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Fernando K 25th July 2010 08:10 PM

The match lock of Leonardo da Vinci
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This is my first post in this forum. I have not access to bibliography, but I have be found that at Madrid Codex, folio 18 v - discovered in 1967 - is a "automatic" match lock design.

Only in the book of Harold Peterson y Robert Helman "The Great Guns" I found a reference to this subject, without any image, and confused with the flintlock: ".......sketch for a prototype of the flint-striking lock". Similarly, in the journal "Ciencia e Investigación" March 1998, spanish version of the magazine "Scientific American" there is an article de Vernard Foley "Leonardo da Vinci and the invention of the wheel - lock" without mention of this issue.

The short space does not allow me to dwell too much but I note that Leonardo invented or designed a tumbler moved by a spring and held by a sear of vertical motion, and moved the serpentine as occurred in the subsequent locks of snaphaunce, flint and percussion. In turn, the fall of the serpentine moved automatically the cover-pan, discovering the priming powder by means of a lever, as wold happen later in the snaphaunce locks of different sources (Netherlands, Arabic, Germanic and Italic or "a la florentina"). When mounting the serpentine, conversely, closing the pan.

Leonardo's drawings are sufficiently clear and explicit. I´m not aware of any such study in related publications about this matter.

Affectionately from Argentina,

Fernando Keilty

Jim McDougall 26th July 2010 03:19 PM

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Hi Fernando, and welcome to our forum! What a fascinating topic to enter with, nicely done. As you know we are interested in the history of all kinds of weapons here, and what more intriguing subject than the amazing Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). I feel certain that if we look far enough into his drawings or if more are found, we will find he may have invented the computer, or at least the concept.

I must confess I know extremely little on firearms, but am always willing to look into things with some research, and enjoy learning more. I will share what little I have discovered while we wait for our firearms sages to return from thier vacations :)

If I understand correctly, this codex (Madrid Codex 18v) holds a design for an 'automatic matchlock'. I am assuming, since I am unclear on the correct terminology, that this is perceived to be a 'wheellock', which uses a piece of material (typically iron pyrite) to ignite the powder and a rotating to wheel to strike it.
Since a match was of course a live burning cord in the matchlock (where are ya Michael!!!?:) this 'automatic' term must be toward the action of ignition, in this case automatically by striking a component rather than burning cord.

References I have found on the history of the 'wheellock' note that this action is believed to have been invented by a German mechanic, with a drawing from Germany dated 1505, with a subsequent Austrian purchase of one of these mechanisms in 1507. It is also noted that there are a number of scholars suggesting the DaVinci device as the true origin of the wheellock, presumably from these drawings.

For those just entering the realm of firearms, the terminology used in these early weapons is formidable, as there seems to be considerable dispute on correct application and usage. The term 'matchlock' seems pretty straight forward, as does wheellock, but others such as snaphaunce, doglock, and others seem confusing......with the venerable flintlock finally largely superceding all.

From what else I could discover, the wheellock was tremendously expensive for the times, and was never really widely used in the military, with the larger use of the matchlock in place until later in the 17th century with the advent of the flintlock firmly in place.

I really do look forward to hearing more views on this seemingly rather obscure DavInci development, and if it perceived by the early firearms community as a viable claim to the beginnings of the wheellock. Also, does anyone out there have information on the German drawings or origins?

Attached self portrait of Leonardo, and two illustrations of a later 16th century wheellock mechanism.

Again Fernando, welcome!!! and thank you for the great post!!! :)

All best regards,

Fernando K 26th July 2010 09:26 PM

Google translation:
Hi, Jim

First, declare that English is not my language, but this does not preclude that we do not understand.

I use the term "automatic" to express that the system has been referred to the fall of the coil and opening of the bowl, just press the shutter.

The ignition is reserved to a lit fuse.

In the drawing of Leonardo lack the bowl. This was forged in one piece with the barrel.

You will notice that in addition to the drawings, there is text and letters that identify the parts. But I do not know, and I hope further research in order to know.


Fernando Keilty

Original Spanish:
Hi, Jim

Ante todo, declaro que el ingles no es mi idioma, pero ello no será obice para que no nos entendamos.

He usado el término "automático" para expresar que el automatismo está referido a la caída del serpentin y a la apertura de la cazoleta, con solo apretar el disparador.

La ignición queda reservada a la mecha encendida.

En el dibujo de Leonardo falta la cazoleta. Esta estaba forjada en una sola pieza, con el cañón.

Notarán que además de los dibujos, hay texto y letras que identifican a las piezas. Pero no lo conozco, y espero una investigación mas profunda para conocerlo.


Fernando Keilty

Matchlock 27th July 2010 07:25 PM

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Originally Posted by Fernando K
Google translation:

The ignition is reserved to a lit fuse.

In the drawing of Leonardo lack the bowl. This was forged in one piece with the barrel.

Fernando Keilty

Hi Fernando K,

Thank you for your highly interesting post although Leonardo's drawings are well known basics in weaponry.

May I point out that an ignition pan (that's obviously what you mean by cazoleta) was never forged integrally with an iron barrel; as I pointed out in a former thread, they were always dovetailed and still today are easy to take off.
The attachments show the dovetailed pan of a mid 17th century German (Zella near Suhl) matchlock musket (author's collection).

The only exception was bronze (copper alloy) barrels where of course the pan was cast integrally.


Dmitry 27th July 2010 09:54 PM

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Spiridonov 28th July 2010 11:01 AM

sacrilege :mad:

Jim McDougall 28th July 2010 03:26 PM

Originally Posted by Spiridonov
sacrilege :mad:


Matchlock 28th July 2010 06:55 PM

I think I can assist in helping understand my friend Alexander: I'm sure with sacrilege he meant that the original load of powder was fired. If that were so indeed I would fully support his meaning.

Well, the photo shows the author and collector Merrill Lindsay (One Hundred Great Guns), who died some 20 years ago. The photo is taken from his less known book The Lure of Guns (1976). Unfortunately his own collection which was auctioned at Christie's revealed lots of failures due his not really experienced collector's eye.

Unforunately, the text does not refer to this photo, as often in his books. Lindsay bought that wrought iron barrel he is shown firing as an excavated find and I am sure he cleaned it very thoroughly as was his usage. In doing so I am absoutely sure he took out the original powder load. I once did the same with of my fine Munich haquebut barrel dated 1481 and have kept the load as kind of sacred ever since. Nevertheless, I tried to lit a small portion of it. Well, nothing happened. It was meal powder, of course. Not only had it gone wet and dried again many times of its 500 year history, its main substances had also become unmixed. So all it did was sparkle and bizz a litlle bit, but far from going up whoosh like a rocket.

To cut a long story short, I am far from believing that Lindsay used the original load for one reason or another. If we start from that presumption I think we should not call it a sacrilege - unless Alexander meant the fact of firing a 500 year old barrel. In that case I would say it is up to him how he feels about it. ;)


Jim McDougall 28th July 2010 07:13 PM

Thanks for explaining. Im sure this must have been quite apparant to those well versed in guns, but for novices like me we need more than a single word to get the meaning.

Dmitry 28th July 2010 08:49 PM

Originally Posted by Matchlock
Well, the photo shows the author and collector Merrill Lindsay (One Hundred Great Guns), who died some 20 years ago. The photo is taken from his less known book The Lure of Guns (1976).

I applaud your knowledge, sir!

Spiridonov 28th July 2010 09:12 PM

Michael, I see that some of the barrels of 15 th century were found charged. So I want to ask you. What is the mass of powder was charged? What type of wad was used? What was the diameter of the bullet? Was the double wad (Before the bullet and behind the bullet) ore single wad? On example of your barrel or Merrills barrel if you know it.
Best wishes, Alexander.

Matchlock 29th July 2010 05:41 PM

Oh Alexander, :)

It is true that 30 years of close studying have greatly added to my special knowledge; still I am afraid I'm not onmiscient. ;)

1. There was certainly no 'average' powder measure for each charge. In older sources we read that that the earliest 14th century barrels were loaded almost up to the muzzle so that the ball could literally be seen. Some of the Steinbüchsen of ca. 1400 which I recently posted, with their short actual barrels (Flug) and rather long powder breeches, seem to suggest a barrel length of ca. 2-3 balls imagined to be placed one above the other. No sure aiming ...

2. We know very little, if any, about wadding. Presumably in the 14th and 15th centuries, there was little or no wadding at all and most probably consisted of wooden or hemp plugs. There are illustrative sources of ca. 1400 showing a small stone gun (Steinbüchse) standing upright while being loaded by two men, with the ball seen at the muzzle and plugged by wooden wedges hammered in. This would mean that early plugging of loads actually meant plugging or wadding the ball rather than the powder load.

3. Concluding from the calibers of the earliest preserved barrels (Loshult and Berne guns and others but NOT Tannenberg!) we may assume that in those days, the average caliber of a small handgun was about 3 to 4.5 cm - cf. my earliest small stone ball I posted a few weeks ago. In the course of the 15th century, it narrowed down to ca. 1.5 to 2.0 cm.

4. Following what I said in paragraph 2, I believe that both waddings of the powder measure and double waddings were not common to the 14th and 15th centuries. No felt or hemp waddings are known before the early 16th century; I do have some felt plugs in my collection but cannot date them any closer than '16th to 18th century'. I have never had the chance to extract a wadded loading of an original barrel earlier than the beginning of the 17th century, and that was felt plugging the powder measure and separating it from the lead ball which again was wadded by a bunch of hemp and in some times, printed paper. With the arrival of paper cartridges in the first half of the 16th century it became wide use to rip off the ball with the teeth, pour the measure of powder down the barrel, 'spit' the rolling ball right after it, crumble the paper and put it in the muzzle as a wadding and then just ram the whole load down with two or three stomps of the ramrod.

5. The actual load of powder I extracted from my 1481 haquebut barrel was not very much indeed, maybe 50 grams. I guess it was just the remnants of a bigger original load which, together with the missing ball, had fallen out long time ago. It would therefore be mere conjecture to make a section drawing.
You will see it all within a few weeks anyway, you lucky devil! :cool: :eek:

Best wishes,

Philip 7th August 2010 06:01 AM

matchlocks with automatic pan-covers
Da Vinci's diagram is intriguing; the mechanism needed to enable a pan-cover to open mechanically is not that complex and it's a wonder that such a convenience was not put into widespread use. Michael, do you know of any German examples?

The only culture I am aware of that used guns of this type to any extent is India. And even here, they are rarely encountered. Stone (GLOSSARY..., p 442 fig 564, shows a typical example. Quite ingenious: the pivoting cover is flipped outward by a vertical leaf-spring fastened to the lockplate. When the gun is primed, the cover is pressed shut against the spring's pressure, and it's held in closed position by a swiveling dog- catch which is connected to the internal trigger/serpentine linkage via a bell-crank and push rod. The catch rotates backward slightly when the trigger is squeezed, and the spring opens the cover just as the serpentine descends with the glowing match.

I have examined another example, a crude and rustic piece of work, in which the pan cover slides forward via a mechanical linkage. The operation of this type of cover is analogous to the way pan-covers work on wheellocks and snaphaunces. The shape of the stock leads me to think that the gun may have originated in northeast India, possibly the Assam.

I'm not aware of automatic covers ever used in China or Japan.

Matchlock 7th August 2010 07:55 PM

Hi Philip,

For my reply to your question, please go to

Best wishes,

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