Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Matchlock 18th June 2012 07:28 PM

Earliest Arquebusier's and Musketeer's Trapezoidal Powder Flasks, ca. 1530-1590
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I post this as most of these flasks, of which many are still around indeed, are commonly dated 'ca. 1600' to '17th c'.

Actually, these instances of period artwork prove that they were in use from at least ca. 1530; I cannot remember any illustrative source picturing a trapezoidal flask after ca. 1600.

We may therefore assume that both their manufacture and employment had generally stopped by the early 17th c.

As bandoliers equipped with ready-to-use powder measures are known to have been in use from at least ca. 1500 until the second half of the 17th c., it seems probable that, in a group of arquebusiers/musketeers, only very few members actually carried an additional large powder flask to provide bandolier refills when needed.

As these samples illustrate, the wooden body of the earliest of these flasks was sometimes covered with interwoven, even maybe embroidered, textiles to match the stock of the accompanying arquebuses which was decorated en suite.
Two of these matchlock arquebuses with velvet-covered stocks, of ca. 1540, are preserved in the Hofburg Museum in Vienna (traditionally just called the 'Wiener Waffensammlung').

The largest number of surviving examples with textile-covered body is preserved in the Graz armory; close examinations proved that their textiles actually were reused Gothic chasubles!

Please note that 16th c. triangular flasks are often depicted to be carried on the back by the arquebusier/musketeer!

Attachments, from top:

- 1529, from a painting by Ruprecht Heller, The Battle of Pavia, which took place in 1525 (2)

- 1554, The Battle of Marciano (2)

- ca. 1550, Jacob Binck (1)

- ca. 1560, Franz Brun (1), very similar to the foregoing

- ca. 1565-70, Stradanus, Medici Court painter (2)

- ca. 1585, Hendrick Goltzius (2)

- ca. 1590, Jacob de Gheyn (1)

- two arquebuses with textile-covered stock (the velvet now mostly rubbed, with only the remaining), ca. 1540, Vienna Waffensammlung (1)

For more on such flasks, please see


Matchlock 18th June 2012 08:21 PM

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One more close-up of the Vienna arquebuses; their stocks were originally covered with velvet of which only the backing layer has survived, due to bad rubbing.


The earlliest known surviving trapezoidal arquebusier's flasks, North Italy, ca. 1530-40, in the Stadtmusem Munich (Munich Arsenal) and author's collection. The way of embossment on the washers of the rings for suspension, the wavy line ornament decoration on the nozzle, the nozzle lid and spring wrought integrally and showing the characteristic wide bow known from springs illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci, and the serpent-shaped horizontal cut-off are features that can be found on the Vienna arquebuses and on other arquebuses of ca. 1530-40. The reincorcing iron mounts on the edges are of comparatively thin iron, attached by many small nails and punched in imitaion of a stitching pattern.
The leather pouch on the obverse was most certainly not designed to contain balls but small accouterments.

For further information and samples please see

Bottom: two instances of earliest trapezoidal flasks showing their reverse-mounted belt hooks; from paintings on the Conquest of Tunisia by Charles V, 1535, preserved in Coburg and Madrid respectively.


Matchlock 18th June 2012 08:37 PM

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Textile-covered trapezoidal powder and small priming flasks, ca. 1540-60, showing North Italian stylistic influence; in the Graz arsenal.

The cloth was reused from Gothic chasubles.

Please cf. the illustration by Stradanus posted above which exactly depicts this type of flasks.

The scan at the bottom depicts various types represented in Graz; from left: Nuremberg, from deliveries of 1577-78; the others: cloth-covered, in North Italian style, ca. 1540-60, including a small priming flask.
Please note that the larger flasks all retain their original nozzle cap attached to the horizontal cut-off by a delicate chain; this cap is missing from almost all surviving flasks.
An alternative but more elaborate and expensive way of covering the nozzle was a spring-loaded and lever-acted, laterally mounted cover, which however is very rare to find.

In the foreground: a curved caliverman's flask of bleeched and engraved cowhorn, Nuremberg, dated 1606; the bottom mount missing.

Author's photos.

For caliverman's flasks, ca. 1580-1620, please see:


Matchlock 19th June 2012 04:09 PM

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Remarkable samples in Schloss Konopiste, Czechia, the Castle of the d'Este family of Ferrara.

In North Italian style, ca. 1560-80, the wooden bodies painted red and black.
Author's photos.

Matchlock 19th June 2012 04:22 PM

Further North Italian Trapezoidal Flasks, in the Grand Master's Palace in Malta
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Ca. 1560-80.

The body of some painted red, some decorated with the Maltese Cross and with pierced decorative mounts.

The smaller ones are of course priming flasks.


Matchlock 19th June 2012 05:16 PM

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A small priming flask, the nozzle with rare spring-loaded cover, ca. 1580.

Schloss Burgk, Thuringia.
Author's photos.


Matchlock 24th June 2012 11:58 AM

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A third instance of one of the first and rarest type of trapezoidal powder flasks, combined with a leather pouch, and from the same series as the ones in post #2, ca. 1540, is preserved in the Polish Army Musem Warsaw, incorrectly dated '2nd half 17th c.'


Matchlock 24th June 2012 12:48 PM

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Three samples of surviving small trapezoidal priming flasks of earliest type, ca. 1540:

- Munich Armory Stadtmuseum), one piece only, seen amidst others of later type of ca. 1560-80 (color attachments)

- French private collection(s): Robert Marquisset/Jean-Pierre Yven, Poires à poudre, 1990, nos. 36 & 37 (b/w attachments)

Matchlock 24th June 2012 01:03 PM

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Saxon trapezoidal powder flasks with leather pouch, 1560's, the iron mounts blued, and retaining their original leather suspension strings with wooden beads on the draw-strings;
please note the archaic form of the serpent-shaped vertical cut-off:

Castle Museum Schwerin, Germany (top) and Wallace Colln., London (center);

and a rare variant of drop-like shape: Castle Museum, Schwerin (bottom.

Proveance: The Saxon Royal Collections.

Schwerin items: author's photos.

Further samples of both types: author's collection.


Matchlock 24th June 2012 01:42 PM

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Two Saxon trapezoidal flasks with leather pouch, 1560's-1570, both of finest quality, the iron mounts profusely etched, for officers of the Trabantenleibgarde of the Saxon Elector August (1553-1586):

Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

Pleaese note that on the first item, even the rings for suspension strings are etched!


Matchlock 25th June 2012 11:55 AM

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A rare German priming flask, probably Nuremberg, ca. 1580, the iron mounts figured and the top mount hinged for easy refills.
Height 18 cm.


Matchlock 25th June 2012 09:32 PM

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An arquebusier of Henry VIII's army, ca. 1540, carrying a trapezoid flask on his back.


Matchlock 25th June 2012 09:57 PM

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Trapezoid flasks of North Italian type, just like those in Konopiste (shown in post # 4), ca. 1550-60, are preserved in the famous historical collection at Schloss Ambras near Innsbruck, The Tyrol.
Only the basic layer of the original yellowish velvet covering the wooden body is preserved.
Please note the 1530's style flame-like ornaments on the nozzle and the central obverse mount.
(top two attachments, author's photos).

Another very rare sample from the same series failed to sell in an Italian auction in 2008 (following). Please note the pierced belt hook on the reverse.


Matchlock 27th June 2012 12:55 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Another instance of a Saxon rounded, 'drop-like' shaped powder flask with obverse leather pouch, ca. 1560's and smilar to the one in post # 9;
in the collection of the Fortress (Veste) Coburg, Northern Bavaria/Franconia.


Matchlock 27th June 2012 01:32 AM

3 Attachment(s)
Two small trapzezoid priming flasks, from Nuremberg deliveries of 1577-8, both featuring an unususal manually operated spring-loaded lever to cover and release the nozzle:

- the first: the wooden body covered with black velvet, the iron mounts tinned; Sotheby's, N.Y., June 15, 1991;

- the second: the wooden body covered with brown corduan leather, and displayed together with a powder flask of matching design, and complete with reverse belt hook; private colln.;

and another, the blackened wooden body with iron reinforcements on the edges painted with read lead (Mennige), ca. 1550; together with a caliverman's flask, ca. 1580-1600, the blackened wooden body of characteristic curved and flattened form, the edges reinforced with iron mounts (both sold at auction: Sotheby's, from the Collections of the Royal House of Hanover, Oct. 5-15, 2005).


Matchlock 27th June 2012 01:51 AM

1 Attachment(s)
Two trapezoid flasks with reverse-mounted belt hooks.
The one on the left of North Italian type, ca. 1550-60, the wooden body covered with blackened leather, and with highly figured iron mounts, the top mount fitted with a horizontal cut-off lever of characteristically early serpent-like zoomorphic shape;

The second, smaller, obviously from the large Nuremberg series of vast supplies to various armories, of 1577/8, the wooden body covered with black velvet, the edges with tinned iron reinforcements; the horizontal cut-off and spring missing from the top mount;
cf. two samples illustrated in the bottom attachments of post # 3, on the extreme left;

the original caps missing from both nozzles.

Both sold at auction: Sotheby's, from the Collections of the Royal House of Hanover, Oct. 5-15, 2005.


Matchlock 27th June 2012 02:06 AM

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A priming flask, ca. 1580-1600, the wooden body covered with corduan leather (rubbed), the edges reinforced with tinned iron; the delicate suspension chain does not belong.


Matchlock 27th June 2012 02:19 AM

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Another one, of Italian type, ca. 1560-70, the trapezoid body covered with corduan leather, the edges reinforces with tinned iron mounts.
The spring-loaded cut-off from the base of the top mount, the cap from the nozzle and the belt from the reverse side all missing.


Matchlock 28th June 2012 08:58 PM

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A very fine flask, Northern Italy, ca. 1550-60, the wooden body covered with tooled and embossed leather decorated with symmetric Renaissance foliage.
The belt hook and rings for suspension all missing.

Czerny, March 15, 2008.


Matchlock 29th June 2012 11:28 PM

3 Attachment(s)
A very early sample of a trapezoid arquebusier's or musketier's flask, the wooden body covered with white paper; Austria/Bavaria, ca. 1550-60.
Hermann Historica, May 2nd, 2007.

Similar samples preserved in the collection of Schloß Baldern (attached below, together with curved caliverman's flasks of ca. 1600); author's photo, 1985.


Matchlock 30th June 2012 08:20 PM

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There is a whole number of finely made and preserved trapezoid flasks in my collection, the finest of them all Nuremberg, ca. 1590-1600, the wooden body covered with blue velvet, and retaining its original purple woolen tassels (top attachments).
The spring loaded nozzle cap with its long lever is a feature found only on the best quality trapezoid flasks.

Next: a fine Nuremberg flask, from the deliveries to the Graz armory in 1577/8, the iron mounts tinned, the body covered with green velvet; the nozzle retaining its rare original cap attached by a delicate chain, and the four suspension rings retaining their original fine tassels of interwoven green, red, purple and yellow raw silk and wool!

Following a fine matching priming flask, Nuremberg, 1577/8.

And an Austrian flask, made in a Nuremberg workshop, ca. 1560/70, complete with its spring loaded nozzle cap and lever; the body covered with paper painted green, and the iron mounts retaining much of their original minium (red lead) paint (now mostly hidden beneath an 18th c. black lacquer);
the whole preserved in virtually 'untouched' condition throughout.
The colorful impact of this flasks represents the traditional basic colors of the Late Gothic period, red and green.


Matchlock 30th June 2012 08:42 PM

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A bottom view of my Austrian powder flask, retaining an old inventory paper label.

Next an early Nuremberg flask, ca. 1550-60, the woden body covered with leather, and retaining its original nozzle cap and leather suspension string.

Following two small priming flasks, the one on the left ca. 1560-80, the other of early type, ca. 1540-50.

And two more priming flasks, ca. 1560-80.

All author's collection.


Matchlock 30th June 2012 09:23 PM

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A detached top mount of a trapezoid powder flask; of wrought iron, copper soldered, ca. 1580-1600.


Matchlock 23rd July 2012 02:46 PM

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A good sample of a trapezoid musketeer's flask, of North Italian type, ca. 1580-1600 (incorrectly dated "1st half 17th c." by the auction house); the cap missing from the nozzle (the raised brim still visible), the horizontal cut-off lever pierced for the attachment chain (missing as well).


Matchlock 23rd July 2012 03:05 PM

8 Attachment(s)
A very good trapezoid flask, Nuremberg, ca. 1580, the wooden body covered with black velvet, the obverse mounts pierced wtith heart-shaped ornaments characteristic of the Nuremberg style, the nozzle cap with spring-loaded push lever, and retaining its reverse belt hook;
together with a small and early priming flask of North Italian type, ca. 1550, the top mount with high underside characteristic of earliest trapezoid flasks, the oberverse with a central medallion depicting Christ seated in an architectural landscape.
Sold Christie's.


Matchlock 24th July 2012 02:31 PM

4 Attachment(s)
Another very arachaic, mid-16th c. North Italian sample covered with embossed leather is preserved in ithe Imperial Castle Nuremberg.
It is only a bit younger than the ca. 1540's flasks shown in posts # 2 and 8 and shows a central medaillon similar to that on the flask in post # 25.


Matchlock 15th September 2012 01:54 PM

1533: The Second Earliest Document on Trapezoid Powder Flasks!
6 Attachment(s)
Hi all,

In addition to my studies on earliest trapezoid arquebusier's/musketeer's powder flasks,

I wish to add this important documentation here.

As I have pointed out, the obviously earliest source of period artwork concerning the use of trapezoid flasks are the representations of arquebusiers in the painting The Battle of Pavia (1525) by Ruprecht Heller, dated 1525, preserved in the National Museum Stockholm, 272:

The next-in-line document seems to be the painting by Melchior Feselen, The Battle of Alesia, dated 1533 (Bavarian National Museum Munich):
along with the earliest forms of powder horns, it pictures an arquebusier with a short matchlock arquebus and a trapezoid flask at the hip.

Attached find many details from that wonderful painting that includes all sorts of weapons, edged, hafted, fireams, armor and cannon alike, thus providing perfectly detailed studies for anybody interested in early-16th c. European arms and armor!
I have a 7 MB high resolution scan of that painting; anyone wishing to receive it please send me a message together with your email but make sure that your system is able to receive a 7 MB attachment!


Matchlock 7th December 2013 04:59 PM

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Jacob de Gheyn's musketeer filling the appropriate portion of powder from one of his bandolier flasks into the barrel of his musket, 1608.


Matchlock 7th December 2013 09:39 PM

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An almost identical trapezoid Nuremberg flask, the body covered with black velvet while in the case of my specimen it is perfect mdnight-blue (!, see images in post #21), was sold in one lot together with a remarkable North Italian/Austrian priming flask covered in hardened black leather featuring a good and detailed representation of what obviously seems to be a priest presenting the communion amidist a fight in front of a besieged town; at Christie's, London, Nov. 20, 1991 (author's photos).

The latter item was retaining an old brass inventory tag numbered 192 (possibly relating to the Princes of Liechtenstein Collection Schloss Vaduz), and the top mount was stamped with a modern row of invebtory cyphers.

The very same lot of two was resold at Bonhams, London, April 23, 2008.
Whoever bought them: feel complimented on acquiring some pretty good items of ca. 1570-1600!


Matchlock 8th December 2013 10:42 AM

8 Attachment(s)
Pieter Snayers (*1592 in Antwerp, + ca. 1667 in Brussels) was a famous and prolific painter of historic battle scenes.
Please note the battle formations as squares of musketeers, calivermen, pikemen etc., which were charateristic of that period of time.

From top:

- Battle of White Mountain near Prague, Nov. 8, 1620, the first big battle of the Thirty Years War (1618-48)

- Siege of the Fortress of Löwen near Vienna, with many close-ups of weapons and accouterments, such as matchlock muskets, musket rests, drums and lengths of matchcord kept in hand smoldering at both ends

- Siege of Vienna, June 5-12, 1619

- Battle of Lützen, Nov. 16, 1632, where the Swedish King Gustav Adolf died of musket wounds


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