Author Topic: Comments on percussion ignition  (Read 25221 times)

Offline Dave R

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #25 on: December 03, 2009, 07:52:34 AM »
If the good Lord intended you to shoot caps, He would have spread them out on the ground like he did flint!!!   ;)

AMEN!!!

Dave R

Mike R

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #26 on: December 03, 2009, 05:14:19 PM »
Some of the responses here reflect more of a modern hobbyists love for his flinter than an appreciation for the history of the matter.  The percussion cap/lock swept away the flintlock because it was superior in several ways [not just a fad], but, in short order a truly superior system, the enclosed cartridge, swept away both.  Except for a few die-hards, these traditional guns would have been extinct--and today, I bet, the flinter is more popular than anytime after 1835 or so. To deny this is to be blinded by love of the flint...

jwh1947

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #27 on: December 03, 2009, 08:45:17 PM »
As mentioned somewhere else, my friends around Bresica, Italy, who make some of the world's finest hand-crafted double rifles and shotguns, were absolutely surprised when I told them that flintlocks are still built and used in USA.  The response, as I can recall it, was, "What? Stonelocks? You make joke!"  When I got home I sent them a bunch of confirming pictures and they had numerous questions and found it most quaint. 

You can view their artistry under their name "Ferlib" or through their sole USA distributor, Dakota Arms, Sturgis, SD.  Top notch custom work only and exquisite engraving.  Shop not large but always busy.  Few of their guns come to USA now due to unfavorable exchange rates.  More are sold in Europe and Russia these days.   

Offline Dphariss

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #28 on: December 04, 2009, 01:38:19 AM »
Some of the responses here reflect more of a modern hobbyists love for his flinter than an appreciation for the history of the matter.  The percussion cap/lock swept away the flintlock because it was superior in several ways [not just a fad], but, in short order a truly superior system, the enclosed cartridge, swept away both.  Except for a few die-hards, these traditional guns would have been extinct--and today, I bet, the flinter is more popular than anytime after 1835 or so. To deny this is to be blinded by love of the flint...

You bring up some valid points.
However, there are many facets to be considered.
It must be pointed out the trade rifles staid flint into the late 1830s and into the 1840s.
The flintlock was not swept away. The US gov't (and most other militaries) did not start the major change over till 1840. I think its a reliability thing.

We labor under a number of problems in using out antique or reproduction arms today.
One we have modern powder. We really do not know what problems the rifle had in the Revolution (for example) because our powder, by and large, is much superior. Was the powder of 1750-1780 a serious problem due to fouling characteristics.

We do not know what the attitude was toward the percussion.
Many things that were developed in this era were not everything they could have been. I suspect the percussion system had teething problems. With poor power I can see problems with the typical drum and nipple American rifle. I have an original drum that even when allowance is made for the rust the flash channel is small. This indicates that maybe they used fine grained powder.
I know from experience that powder that forms flakes can block powder channels. The Nock breech is susceptible to this. I have a can of older production Schuetzen powder that would cause ignition failures in 2-3 rounds in my Nock breeched rifle. This has a .170+ diameter passage from the anti-chamber to the main powder chamber. Hardly tiny.
But powder that is not milled long and does not burn well can form flakes of fouling.

So were percussion system guns built with the drum and nipple by people with limited understanding of the problems reliable? Did this flawed system actually hinder adoption of the percussion cap?

This is an original drum from the period we are discussing.



I "cleaned" the hole with a 1/8 drill about 1/8" deep some time in the past to see how big the hole originally was. It pretty well cleaned all the rust. So I assume the original hole was 1/8 or smaller.
If used with "dirty" powder that caused flakes of fouling in the bore this could cause ignition problems. Did they use finer powder? Was the hole 3/32 or so originally.
A flintlock vent will fill with powder much better than a percussion drum since there is air escape when loading. It tends to force powder to the vent as the air is forced out. Not foolproof but pretty reliable. Even if something blocks the vent it can be quickly picked. In a drum and nipple gun or patent breech gun "some disassembly is required". If someone is trying to kill you even a few seconds is a very long time. In a flint you can poke the vent and reprime and likely it going to fire. The system described as used by Boone by Audubon is pretty fool proof and I submit that Boone knew how to keep a flint gun working.

 I consider the drum and nipple system to have serious flaws, one of which is mentioned here. I would point out that while the Gov't converted a lot of flint guns they did not use this system.

So before we go down the road of the percussion system sweeping away the flint we really need to think about it. Anyone who was going west into hostile country needed something they understood and trusted. The flint system, while not perfect, was pretty darned reliable but 1820 and people knew how to make it work. It HAD to work. It HAD to. If you KNEW flintlocks and KNEW they worked well why would you risk your life on something that to you was unproven?
As a result we have people experienced in the west recommending flint guns. Some recommended percussion guns. I bet in 1840 in Montana or Wyoming you would see lots of flint guns, plenty of percussions guns too but the flintlock was a long way from dead in 1840.


Considering that people like Walter Cline or Dillon (one specifically mentions this) were buying original flintlock rifles that were STILL IN USE  for hunting in the early 20th century speaks volumes. To some extent it deflates the "swept away" idea when considering the advent of percussion guns in America.
I think some people went directly from flintlock to cartridge guns and may never have owned a percussion firearm. This surely true in the Native population.
I saw an article back in the 60s in some gun magazine, perhaps Guns & Ammo, of a bush African gunsmith making smoothbore flintlocks with the old long steering column shafts as barrels. The one on my 66 IH pickup BTW is about 5 feet long and has about a 1/2" bore.
So it would seem that the flintlock was still in use on the "frontier" past the mid-point of the 20th century.
Neither the flint or percussion system has ever completely fallen from use in the United States since they were put into use.

I was supposed to be in the shop *sometime* today.
Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #29 on: December 04, 2009, 03:28:00 AM »
Some of the responses here reflect more of a modern hobbyists love for his flinter than an appreciation for the history of the matter.  The percussion cap/lock swept away the flintlock because it was superior in several ways [not just a fad], but, in short order a truly superior system, the enclosed cartridge, swept away both.  Except for a few die-hards, these traditional guns would have been extinct--and today, I bet, the flinter is more popular than anytime after 1835 or so. To deny this is to be blinded by love of the flint...

Hey guys I'm new here but had to add my 2 cents.  Sir, I believe you are dead on the mark with your post.  It seems most all of the original examples of southern mountain rifles were converted to caplock at some point.  I like shooting flintlocks and have a 40cal flinter and a 45 cal caplock that I am thinking of converting to flint.  I'm also building a 40 cal S.M. caplock rifle that will probably be my main hunting rifle.  Hunting with a flintlock can be trying at times what with keeping your priming dry and changing it out every hour or so.  I'm sure the oldtimers had the same problems.  After reading Turnbo's book I've come to the conclusion that they didn't prime their rifles until they were ready to fire.  I believe that they converted their flinters to percussion as soon as they could afford it.  Shooting flintlocks seems to be the "in" thing these days and there is a bit of flintlock snobbery out there.   I try to keep mine in check. ;D

Mike R

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #30 on: December 04, 2009, 04:26:50 PM »
 Cline, Dillon, Kephart, Randolph and others at or right after the turn of the 20th cent overwhelmingly found that Percussion rifles were still in use in local backwoods areas--they found a few flinters, but very very few still in use. I have read all I can find by all these observers/authors and percussions were what they used. If you went to an over the log shoot ca. 1920 [or 1890] you'd see all percussions, for example. There are photos around that prove that.  The great MLing target shooters of the late 19th cent chose percussion arms. Cline stated in a 1931 article that the MLing percussion rifle had reached the peak of rifle accuracy perfection and would outdo modern rifles at MLer ranges.  Yes, modern powder is both more consistent, more efficient and more powerful than the old time powder [as shown by studies done years ago]. The cap itself is a pretty simple affair.  The drum and nipple was a successful conversion, still in use today, despite your reservations. Anything can fail done wrong.  I still use two such rifles and have had zero problems--they are my most reliable and most accurate rifles. I agree the drum and nipple is not the best percussion design, however, it works. These early 20th cent MLing afficienados probably saved the flintlock from total extinction.  Don't misread me--I love my flinters and shoot them more than my percussions, but like my old gunsmith buddy hereabouts, when the weather sucks [as it does here in Lousyanna alot] we both reach for old reliable percussion rifles to hunt with.  Call me  a modern reactionary....

Offline Dphariss

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #31 on: December 04, 2009, 05:31:34 PM »
I would never say that flints were more common than percussion post Civil War.
This was likely the big turning point since a lot of people were exposed to it.
The fact that the Gov't adopted it, finally, would have been a plus as well.
My point is that the FL never fell completely from use though I am sure after the CW it was far less common. The fact that flintlocks were still in production and use in the 1840s is not even debatable. The FS Hawken in the Smithsonian is circa 1850 and was originally built as flint with a flint patent hooked breech.
The fact that original FL rifles were still in use circa 1900-1920 America does not mean they were the norm. It means that some people still used FL guns in the US at that time. Does not mean they were the norm or even very common.
But is does prove my contention that the FL never fell completely from use.
Now if I were going west in 1835-40 and had the choice between a properly designed percussion gun and a good flint gun I would likely choose the percussion. The percussion is easier to shoot accurately under stress. With properly fitted caps on a clean gun its more waterproof. I know all this. But still I have read that it is believed that Melchoir Fordney made no percussion guns, at least none survive that I know of.

I prefer flint to percussion for reasons other than ignition speed. I like flintlocks for one and I consider them safer than percussion since I often hunt 2-3 widely separated areas during a day and uncapping a percussion gun is not particularly safe and even uncapped they are still subject to accidental discharges if there is any priming compound left on the nipple.
Yes these are "modern" reasons.
But there are others.
I gave up on drum and nipples when one broke off my 32 and went through a storm door window when I was a lot younger. I have also had a nipple blow from a patent breeched 40 caliber. A friend switched to flint when his Bill Large Hawken patent breech spit out a nipple and he carried the powder "tattoo" in his nose for the rest of his life.
So there are reasons other than flintlock "snobbery" for shooting flintlock. To this day I will not stand on the lock side of a drum and nipple gun when its fired unless its at least 20-30 yards away. I get behind them.

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Offline Feltwad

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #32 on: December 04, 2009, 06:30:52 PM »
Well I must agree with Mike R that the drum and nipple conversion was a successfull conversion to percussion if we take the English flint lock sporting gun   most I would say 80% were converted to percussion in the early percussion period later most were fitted with a percussion breech .
Flintlocks are OK when they are going alright they are prone to inclement weather and miss fires , they are OK for the odd shot but no good for driven birds  in these cases give me a percussion gun every time.
Dphariss states that he would not stand on the lock side of a drum and nipple ,this I agree but also I would not stand on the lock side of a flint lock.
I have always said the the drum and nipple is part of the history of the gun ,what really gets my hackles up is when some  covert originals back to flint , you have a 18Th century gun with 20Th century parts  which will never look right  this is mostly done for financial gain
Enclosed are a couple of images of original drum and nipple conversions
Feltwad


« Last Edit: December 04, 2009, 06:35:16 PM by Feltwad »

Offline Curt J

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #33 on: December 05, 2009, 06:23:33 AM »
I have a rifle, made in Timber Township, Peoria County, Illinois, by Thomas Hunt, that is signed and dated "T Hunt Feb 21, 1833" in a silver inlay on the top barrel flat.  This rifle is definitely original percussion, quite unusual for the time and place. Peoria County was still frontier in 1833, only one year after the Blackhawk War.  The fist gunsmith in the City of Peoria (which was FAR from being a city at that date) was George Ford, who arrived in 1834, the year after Hunt made this rifle.  Thomas Hunt came to Peoria County in 1832, from Clermont County, Ohio.  There is a rifle known (I've held it in my hands) which was made prior to Hunt's move to Illinois, which is signed and dated "T Hunt 1828", which is also original percussion. This is the earliest dated percussion rifle that I have personally seen.  Yet, there was a rifle in the hands of some of Hunt's brother-in-law's descendants, which was dated 1836, and was flintlock. Thomas Hunt died here in 1836. His estate file is among the earliest on record at the Peoria County Courthouse.

Offline Dphariss

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #34 on: December 06, 2009, 01:00:46 AM »
Well I must agree with Mike R that the drum and nipple conversion was a successfull conversion to percussion if we take the English flint lock sporting gun   most I would say 80% were converted to percussion in the early percussion period later most were fitted with a percussion breech .
Flintlocks are OK when they are going alright they are prone to inclement weather and miss fires , they are OK for the odd shot but no good for driven birds  in these cases give me a percussion gun every time.
Dphariss states that he would not stand on the lock side of a drum and nipple ,this I agree but also I would not stand on the lock side of a flint lock.
I have always said the the drum and nipple is part of the history of the gun ,what really gets my hackles up is when some  covert originals back to flint , you have a 18Th century gun with 20Th century parts  which will never look right  this is mostly done for financial gain
Enclosed are a couple of images of original drum and nipple conversions
Feltwad


You need to understand the properties of modern cold rolled steels generally used for these things and the iron parts used in the past. The cold rolled steels are shock sensitive and brittle most have very poor impact ratings. The rebate for the threads forms the notch/stress riser.

I can tolerate the debris that comes off a flintlock and figure I am going to survive it. Catching a drum with the side of my head or eye socket is not something I care to experiment with.
Yeah it seldom happens, but people typically only die once. Its something that causes the learning curve to stop abruptly.

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Offline JTR

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #35 on: December 06, 2009, 01:22:31 AM »
Hmmm, if the drums are likely to blow out, it seems to me that the breech plugs would be as likely to blow out as well, given that both are screwed into sort of thin walled material,,, The breech plugs have longer threads but less material around them, and the drums have fewer threads screwed into a thinner wall.
Both sound like a possible health hazard or potential bomb. Perhaps the Guvmnt should step in and regulate them as some sort of dangerous thang!  ;D

John
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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #36 on: January 11, 2010, 08:03:03 PM »
During the Mexican War percussion caps were is short supply and essentially unknown to most of troops. There is a lot of strange, even humorous, correspondence on that subject. The 1841 Miss rifles were less popular because they were percussion.
Shaw was a great painter, 1 of earliest to do landscapes in USA. He was English by birth & training. He wanted more money than government would give him, altho Congress had appropriated $25K. Interesting lawsuit that he ultimately lost.
An estate settled in 1822 in SC is earliest reference I have on percussion caps. In Bedford Co Wm Border's daybook showed 1828 as 1st he converted flint to percussion and made a percussion rifle.
Pittsburgh Directory for 1826 [thus made up in 1825] said that of the 6 gunsmiths all made the new percussion lock.
Last, a gun I once owned was made in NYC and had a commercial back-action lock. The NY book listed him last in 1825.

Offline Dphariss

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #37 on: January 12, 2010, 04:36:11 PM »
Hmmm, if the drums are likely to blow out, it seems to me that the breech plugs would be as likely to blow out as well, given that both are screwed into sort of thin walled material,,, The breech plugs have longer threads but less material around them, and the drums have fewer threads screwed into a thinner wall.
Both sound like a possible health hazard or potential bomb. Perhaps the Guvmnt should step in and regulate them as some sort of dangerous thang!  ;D

John


They don't blow out they BREAK OFF. But brittle steels and how they react to impact when notched (the threads and rebate are both notches) seems to be beyond the comprehension of some folks assuming they have even *looked into the subject*. This is one of those "one time things" you stand next to one, it breaks off and hits you in the side of the head it could real easy be a "one time thing". Somethings in life you only get to do once.
I have had one break off and have been told of others. So I don't stand on the drum side of drum and nipple guns. I have no idea what they are made of, I have no idea how they are constructed.  But its America, you can do anything you want so long as you are willing the accept the consequences.


Aside from people breaking off TC breechplugs years ago in attempts to remove them I have not heard of breech plugs breaking off.  Though back in the old days they used the blow out some times.

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Offline Steve Collward

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #38 on: January 13, 2010, 12:01:33 AM »
  A few years ago I was searching for information on N.Y. State gun maker Stillman Jackson/Palmyra N.Y. (Wayne Co.) and came across a newspaper ad. he had listed in the Wayne Sentinel, Aug. 21, 1829. In this ad, it says "... He will keep on hand Percussion and Flint Rifles, Muskets..." "He will also keep Percussion Caps and Pills of the best quality..."   The ad closes with "... Rifle Locks altered from Flint to Percussion and all repairing done in the neatest manner, and on short notice."  So in 1829 in upstate New York along the Erie Canal, the transition to percussion ignition had begun.   SC

Offline JTR

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #39 on: January 13, 2010, 02:16:08 AM »
Hmmm, if the drums are likely to blow out, it seems to me that the breech plugs would be as likely to blow out as well, given that both are screwed into sort of thin walled material,,, The breech plugs have longer threads but less material around them, and the drums have fewer threads screwed into a thinner wall.
Both sound like a possible health hazard or potential bomb. Perhaps the Guvmnt should step in and regulate them as some sort of dangerous thang!  ;D

John


They don't blow out they BREAK OFF. But brittle steels and how they react to impact when notched (the threads and rebate are both notches) seems to be beyond the comprehension of some folks assuming they have even *looked into the subject*. This is one of those "one time things" you stand next to one, it breaks off and hits you in the side of the head it could real easy be a "one time thing". Somethings in life you only get to do once.
I have had one break off and have been told of others. So I don't stand on the drum side of drum and nipple guns. I have no idea what they are made of, I have no idea how they are constructed.  But its America, you can do anything you want so long as you are willing the accept the consequences.


Aside from people breaking off TC breechplugs years ago in attempts to remove them I have not heard of breech plugs breaking off.  Though back in the old days they used the blow out some times.

Dan

Geeze, whatever.
Working on ships and machinery all my life I’m well aware of the possible problem with notches on fasteners, etc, and the Charpy notch test, etc.
On the old guns I enjoy, I’ve seen drums that have been battered, corroded, eroded and bent, but never broken off.
However, not wishing to be argumentative, I’ll bow to your omnipotence.
John
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Offline Dphariss

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #40 on: January 13, 2010, 10:37:47 AM »


Geeze, whatever.
Working on ships and machinery all my life I’m well aware of the possible problem with notches on fasteners, etc, and the Charpy notch test, etc.
On the old guns I enjoy, I’ve seen drums that have been battered, corroded, eroded and bent, but never broken off.
However, not wishing to be argumentative, I’ll bow to your omnipotence.
John

Unfortunately everyone seems to think that newer is better. Its not necessarily true. There are some things, like ML gun barrels etc, that are actually BETTER when made of good quality iron than of some modern steels. But of course this can't be true according to some the tensile and yield numbers are better for the steel so its "better". This belief is just a demonstration of ignorance.
Wrought iron if well made is EXTREMELY tough in almost any application. It is near impossible to break and I am sure will simply bend or at least deform greatly before breaking if impact tested. Cold rolled is brittle.

Modern steels are often made to do ONE JOB. They are specifically engineered just for that application as a result there are literally hundreds of different alloys. When used for other purposes they can and have failed from no apparent reason. BECAUSE THEY ARE BEING USED OUTSIDE THEIR DESIGN PARAMETERS.
Stressproof is widely used as shafting for machinery. You machine it down for a pulley or gear and fail to give it a good radius it will BREAK RIGHT OFF at the rebate according to a machinist I know who did this work at one time and also ran a gun company in later years. Funny he did not use 1144 for any barrels. The modern drum with its rebate is seldom well radiused and the threads are always sharp V. They are all cold rolled that I have ever seen. Cold rolled steels are intentionally made brittle so they machine easily and the chips break easily.
I have an iron drum that likely dates to the 1840s or before and its RADIUSED and threaded right into the radius.

Its actually bent down BTW.  But its either *iron* or hot rolled low carbon steel. Its not modern, brittle, cold rolled.
I have had this in my possession since a year or so after I had the modern made drum break off about 1967. I have also owed and shot D&N originals and may end up with another soon. But its APPLES AND ORANGES. The MATERIALS used for the drums have significant differences. But they told you the difference between modern cold rolled and iron when used for drums on ML rifles in the shipyard I am sure.

I am sure while working in a shipyard you were told that rapid pressure rise such as when a gun is fired makes the steel weaker and makes "free machining" brittle steels far more prone to failure than the same alloy if hot rolled.

But of course if I, in my ignorance, bring up things like cold rolled barrels (1144 Stressproof in this case) splitting from a rebate to the muzzle (several inches) when button rifled (hot rolled Gun Barrel quality 1137 or 4140 does not do this Stressproof fails in this manner about 10-15% of the time), I become some sort of smart ass or persona non grata and am fair game for snide comments. Drums breaking off, or people breaking off TC breechplugs back in the 1970s-80s because they were not fitted just machined close and then screwed in by machine till the top flats of barrel and breech were aligned  putting tremendous strain on the threads as the threaded portion is stretched by the threads and the octagonal portion is stopped by the breech of the barrel. Add a thin wall at the rebate due to the poor breech design and you get a plug that breaks off when removal is attempted. But of course you learned all this in the ship yard right?

But if I mention something like this I have to be some sort of crack pot and some simply cannot resist snide remarks. It gets a little tiring especially when I have not attacked anyone personally but since people don't like the *message*, even though they have done ZERO research into the subject, they gotta resort to snide remarks that border on personal attacks.
Personally someone in California or Virginia  blowing a drum into someones head at a shooting event is not going effect me much, someone will get sued, maybe rifle ranges will no longer be able to get insurance. It is very unlikely I will  know the dead and/or wounded. So unless this results in some onerous Federal legislation or some state restricting range use, its not going to effect me.
But then it might.
But hey, barrels never fail, parts like drums, nipples or touch hole liners never fly off right? So why worry ::)

Dan
No, sir, I don't give 'em $#*!, I just tell the truth and they think it's $#*!. Harry S Truman

Offline JTR

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #41 on: January 13, 2010, 06:42:31 PM »
 :-*
How about just letting the thread go back to its original topic.

John
John Robbins

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #42 on: January 13, 2010, 09:59:35 PM »
In 1988, I was priviliged to view two guns converted from flintlock to percussion in the area around Punxatawney, PA. They were a smooth rifle and a fowler.  They had been in the owner's possession for almost 50 years at the time, but they were not family heirlooms (though he had procurred them locally in some kind of trade or gift - he wasn't sure.) I was surprised that both guns were of so early styling going back to perhaps the last quarter of the 18th century or maybe a bit earlier - especially the fowler that looked like it could have been from aroun 1750 or earlier due to the type of carving and stock design. 

The fowler was hard abused and was converted by placing a nipple on top the barrel and had a long percussion hammer to reach it.  I sheepishly admit I didn't examine it as closely as the smooth rifle, but it did not have a name or maker's mark on it.

The smooth rifle really rang my bells though.  It was stocked in maple though VERY dark and you could not see much grain through the finish,  without much if any carving, and had a rather plain but round front wood patch box cover.  The buttplate and stock were as thick as early rifles.  The lock was what got me as it was round faced and a bit larger than what one expects to see on a rifle.  The lock was clearly originally a flintlock as it had the pan cut off and the holes for the frizzen spring.  There was a very nicely made drum and nipple that looked like whoever converted it had tried his best to make it so it would complement the original lock.  The hammer really got to me.  It was also round faced and looked like it belonged to the original lock.  I assumed the percussion hammer portion was added to the original flintlock hammer and then blended in very carefully to look as if it had been originally been made that way.  I was really impressed with the workmanship on that hammer.  I could not see any weld marks and the whole lock had a uniform coat of rust on it.  I did not have time or tools to dismount the lock.  Maybe there would have been more evidence of showing the hammer being welded up had I been able to do so.  All I can say is whoever modified the hammer was a real craftsman.

The bore was smooth and a little over 60 caliber by the "pocket caliber/bore gage" I had in my wallet   The barrel was swamped and about 41 inches.  There was no maker's name on the lock or barrel.  I "assumed" the rifle had been smoothed at or around the same time the lock had been converted, BUT I had nothing but a general feeling about that.  The barrel just looked like it was in good enough interior condition to have been done at the same time. 

I wished I knew when the rifle was converted, but due to the quality of the conversion - I assumed it was early in the percussion era, because the hammer so nicely matched the lock and was made to complement the style of the original flint lock.

I am still kicking myself in the butt that I did not find a way to get a camera to use to take pictures.  I never got to see the gun again as I was transferred to California soon afterwards and divorced the owner's Granddaughter a few years later. 


Offline longcruise

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #43 on: January 14, 2010, 06:52:22 AM »
Quote
I think the flintlock held on in backwoods southern mountain areas until the Civil War, when most got replaced or converted.

I think so as well.  I don't see it as a result of stubborness or a clinging to the old.  Conversion to percussion may have been available to many just a few miles the road but, as long as the flinter was serving then why waste hard earned money to change it (if it ain't broke, don't fixi it).  So, eventually they broke or needed repair and itwas just as well to go percussion for a few bucks more, or maybe even the same price. 
Mike Lee

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #44 on: January 14, 2010, 07:37:50 PM »
   There has been more sheer nonsense, to say nothing of sloppy scholarship, published about the percussion cap, its inventor, date of introduction, and delayed use by the military, than any other invention or device I know connect with arms development and trade. One recent book on military snipers wrote, “in 1814 Thomas Shaw of Philadelphia adapted Forsyth’s ideas and came up with the percussion cap.”  He was perhaps copying his information for a slightly earlier author who wrote, “in 1814 Thomas [sic] Shaw of Philadelphia invented a steel percussion cap, substituting for it a copper one in 1816.”  An even earlier author, while getting Shaw’s first name correct, wrote that “in 1814 Joshua Shaw of England invented the percussion cap.”  Another author was more accurate. ”Alexander John Forsyth (1768-1843) invented the percussion system although not the percussion cap itself.”   A late nineteenth century encyclopedia avoided the controversy by using the passive voice, i.e., “the percussion cap was invented.”  A very early twentieth century book totally confused the fulminate of mercury- based priming system with the percussion cap: “The percussion cap which was destined to make such a revolution in small arms was patented April 11, 1807, by the inventor, Rev. A. J. Forsyth, of Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire. It soon came into use.”
By far the most accurate early account of Shaw’s involvement in the arms trade was in Colonel Robert Gardner, Small Arms Makers. Gardner had his dates of birth, death, and invention correct as well as cities of birth and death, patent contributions, and final claim all correct. For whatever reason, Gardner did not seem to make the connection between Shaw the inventor and Shaw the artist.  Gardner’s work dates to 1963 and some subsequent authors might have done well to have consulted his work.
   Shaw held a number of patents for arms-related inventions, although not for invention of the percussion cap. His firearms patents include:
19 June 1822, percussion gun
24 June 1822, improvement in percussion guns
24 October 1828, improved cannon lock
7 May 1829, improved firearm
3 December 1832, portable cannon
3 December 1832, cannon lock
3 December 1832, cannon percussion primers
17 March 1834, percussion pistol whip
30 January 1841, manner of discharging firearms

Joshua Shaw
   Joshua Shaw (1776-1860) was born in Bellingborough, Lincolnshire, in northeast England. Shaw was left an orphan at the age of seven years, by the death of his father. His mother remarried so he was called home to assist in the business of his stepfather, a plumber and glazier by occupation. At the end of this time, Mr. Shaw, a lad of about fifteen years, was again obliged to shift himself. An uncle now gave him nine weeks' schooling, the only regular tuition he had during his life. He then obtained employment upon one of the rural mail-routes, but this employment did not last long He was apprenticed in his to a sign and house painter, George Sparrow of Stamford, Lincolnshire, but essentially he was a self-taught as an artist. . His first exploit of a public nature was the painting of Commandments in St. Michael's Church with the King's arms, and beneath it Moses and Aaron, agreeably to the old English custom. He now began to acquire considerable reputation as a painter of the pictorial signs of the period. His employer, having become jealous of Mr. Shaw's reputation, a separation took place, the latter purchasing freedom from his last year of service for twenty pounds sterling, and removing to Manchester.  During his residence in Bath from 1805 to 1812 and later in London, he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy and the British Institution. He next to London, where he enjoyed considerable popularity and received many commissions; but being so unfortunate as to differ in politics from the aristocratic directors of the British Institution, he was subjected to persecution, and the prize awarded to his painting of the deluge, by that institution, was withheld  He had previously made the acquaintance and secured the warm personal friendship of Benjamin West, then President of the Royal Academy, who urged him to canvass for a membership in that institution, but he refused. This and other subsequent events disgusted him with England, and he resolved to come to America.
In 1817, Shaw came from England to Philadelphia. He obtained introductory letters from West to many distinguished men of the time in the United States, came to Philadelphia, where he permanently established himself. He was the bearer of West's celebrated picture of Christ Healing the Sick, a present to the Philadelphia Hospital He became a key figure in the development of landscape painting in America and actively participated in the artistic life of his adopted city. Landscape with Cattle, among the first canvases Shaw executed after his arrival, is a prime example of his mature style.
   In many of his compositions Shaw created a remembrance of the rural England he remembered for the healthful pleasures of country living that were far removed from urban congestion. This glorification of nature and a pastoral existence would have been particularly appealing to a Jeffersonian deist audience. Shaw's compositions owe a debt to those of the seventeenth- century Franco-Italian painters and to their British followers. Although Shaw drew on his American experience for inspiration, especially in his depictions of Native Americans in historical settings, he nevertheless continued to paint British landscapes virtually until the end of his life, often including picturesque remnants of castles as well as peasants in what were essentially imaginary compositions. Despite the pronounced British flavor of paintings Shaw remains a critical figure in the development of American landscape painting. As an artist born and trained in England, who revisited his native country on at least one occasion, he was in touch with current artistic developments and aesthetic theories.  Through him, the American public as well as his colleagues came to know the work and techniques of some of Britain's leading artists.
Shaw died in September, 1860 in Burlington, New Jersey. He was a long member of the Franklin Institute, and contributed many valuable papers to its transactions, and enjoyed the friendship and confidence of many of the most distinguished men of his time. His genius as an artist has been universally acknowledged, but it is evident that his genius for work was the real basis of his success. One author commented, “As a controversialist he wielded a vigorous and fearless pen, and though one of the most genial and kind-hearted of men, was unsparing where he deemed censure deserved.”

The Percussion Cap
Inventions of the percussion cap have been attributed variously to Alexander John Forsyth, clerk of Belhelvie, Aberdeenshire, Scotland; to Joseph Manton, London, a major gunsmith; and to John Day, of Barnstable, England. In 1808 an advertisement in the British Morning Post boasted of Forsyth’s invention.

To Sportsmen. The Patent Gun-Lock, invented by Mr. Forsyth is to be had at No. 10, Piccadilly, near the Haymarket. Those who may be unacquainted with the excellence of this Invention are informed that the inflammation is produced without the assistance of flint, and is much more rapid than in the common way. The Lock is so constructed as to render it completely impervious to water, or damp of any kind, and may, in fact, be fired under water.

However, the specification attached to their patents show that the copper cap as patented by Shaw, was unknown to them. They had knowledge of fulminates and methods of firing them, but there was only one thing in common with their methods and that of Mr. Shaw, the ignition of fulminate of mercury by percussion. Forsyth patented percussion powder in 1807. Many people, including Colonel Peter Hawker, were claiming this around 1820 but the best documented evidence to date makes Joseph Egg the first.  The first recorded patent for such a thing by the Frenchman Francois Prelat on 28th July 1820. As one British author wrote, “The United States has its own candidate for the credit of having invented the percussion cap, an English born artist named Joshua Shaw.”  As far as the U.S. government was concerned, “Mr. Shaw is certainly the inventor of the percussion primer for cannon and probably for small arms.”  Both Joseph Manton and Colonel Peter Hawker insisted that they were great inventors.
By the time of the Civil War both Ordnance and civilian manufacturers had agreed upon a standard formula as detonating material for use in the percussion cap. It consisted of six parts fulminate of mercury, six parts chlorate of potash, and four parts antimony. This was sealed inside the cap in a way so as to prevent mixture. Whether this was Forsyth’s or Shaw’s formula is difficult if not impossible to say.
And contrary to popular opinion the British Board of Ordnance held its first trials of copper cap guns during the middle of 1820.  Adoption was, of course, a wholly different matter. The same authors who gave Shaw’s Christian name as Thomas wrote, “Yet in England it was not until 1834 that experiments were made with the percussion system” in military arms.  It is, however, true that as one author wrote, “so slow is the growth of inventions . . .that all Europe continued to make flintlocks for many years after the percussion cap was invented.”  General Winfield Scott preferred the flintlock to percussion caps in the Mexican War of 1846-47. Indeed, during that war caps were in very short supply as those who carried the first American percussion rifle, the Model 1841 “Mississippi,” found out. This shortage rendered those arms useless on many occasions.
   Forsyth’s lock was an ingenious contrivance, equipped with a magazine that held detonating powder (fulminate of mercury). The magazine revolves around a roller whose end is screwed into the barrel breech. The priming powder passed through a small hole in the roller, leading to a cannel that empties into the gun’s chamber. The pan that holds the priming compound is placed over the hole in the roller. There was a steel punch in the magazine, whose lower end stands above the pan, ready to ignite the priming compound when the hammer strikes the top. The punch, having been driven down into the pan, is raised again by a spiral spring. For each firing the magazine must be turned sufficiently so as to allow the fulminate to drop into the pan, after which it is turned back.
   The invention of the copper percussion cap was a great improvement over the complex Forsyth lock. The iron, pewter, and steel caps, with which Shaw initially experimented, had significant problems which Shaw could not overcome. One authority referred to it as “the first really significant improvement in nearly two centuries.” He continued,

The many advantages of this new system of lock were obvious. It was little affected by dampness, the fulminating powder being protected and rendered practically waterproof. . . . It could be carried for days or week in all kinds of weather and could be fired at any moment by simply cocking the piece and pulling the trigger. With the flintlock . . . damp weather was always disastrous; while shaking it about, as in marching, even in dry weather, was likely to misplace the priming and cause misfires. This one advantage of the cap-and-nipple over the flintlock would determine its adoption. But another important discovery was soon made – the cap-and-nipple short farther, and recoiled less, than the flintlock, even with smaller charges of powder.

   These same basic advantages of the percussion lock over the flint system were summed up by a nineteenth century encyclopedia. “The advantages of these locks are: 1. the lock is simplified; 2. the operation of firing is shortened; 3. the sureness of firing is increased, the presence of water having no effect upon the explosion of a good percussion cap.”
Shaw corresponded with many governments, and particularly with the Ordnance Department of the United States. In 1814 he invented the copper percussion cap, after first trying pewter, iron, and steel. He kept the discovery secret until his arrival in America, when he sought to obtain a patent for it, but was refused on the ground of his being an alien, the law at that time denying a patent to aliens unless they had resided two years in the country.
His claim to the origination of the invention of the percussion cap was, however, recognized, although the Patent Office refused to issue a patent. One explanation was that Shaw had not been a resident, let alone citizen, of the United States, for the then requisite two years. A second explanation was that Shaw had filed to demonstrate clearly what aspects of his patent were already known and is general use and those aspects for which Shaw claimed originality. One Joseph Cooper, otherwise unknown to this author, claimed that Shaw had merely copied Forsyth’s ideas, adding little of his own. “And further that the same patent was void, because in and by the specification, or description therein referred, no distinction or discrimination is made between the parts and portions previously known and used as aforesaid, and any parts or portions of which the said Joshua Shaw may be the inventor or discoverer.”
After filing many appeals for relief and then after a protracted investigation of his claims, the United States subsequently decided to award Shaw up to $25,000 “upon principles of justice and equity”, which, it acknowledged, was a very small portion of its real debt to the accomplished inventor. The award was to cover not only the percussion cap, but the percussion system, including the wafer primer, as used in cannon; and such percussion gunlocks and principles as Shaw had invented. On 20 February 1846 Congress authorized the Secretary of War to consider compensation. The Secretary decided upon $18,000 was a sufficient sum. The U. S. Senate’s Committee on Military Affairs thought that there was no reason to reduce the award by $7000.  It argued that the government has made valuable use of all Shaw’s arms patents, but especially the percussion systems for small arms and cannon. New shoulder arms were made in the percussion system and older muskets now were retrofitted for the percussion cap. The percussion system now was used to the total exclusion of all other systems. Caps are effective, safe, and serviceable. Even the Maynard system “is to be used in conjunction with percussion caps and not to their disuse.” Finally, it noted that “the government has liberally compensated other inventors for the use of their inventions.”
The Senate Committee sought the advice and opinion of Colonel Craig, Chief of Ordnance, who announced that $25,000 was certainly not too great a sum to compensate Shaw. Craig pointed out that the percussion cap had been used for some years past and its future was assured. It was far more useful than many inventions the government had paid much more to use. Finally, Craig stated that as early as 23 April 1847 Ordnance had conceded that Shaw was surely the inventor of the percussion ignition system for cannon and most probably also for small arms.
The Committee therefore recommended that the $7000 removed by the Secretary of War be replaced and that a supplemental appropriation, matching the initial estimate, be restored.  However, the additional amount was not paid and the Attorney General offered the opinion that the Secretary of War had no statutory duty or authorization to pay the additional sum and that the award had been exhausted. Statutes provide a two year window in time during which such claims appropriations may be made; that time was long since exhausted. .
Not surprisingly, Shaw advocated major reform in American patent law. He expended considerable effort toward the end of his life in that cause.
About 1817 Shaw allegedly received his first recognition, this by the Tsar of Russia. Russian artillery adopted Shaw’s percussion cap and agreed to pay for its use although no money was ever forthcoming. Hard evidence for this claim has yet to be shown. In 1833 he visited England with a view to obtaining the adoption of improvements in cannon locks, which he had made, and the wafer primer for cannon. He also received several minor patents, among which was a swivel diamond used by glaziers.
Controversy followed Shaw all the days of his life. As we have seen, on 17 March 1834 he obtained a patent for a whip which also contained a pistol, the bulk of the invention having been made of India rubber. Almost immediately a man who claimed to have invented the India rubber coffin wrote to the editor of the Mechanics Magazine, claiming that “above a year ago, a friend of mine sent a pistol whip, of similar construction.” He went on to note similarities between this whip-pistol and Shaw’s patent.

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Re: Comments on percussion ignition
« Reply #45 on: January 14, 2010, 10:19:09 PM »
Scooter,

Thanks for posting that.  Enjoyed reading it.

Gus