler in the photo to give an overall idea of the scale. The bottom was filled with lead a long time ago up past the vent, which has been spiked by what appears to be a large headed iron nail!

It just reeks with character, and I have no intentions whatsoever to do anything to it.

My guess is that it is either French or Spanish, circa 17th century, but I defer to you guys, as my experience with firearms of this early period is limited!

Any info or ideas as to its point of origin and age would be appreciated.

Shakethetrees 30th July 2014 04:44 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Sorry, I am a beginner with a new resizing app. Here is a better image.

fernando 30th July 2014 06:04 PM

Not a cannon breech but one of these multiuse 'noise makers'; in this case to go bang during religious festivities, judging by the cross. No ammunition needed, just gunpowder and a wad. It is used upright.
I wouldn't think that it is spiked to avoid its functionality but to have a new life ... like for melting lead, as per your words.
The one (among several) that i have with a cross was bought in a French site.
They can be very old. Difficult to precise; maybe someone with more knowledge.

Matchlock 31st July 2014 12:42 PM

12 Attachment(s)
Hi Shakethetrees,

Don't let yourself get troubled.;)

Congratulations on the acquisition of what is doubtlessly a fine and very rare detached brass/bronze breech piece (chamber) from a breechloading wall gun, with its barrel mounted on a tripod or a wheeled carriage (German: Bockbüchse or Doppelhaken auf Bocklafette), and dating from the era of the Emperor Maximilian I, ca. 1500-10.

The barrel, originally cast together with a number of such interchangeable breech pieces, thus allowing rapid firing, was most certainly wrought at a Nuremberg or Tyrolean bronze foundry workshop which also specialized in church bells.

As a religious symbol, the cross on your detached breech piecewas cast in high relief integrally, and contoured by chiseling afterwards; the punched decoration of circles is characteristic of many wrought iron barrels and other items of ironworks or wood all made between ca. 1490 and 1530.

Following the three reworked images, I attached photos of a heavy wrought iron barrel of ca. 1480/90. Its top flat, too, shows the Late Gothic/Early Renaissance standard ornament of
punched circles. On my barrel, three of these circles are struck in line.
Actually, 3 has always been the most important of basic magic cyphers, in all cultures and from the earliest times. Its most common representation in Western European art history is the
Late Gothic/early Renaissance trefoil (German: Dreipass).

As I stated formerly, the trefoil ornament originally
derived from the shape of a bunch of grapes, being its most simplified and stylized representation, and contemporarily used by artisans of all arts and crafts alike - except when it came to illuminated manuscripts and illustrations in printed books. These arts, as well as paintings, engravings and woodcuts, to name just a few, usually depicted the real grapes, mostly within a running grapevine pattern.

As that

The Michael Trömner Collection

which I posted here earlier:

The general stout mug-like shape of this breech piece, as well as its rear (German: Bodenstück) and forward (German: Mündungskopf) bulged reinforcing sections, all account for a close and early dating of ca. 1st decade 16th century.

Please cf.
the dating criteria defined and set up for the first time ever by me:

What is most remarkable about your item is the fact that the touch hole got spiked
at some later date, with a wrought iron nail.
That simple way of rendering a cannon uselesss within seconds was a practice commonly applied in war - after the line of cannon
got overrun by the enemy's cavalry of infantry.

Spiking (German: das Zündloch (einer Kanone) vernageln) was also often employed as a means of repair to close a burned-out touch hole that allowed too much gass loss. The spiking done, a new and smaller touch hole could be either right struck while the nail red hot, or drilled.

In the case of your breech chamber, it seems that the gun it belonged to saw secondary use which as quite different from its original purpose: to receive, hold and eventually blow out a load of black powder, and a wooden muzzle plug, all of which would finally expel the ball ...

Attached find your photoshopped images, as well as some watercolors from the inventory books of the Maximilian arsenals, ca. 1502-1507, depicting brass/bronze barreled wall guns mounted on carriages, and served by two men each (German: Richt- und Feuerschütze).
One of them would aim the piece, and signal his companion when to ignite the priming powder on the pan with a red hot igniting iron (German: Loseisen); the latter had to be kept ready resting in a pot of charcoal all the time (German: Kohlebecken). Alternatively, a length of matchcord was used, consisting of twisted hemp (German: Luntenstrick) and clamped between the jaws of a forked stick.


Michael Trömner
Rebenstr. 9
D-93326 Abensberg
Bavaria, Germany
Self-established Academic Medievalist
Graduated from Regensburg University in 1982
Stipendiary recipient and Member of the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes, Bonn
Author of BEHÄLTNISSE FÜR KOSTBARES 1500-1700, 2005
Member of, with more than 4.100 threads and posts since 2008
M. of the Arms & Armour Society, London since 1991
M. of the Gesellschaft für Historische Waffen- und Kostümkunde e.V., Berlin since 1987
Special expertises in European weapons, ironworks and furniture of the 14th through the 17th centuries

Preservation and scientific documentation of museum collections

Matchlock 31st July 2014 03:47 PM

12 Attachment(s)

Attached below are photos of the spiked touch holes on the barrels of two guns in my collection.
Both have been illustrated in the attachments to my previous post.

The first one is my singular and highly important Nuremberg cast brass/bronze barreled wall gun (German: doppelter Doppelhaken) of ca. 1515-20.
Of course, that impressive monster cannot be termed an infantry long gun; with its overall length of 2,08 m and a weight of 35 kilos, it actually was a lighter piece of ordnance.

You can clearly see the rusty head of a wrought iron nail the original touch hole was spiked with, and a new and smaller touch hole obviously pierced with a few hammer blows.
Of course, this item was not a portable infantry long arm but a piece of lighter ordnance, and mounted on a tripod or a wheeled carriage, just like the ones depicted in the early 16th c. watercolors attached to the previous post.

For more profound information on this monstrous piece, please refer to my thread:

The other is the Nuremberg founded brass/bronze barrel mounted on the carriage of my lovely little GIECH cannon of ca. 1520-30 (German: Schlänglein or Tarrasbüchse).
This barrel is notable because it is not only finley made and chiseled, but is especially characteristic of arsenal arms in general, for showing the results of various stages of its apparantly very long working life.

Originally, the barrel was the essential part of a haquebut of ca. 1470, and mounted on the present carriage some 50 years later at the arsenal (German: Rüstkammer) of the Counts von Giech, on Schloss Giech in Thurnau near Bayreuth, Upper Franconia, during the Peasants Wars.

Actually, that cannon saw service and re-use over several periods of time, and at least until the mid-17th century, which means the latter years of the Thirty Years War.

Please see my thread:

Most remarkable are its featuring two! spiked touch holes.
The original first touch hole was drilled on the top flat of the barrel, with a small v-shaped trough chiseled out of the brass surface; later, and obviously burned out from heavy use, it got spiked.
On the right hand side flat,
another touch hole was pierced, and finally spiked for good- just like on our breeech in discussion.
A piece of wood underneath seems to have been broken off both crudely and deliberately, in order to attach an iron pan. Later-on, that pan obviously got removed, and the cannon was ignited once again through the first touch hole located on top of the barrel!
A typical arsenal piece story and history ...

Both these items preserved in
The Michael Trömner Collection.

All photos copyrighted by the author.

Shakethetrees 31st July 2014 09:50 PM


Thank you for your insight. As a new member of this forum, I am truly amazed at the breadth and depth of the knowledge that is out there!

Here in the US, we don't often get to see the very early weapons and accouterments that are a regular feature here.

I bought this along with another bronze mortar (18th century) of the typical noisemaker form, tapered along its length, a small tray or trough holding the priming powder, etc. I've seen dozens of them if not more over the forty odd years I've been interested in firearms. (It was traded away in a complex deal, the details of which I do not remember right now.)

I kept this one because of the different form; not tapered, mostly cylindrical, reinforces at the muzzle and breech, no pan or tray for the priming, a rounded "crown" to the muzzle, and, of course, the large iron nail. In essence, different from all other mortar/noisemakers that I have seen.

You've got quite a collection! Thank you again for your keen insight.

Matchlock 1st August 2014 10:22 AM

Hi Shakethetrees,

Thank you so much for your compliments!
When reading some of my threads will tell you more about me and my collection; just click on my user name Matchlock will to see my profile, and search or all my threads.

I am most curious to learn about the length, width and weight of your detached breech/chamber for a breechloading piece.
BTW, which of these terms do you prefer?

Should ever consider selling it, I would be glad to integrate it with my collection! I am sure we would find a way to manage that.
So please do keep me updated.

May I ask for good quality hi-rez photos of that item, at least 4 MB each, and zooming up on details such as

- the cross in high relief, and close-ups of the punched circles
- the muzzle flat gazing right at you :D
- a view of the muzzle, slightly slanted
- a few views of the bore, and all down to the bottom
(please take all the images in broad daylight but in the shade, not in sunshine, and use the flash additionally)

I sent you a PM!

Best for the moment being,

fernando 1st August 2014 03:36 PM

Hi Shakethetrees
I am sorry if i gave you a wrong perspective on your item. It wasn't a bad intent; only the way i saw it ... and still do :shrug: .


fernando 1st August 2014 05:27 PM

5 Attachment(s)
Originally Posted by Shakethetrees
... reinforces at the muzzle and breech ...

It was precisely these rims that took to realize that this wasn't a breech chamber. All chambers that i happen to know (and those that i keep) don't have any protuberances in both back and front. Such features do not help at all the matching of the chamber with the breech cavity and barrel entrance ... specialy considering that, once the chamber is introduced in the breech, you have to push it into the barrel and, in some cases, rotate it.
Actually what is often seen is a significant tapering of the chamber mouth, to provide for a better sealing when you push into the barrel.
Although i found somehow problematic that the front of handle is placed so far and close to the mouth, nearly preventing the chamber introduction into the barrel.
The absence of a lip in the touch hole, although often seen in noise makers, doesn't exist in many other cases; probably because in such case a match fuse is used, instead of loose priming powder being poured.


cornelistromp 2nd August 2014 12:02 PM

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I don't think it is a breech block from a breech loading cannon.
Breech blocks don't have/need reinforcing rings and the mouth of the block must be conical/tapering to to obtain a good seal.
I believe it is a thunder mug, but probably a early one 17th, 18thC . see large picture.


fernando 2nd August 2014 07:24 PM

Geat input and examples, Jasper.
After all, i wasn't that wrong :shrug:

Shakethetrees 4th August 2014 02:30 AM


I will try to get some larger photos for you, but it may be a while before I can set up, as I'm still involved in moving!

Shakethetrees 6th August 2014 10:29 PM


Good luck, and our thoughts are with you in your recent troubles.

I hope everything is resolved quickly and that ultimately some functionary snaps out of this insanity and listens to common sense!

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