First breech loading handgun

Contributed by Powell Cotton Museum Archives

First breech loading handgun

This pistol is by the gunmaker John Dafte. It was the first to use a practical method of breech loading a hand gun. The two parts of the barrel have a swivel link to prevent their being lost when opened - evidence that the pistol was for use by a horseman. The barrel was rifled which gave the weapon greater accuracy and ability to pierce metal breast plates worn during the English Civil War period (1642-1651). Such pistols were generally supplied in pairs, to be housed in holsters on either side of the front of a saddle.
The crest of the original owner is engraved on the trigger guard - a griffin bearing a poleaxe - possibly belonging to the Frith family, known to be Royalist supporters.
Records about John Dafte are scarce, but it is known he worked in London's Shoe Lane. Although he only marked his guns with his name, most of his weapons, including this one, bear a London firearms proof mark.
The Gunmakers' Company, given a Royal Charter in 1637, was empowered to proof test weapons and mark those that passed. It still regulates gunmaking today.

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  • 1 comment
  • 1. At 10:44 on 5 November 2010, Paul R Syms wrote:

    A fascinating piece. The advantage must have been in its accuracy, because I can imagine it took at least as long to load - if not longer - than a smoothbore ML.

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c. 1640


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