Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Bavaria, Germany - the center of 15th and 16th century gunmaking
The watercolor attached below is from Cod. vind. 3069, dated 1411, ÖNB Wien (Austrian National Library, Vienna), fol. ....
Depicted are two men firing a handgun very similar to the one in
The Michael Trömner Collection
equipped with a mechanical lock action, and working on the Superimposed Load System:
esp. post #13;
The whole length of the barrel in the watercolor of 1411 gets filled up with a series of loads, consisting of dust- or meal-like blackpowder and a piece of lead clod shot, pierced with a small central vertical hole to allow the fine powder to run down through, and connect the firing process to the same loads below, back until to the rearward load at the breech. In this case, the gun is not fired from the actual touch hole, but from the amount of powder filling up the central hole of the clod shot placed at the muzzle.
Right there at the muzzle, when touched with the red-hot tip of an igniting iron, or a glowing piece of tinder or a length or matchcord, the fire of the explosion of the top load will immediately set off the load behind it, and so on.
Once on, the action cannot be interrupted, or stopped; the gun must be held pointing in the direction of the enemies for a few seconds, or it will cause 'friendly fire'. And you will be well advised to wait for a few seconds more beore pointing it off - just in case of an ignition failure, while sparks my be lingering in the barrel before setting off the last load.
Using superimposed loads must have proved very dangerous - to the shooter himself. It is the author's thesis that for that reason, very few such earliest high-tech guns were ever built to work on that principle, and there are very few surviving guns.
The earliest of them all is a sixteen-shot single-barrel combined wheellock and snap-tinderlock musket, the barrel and lock bearing Nuremberg marks, and the barrel dated 1595, was in the William Goodwin Renwick Collection (Sotheby's, London, .. 197 .. , lot ... ), and was sold at auction last Butterfields, San Francisco, ...., lot ... .
The gun in discussion here is 200 years older.
This six hundred year-old handgonne preserved in
The Michael Trömner Collection
definitely represents the earliest document ever of a high-tech gun, for
- featuring a mechanical lock action
- and being constructed for automated firing additionally.
With a length of only 31.8 cm, and a bore of ca. 20 mm, this barrel
may not have taken more than three to five superimposed loads, depending on the amount of the primitive mixtures of blackpowder * needed 600 years ago - the first automatic gun of the world had been invented.
In medieval Sweden gunpowder was called just “pulver”, wich translates into “powder”. There are quite a few old powder recipes still around, and the ones that suits our selected historical period
are referred to as, for example, Rouen, Lille, Rothenburg and Marcus Graecus. They all use the same ingredients, but the amounts differ. In the table below, they are compared to a modern “perfect”
Tests made at the Middelaldercenter in Nyköbing, Denmark show a correlation between higher muzzle velocity and higher amount of salpetre. The ingredients were ground up and mixed, resulting in a so called dry mixed powder. This can be used as it is, but it will be more effective if mixed with alcohol, shaped into bars or pellets and then ground again, producing wet mixed powder or meal powder. The alcohol dissolves the salpetre, and lets the tiny sulphur crystals divide and evenly on the grains of charcoal, making the powder burn more even. It is important to note that there has
been some debate about the use of alcohol in medieval gunpowder, as distilled beverages is barely known at the time. However, sources speak of a “Henricus Brännewattnmakare” (Henricus, maker of burnt (distilled) water, meaning a producer of alcohol) in the city of Lund in the 1350′s, wich means that alcohol was in use at the time. If it was used to make gunpowder we do not know. Sulphur could be collected in volcanic areas in Iceland or Italy, while salpetre was produced by collecting dung and urine from livestock, and processing it, to extract the salpetre. Charcoal was abundant in medieval society."
Obviously, the need of a fire power higher than the usual single shot, with intervals of loading procedure, must have made the gunmen long for a multishot technique, to get a better chance to survive; so the human mind started thinking of a solution.
On the other hand, the fact that the superimposed load technique required two men acting together, with utmost concentration and painstaking care for several minutes, cannot possibly have been carried out with war raging all around those two persons trying to keep cool and reload - amidst all the battle turmoil and melee.
The author's thesis is that for these facts, only very few guns built on that principle are known to still exist; almost none from the period before ca. 1660 is any private collection still. Almost all of the earliest samples are preserved in important museums, the latest being the multibarreled wheellock carbines once in the Henk L. Visser Collection. All of them are in the collections of the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, The Netherlands, today.
The fact is that the only 600 year-old single-barrel superimposed-load gun, which is moreover the earliest recorded and perfectly documented high-tech gun in the world - for retaining the oldest mechanic lock action and recoil-preventing hook- , is,
among other singularly important items,
The Michael Trömner Collection.
The author's conclusion is that
- all those earliest high-tech guns must have got loaded before the action started,
- must have taken special training, and
- a number of multishot guns must have been kept ready, loaded and primed, for use by a small group of specialist gunmen.
When regarding those contemporary illustrations which are invaluable sources of documentation for dating, and evaluating the actually surviving gun preserved in heavily patinated, virtually 'untocuched' original condition for more than half a millennium, we notice that, in the respective picture, the relations of the actual sizes of persons and items are not congruent.
All technical objects, the gun, as well as the accouterments like igniting irons, the lower half of the earliest bipartite "bullet" mold for casting several shots of lead simultaneously - and probably consisting of sloapstone;
or the pierced pieces of clod shot, are drawn out of size.
In the Middle Ages, and especially before, by the end of the 15th century, painters like Albrecht Dürer entered the art scene taking the Renaissance influence from Italy to Germany, all objects that represented inventions of technique or other amendments, and important for the artist to point out to his fellowmen, were pictured oversized so they would not be overlooked.
Consequently, less important people like the rural population and working men, the 'little ones', were shown much smaller in size than, e.g., the king who was generally portrayed talking to the lesser in full splendor, and wearing the golden crown.
Lower 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
- M. of the Arms & Armour Society, London since 1991
- M. of the Gesellschaft für Historische Waffen- und Kostümkunde e.V., Berlin since 1987
- Expertises in European weapons, ironworks, and furniture of the 14th through 17th centuries
- Preservation and academic documentation of museum collections