Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Bavaria, Germany - the center of 15th and 16th century gunmaking
Rare and Highly Important Saxon Hemispherical Powder Flasks, ca. 1585-1595
These flasks originally belonged to the wheellock "Puffers" made for officers of the Trabanten-Leibgarde (body guard) of the Prince Electors of Saxony Christian I (reigned 1586-1591) and Christian II. (r. 1591-1611). They were carried in pairs, and in saddle holsters:
Four decades of closest studies have lead the author to the conclusion thatthe barrels and locks of those puffers actually were all wrought by the best Suhl gunsmiths. The underside of many of their barrels - invisible when stocked - bear deeply struck smiths' mark attributable to Suhl, as well as the plates of many wheellocks are struck with Suhl smiths' marks, e.g. the famous hammer mark. The author is convinced of the fact that even well-known Dresden gunsmiths like Abraham Dressler, Michael Müller or Zacharias Herold only acted as dealers furnishing the Saxon Court; their marks, of course, are found to be struck proudly on the upper surfaces of the octagonal breech but they doubtlessly bought all the iron parts from skilled Suhl smiths whose marks were concealed. Also, the most highly decorated fruitwood stocks (mostly pear) were all inlaid by the finest Thuringian workshops - especially that of Klaus Hirt von Wasungen - with engraved and colored (!) staghorn pellets, floral ranks and plates representing animals, and in such a profuse and dense manner that almost no wooden surface can be seen.
Much speculation has been done about the function of their big globular pommels; they have been believed to act as counterweight to the heavy barrels, or even for smashing in on opponent's head after the ball had missed him ...
Had the latter scenario ever taken place just one single time, all that would have been smashed, and gone to pieces, would have been the pommel itself since it was attached to the grip of the stock only by a short wooden peg and some glue. Also, a wooden rear ball weighing ca. 100 grams could never have balanced the heavy forward lock and barrel; an average Saxon puffer measured between 58 and 61 cm in length, at a weight of ca. 2 kg.
Actually, all these big pommels were good for was to provide a safe grip for the horseman's gloved hand reaching down to pull the pistol from the holster.
From ca. 1525 to 1550, a slightly flared asymmetric fishtail end of the butt stock of a short saddle arquebus (the term pistol was not in use by then) had served the same purpose. By the mid 16th century, the evolving Renaissance sense of style also influenced the look of weapons, and the edges of gun butt stocks got increasingly beveled, at first at the upper end. During the 1550's, those beveled edges got rounded more and more, with their rear end still flattened, until around 1560, the first small ovoid pommels entered the scene. Still, they retained remnants of the asymmetric Gothic taste, with their upper end notably raised. Only a decade later, though, the Renaissance symmetry had completely taken over and the rear finials of "pistol" butt stocks now showed a more globular shape, which kept growing until by the late 1570's, they had reached a relatively large ball-like shape, with their rear side still slightly flattened. That large ball pommel used to characterize all puffers up until ca. 1600 when, at the beginning of the 17th century, the fishtail butt was re-enlivened, but widely flared now and its edges becoming beveled again by ca. 1610-15.
Thus, after ruling the stylistic scene for about two decades, the large globular pommel had definitely gone out of style around 1600.
After these preliminary excursion, the characteristic shape of the hemispherical flasks in discussion can be understood to match the pistol pommels - apart from the fact that the rear side of the flasks was completely flat. Their decoration, though, was wrought exactly en suite with that of the pistols they accompanied, and the front plaques of the flasks were identical to the central pommel plates of the puffers they belonged to, all forming a perfect match.
Their outer appearance, depending on the guardsman's rank and his financial opportunities, ranged from the most simple variant of Dresden puffers with their ebonized pear wood stocks nubbed all over and sparsely inlaid with a few engraved staghorn panels.
Next, there was a version with with both grip and pommel of its unstained stock richly inlaid, but with the forestock left quite plain, and with much of the wood visible. This part decoration, of course, was just meant to be an eye catcher for the common people: when the horse guard passed, only the grips of the pistols were visible because the rest was covered by the holster.
The most highly decorated variant, however, was inlaid completely all over, and many of the staghorn plaques were colored, mostly green in order to emphasize the floral character of the motifs, like the hop cones and leaves.
Today, sadly almost all of the original staining of the inlays on firearms has gone, rubbed off in the course of time - just like the original bluing from the locks and barrels.
This is why those very few weapons that have come down to us retaining their pristine colorful magic over more than 400 years should be treated with utmost care, and preserved the way they are. They are bound to get rarer day by day. So when you have the chance to acquire a gun retaining some original bluing on its iron parts beneath an old patina and a few stains of rust - don't scrub that rust off; just apply some olive oil (any other oil will do as well) and the rust will be passivated, with the bluing living on.
Now the first flask discussed here represents the highest level of decoration imaginable, with the iron nozzle gilt and the wooden corpus encircled by a an ornamentally pierced gilt girdle. It sold last Saturday at Czerny's, Sarzana, Italy.
Enjoy, and compare it to the specimens that will be posted here by and by.
The bottom attachments depict the Saxon Electors Christian I (3 atts.) and Christian II.