Join Date: Jul 2010
Location: St. Louis, MO area.
External Lock Safeties: The external dog style safety behind the hammer seems to have appeared around the Mid-17th Century - at least on English locks. On locks from that period, it was the only means of a safety as the tumblers on vertical sears had only one firing notch or one slot hole in the case of horizontal sears (ala snaphaunce). By the last quarter of the 17th Century, with the wider use of the true French style flintlock with the second safety notch on the tumbler, these dog style safeties started to disappear. Apparently they were simply considered unnecessary by this time. Although you do occasionally see a specimen from the late 17th to early 18th Century with the dog catch used as a secondary safety. But these show up on sporting/private contract style guns.
However, as Corrado mentions, the use of the dog style catch as a secondary safety persisted well into the percussion era in the Hessian/Austrian/Dutch Regions. I've always thought this curious.
The swivel style safety in front of the hammer seems to be a unique feature to Portuguese style locks. Acts as a secondary safety while engaged, and a hammer stop when disengaged. Actually a clever idea. But it would take an extra movement to disengage while the dog style would automatically disengage when the hammer is pulled back into firing position.
Then, sometime about the end of the first quarter of the 18th Century the external safety re-appeared on some sporting/private contract type guns. This time in the form of a sliding secondary safety. Apparently, this sliding safety was deemed useful enough the the British military included this, and other features in their last flintlock officially produced. The photo shows this exact lock dated 1835, and includes the sliding safety, internal frizzen spring, and semi-waterproof pan. An attempt to include all the latest and best features. However, this period also was the beginning surge into the percussion period. So this very late period flintlock never saw much use. In fact many were never even mounted to guns and quickly became surplus. That is why you can often find these locks available today in pristine mechanical condition like this one.
Anyway, it's interesting these external safeties were in use back and forth for some 200+ years.