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Old 19th September 2008, 05:18 PM   #1
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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Bavaria, Germany - the center of 15th and 16th century gunmaking
Posts: 4,310
Default One of the world's earliest known wheel-lock mechanisms, ca. 1535-40

When enquiring about the wheel-lock ingintion on the world wide web you will almost inevitably bump into one story: the legend of a certain Johann Kiefuß of Nuremberg, who is said to have invented to wheel-lock in 1517 exactly.
Sadly, this silly mistake made by writers in the second half of the 19th century when historical weaponry was still taking its first steps in science, is repeated again and again. Still, it is nothing but a story.

As scholars like Claude Blair pointed out decades ago, the wheel-lock ignition principle had been well known since at least the later years of the 15th century and depicted in scrapbooks like Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Atlanticus, although not as a mechanical part for igniting a firearm but as a tinder lighter used in everyday life.

To cut a long story short, the political leaders like Maximilian I very soon grabbed the completely new and dangerous potential of this self-igniting mechanism. For the first time in history, the wheel-lock enabled an assailant to make an attempt out of the blue, with no fondling with either open fire or a smoldering match required! Consequently, Maximilian I released a prohibition edict on self-igniting guns in 1518, I think, which Maximilian's follower, Charles V - though being an avid wheel-lock fan himself - , kept up until his retirement in the mid-1550's.

Due to such restrictions, the number of wheel-locks legally produced was, of course, actually very limited during the first half of the 16th century while increasing rapidly from ca. the 1560's when it was no longer banned.

This stunningly well-preserved sample is almost certainly of North Italian (Brescia?) make and can be dated to ca. 1535-40 on the ground of stylistc features to be found on similar locks dug out from bogs in Hungary; they were part of the equipment of a boat with harquebusiers on board which shipwrecked on the Danube near Komorn in 1541.

The piece of pyrites screwed in the jaws of the dog was pressed on the wheel by a spring, and the wheel was wound up against the main spring. If released by pulling the trigger - rarely enough, the trigger is an integral part of the lock plate here which suggests that this lock was meant to fire a combination weapon like, e.g., a battle hammer, combined with a barrel - the main spring would quickly snap back and force the spinning wheel to produce sparks from the pyrites. These sparks immediately ignited to priming powder in the pan where they were produced; this flame went right through the touch hole in the barrel and made the actual load explode.

I attach a b/w image of a small combined battle hammer and wheel-lock gun preserved in the collections in Schloss Ambras, The Tyrol, in order to convey an impression of what the whole piece may have looked like.

Enjoy this finely file-decorated and extremely rare lock as a sample of the arts and crafts of the early lock-smiths!

Matchlock (Michael)
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