Join Date: Nov 2013
The real mystery of the monk’s gun is why and how it became associated with the venerable Berthold Schwartz in the first place. The mythical Schwartz is by tradition associated not with the invention of gunpowder per se but specifically with its application to shooting in guns. Hence the often reproduced frontispiece to Furtenbach’s School of the Art of Gunnery of 1643 which depicts his moment of pyrotechnic revelation. Furtenbachs fanciful illustration at least proves that by the mid seventeenth century there was already an academic curiosity about how firearms were invented. Which is also about the time in which the mysterious Monks gun makes its appearance in the Rustkammer inventory. The Ducal Armory, later to become the Rustskammer, formed the foundation for what must be one of the earliest collections of arms and armor. The fist inventory of 1547 lists nearly 1500 weapons and by 1697 this had been extended to include collections of finely decorated firearms
The reason for the wide date range proposed for the Dresden gun is that if it could be ascribed to a date earlier than say 1500 it would help to explain the development of the Wheelock, which is Blair’s hypothesis. Although we are now agreed that rasp ignition in the form shown in the Dresden gun probably would not have worked, the principal is sound and it is not difficult to imagine how it could have been made to work using very simple technology. For example if the friction bar was attached to a lanyard perhaps vigorously yanked by an assistant using a full arm movement , amplified by the elasticity of the lanyard acting as a sort of spring to momentarily store and release energy, would in my view generate frictional speed sufficient to raise a spark. Since such a device wasn’t really practical for a hand held firearm this provided the impetus for ingenious minds to develop the Wheelock.
Therefore Michaels dating of the barrel of the Dresden gun of around 1525 / 30, which I am sure is correct, raises something of a problem. This places it in a period where the Wheelock was being actively developed and one would have thought the principles of friction ignition were sufficiently well understood to know that the Dresden gun was unlikely to work. However it is I suppose possible that a dilettante with a creative interest in firearms appalled by the cost and complexity of the Wheelock may have thought he had a simple solution and commissioned a gunsmith to make a pistol according to his design. However this would not explain its traditional association with the eponymous Berthold.
It is probably simply co incidence but the objects used to give fire to Bertolds exploding mortar looks to me very much like a rasp and pyrite’s rather than the conventional hand held flint and steel which one might expect. The action of creating fire with pyrites rather than flint and steel is a bit more complicated. Iron pyrite is classified as an iron sulfide crystalline mineral. Chemically it is FeS2. Like steel, when tiny pieces are dislodged by a blow, they react with oxygen in the air to produce a hot spark. Those tiny pieces of iron are oxidized extremely rapidly. This exothermic reaction produces heat adequate to ignite a fire. Any hard stone can be used to detach these spark producing particles, So you can strike fire from the pyrites itself, or more effectively the denser nodular form known as marcasite, using a flint . But as we also know pyrites doesn’t like being bashed as it s quite friable. Hence striking pyrites with steel requires a longer rasping action as in the illustration. We also know you can substitute a flint for the pyrites in a Wheelock, but the sparks are relatively feebly and quickly damage the wheel. Which raises the interesting question of whether the sparks in a pyrites ignition firearm result entirely from particles of steel stripped from the wheel, or whether some of these are generated from the pyrites itself.
Quoting from Furtebach;
See here what time and nature have brought to day through ingenious men the art of shooting in guns has been created out of the nature of fire and vapors of nature.
In choosing to illustrate and describe his allegory of the creation of firearms in this way is Furtenbach , who is after all historically much closer to the event than we are, crediting Friar Berthold not only with the discovery of the propellant potential of gunpowder but the means to give fire to it using rasp and pyrites?
Hence a rasp ignition firearm being described as the ‘ Monks gun ‘.