RIA: 15mm Belgian Pinfire Revolving Rifle

The pinfire system was a popular type of early self-contained metallic cartridge in Europe, but didn’t find much use in the United States. Pinfire revolvers were made in a variety of calibers from 5mm up to 15mm, and a much smaller number of revolving rifles and carbines were also made. This particular revolving rifle is a 6-shot, 15mm model with a folding bayonet – made in Belgium for a reseller by the name of Juan Lopez in Buenos Aires.

31 Comments

  1. Bayonets on revolvers? What idiot thought the unsupported barrel could handle the stress of stabbing a guy dead center?

    • This appears to be a civilian firearm. If you were ever in a situation where you needed to use the bayonet, I think that bending your revolver is going to be pretty low on your list of worries. If you came out of it alive, you could always take it back to a gunsmith to get it fixed, or just buy a new one.

      Keep some perspective on this. If someone is trying to kill you and you come out of it alive at the expense of damaging your rifle, it’s job done. Your alternative would have been to try to use the rifle as a club.

      Military applications would be different because firearms there are expected to go through a long service life, including training exercises, where using the bayonet is routine.

      Civilian bayonets were last ditch self defence weapons which the owners hoped to never need to use. This is also by the way a major reason why they were spring loaded. This allowed them to be quickly deployed in unexpected circumstances.

      • Also, the major purpose of the bayonet here was more weapon retention than “aggressive drill”. Anybody trying to grab the barrel to wrestle the carbine from its proper owner would get a handful of bayonet blade first, which would be a bit off-putting to say the least.

        cheers

        eon

        • Okay, that’s quite valid. How about some idiot who attacks a guy who’s holding a bayonet-tipped Wehrmanngewehr? That target rifle, based on the Gewehr 98, is a single shot, but it does mount a standard army bayonet easily (and I suppose one would need to practice shooting with the bayonet fixed in the event he does get called back into army service)…

          • Back in the days of single-shot rifles, bayonets were very much a civilian hunting accessory. Either an epee’ pattern that retracted under the barrel (see the “De Puyster” Ferguson breechloader in the Smithsonian collection), or as a heavy game-dressing knife that could be attached to the barrel by a bayonet bar rather than a socket arrangement. The Dahlgren “Bowie” bayonet for the 1855 Plymouth Navy rifle was a very typical example of the latter type.

            In either case, the purpose was to act as a “boar spear” to fend off an irritated animal in event it charged before you could reload. Wild pigs being especially prone to this sort of “thunder run”. (Wild Pig Philosophy: If It Moves, Kill It- It Might Be Edible, And Anyway It’s Just Annoying On General Principles.)

            The scene between Bill Duke and the wild pig in Predator (d. John McTiernan, 1987) was more realistic than you might think.

            cheers

            eon

      • You’ve got point. I had one time my old vz.52 with erected bayonet standing next to main door. Any emerging salesmen or preachers would run! 🙂

    • Uh, how about “PAY ME ROYALTIES TO USE THIS SYSTEM OR I KILL YOU” threat? Either that or American gun makers too proud to adopt stuffy Old World tech?

      • Pinfire revolvers (handguns) were imported in significant numbers by both sides in the American Civil War. And pinfires were used on the Western frontier as well, as cartridges unearthed at archeological sites attest.

        But there were two major reasons the pinfire wasn’t really popular in the U.S. First, by the time of the Civil War when everybody wanted any revolver they could get, the pinfire was being superseded in Europe by the centerfire (inside-primed case type). The centerfire was what everybody wanted because its rimed case could handle much higher pressures than either rimfire or pinfire could.

        Secondly, to most Westerners, that evil little pin sticking out of the side of the case was an accident waiting to happen. Imagine carrying pinfire cases jostling around in a “bullet pouch”, or worse yet, in cartridge loops on a gunbelt.

        Bellying up to the bar, or just sitting down in in a chair, could be hazardous to your health. Or at least the health of your thigh, knee, and/or foot.

        cheers

        eon

        • Good point there Eon, it would definitely make for bad customer relations for cartridges that detonate in their pockets. As you commented on early in cartridge center fire systems coming out in Europe, do you happen to know exactly when the very first center fire metallic cartridge was invented?

          • According to Harold L. Peterson and Roger Elman in The Great Guns (Grosset & Dunlap, 1971), Johannes Samuel Pauly of Bern, Switzerland (1766-c.1820) invented and patented the first centerfire breechloading cartridge in France in September, 1812; which predates the percussion cap, BTW.

            His system used a cartridge case very like a modern shotgun shell with a paper tube body, a brass head, and an internal “battery cup” primer. It could be reloaded by replacing the paper tube holding powder and projectile (slug or shot charge) and repriming the “cup” with a pellet of fulminate compound about the size and shape of a modern-day “baby” aspirin. The brass head (which was rimmed) then “screwed” up onto the paper tube.

            Pauly also invented the break-action double-barreled hammerless shotgun/rifle action as we know it today. Earlier attempts at “break-actions” dated to the flintlock era, and later makers, notably Greener, improved it and made it sturdier, but Pauly was the first to actually come up with a reliable, self-cocking action that was fully gas-tight at the breech.

            BTW, Johann Nickolaus von Dreyse, the inventor of the “needle gun” and thus the bolt-action, started out as an apprentice in Pauly’s Paris gunshop. He was a considerably better businessman than his mentor.

            Before Pauly’s death in relative poverty around 1820, he was trying to interest the French government in a steam-powered airship, with a rigid frame and keel and several “ballonets” in a framework above it protected by netting and an outer streamlining ‘skin’ of doped fabric, plus movable ballast along the keel for fore-and-aft trim control. Today, we’d call it a “semi-rigid” dirigible. A very similar aerostat was flown, in Paris, by Alberto Santos-Dumont in 1901;

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_Santos-Dumont

            Pauly’s problem was that he was literally too far ahead of his time.

            Also, do you notice, with the likes of Pauly, Christopher Spencer, etc., how often the history of firearms and aviation technology development cross paths?

            cheers

            eon

        • Hi Eon I totally agree with the theoretical potential of a pinfire cartridge to detonate from bumps etc but one thing I have noticed is that I have never read an example of this actually happening and causing injury. I know that Lieut James Forsyth in his book The sporting rifle and it’s projectiles written in 1867 addressed this on page 128. He basically said he had never had a detonation nor knew of one first hand but of the instances he had heard of only a single cartridge went off. He didn’t consider it much of a risk. He did say he’d been carrying them loose in his pockets for 3 years.The other thing is that most pinfires have a protecting ridge behind the cylinder which would stop a blow and in the case of break action shotguns or rifles the risk would be same as a muzzleloader. I suspect that the biggest issue was it was a dead end design that could not feed in a magazine.

  2. I just finished cleaning the barrels of a 16 gauge pinfire shotgun I bought for 50 euroes this morning at a car boot sale here in S W France As you can imagine the interior of the barrels are badly oxidized by years of black powder cartriges and poor cleaning
    There is a french company HC http://www.hc-collection.com that makes reloadable pinfire cartriges in in 7mm 9mm 12mm and 12 and 16 gauge

  3. Does anyone have any info on the ballistics of the 15mm pinfire cartridge? It is very similar to the .577 Revolver (solid case) in dimensions, but in general pinfire cartridges were not loaded as hot as later CF ones. On the other hand the rifle application hints that it probably didn’t have a very low muzzle velocity.

    • .577 Boxer/Revolver/Webley/Tranter was not really hot IIRC ~20 grams @ 140-160m/s.
      Compare to 11mm Gasser that did 20 grams at 160-250m/s (depending on load, Belgian commercial loads were lower power, official “Montenegrin” load (Austrian and Montenegro made, also used in Fruthwith carbines) was upper end of spectrum, using 36 grains of powder and 312 grains bullet for about 250-260 m/s from 9″ barrel), .500 Tranter was about 22-24 grams @ 150-180 m/s. So, bigger was not always better.

      • .577 Boxer and the later .577 Revolver (solid case & conical bullet) were not exactly the same thing. The former fired typically a round shot of about 18-20 grams, muzzle velocity unknown (probably around 150 m/s). The latter fired a 450 grain (29 grams) conical bullet at about 500-600 fps (152-182 m/s). At the higher end of that spectrum were are talking about a pretty powerful cartridge, although admittedly the 11mm Gasser was even hotter at the upper end.

  4. Measured loads from bullets for Gasser:
    Montenegro made revolver ammunition (36mm case)- 2.3g/35 grains BP, 20g/312 grains soft lead bullet
    Austrian made ammunition 1 (36mm case) – 2.1g/32 grains BP, 20g/312 grains bullet
    Austrian made ammunition 2 (36mm case) – 2.0g/30 grains BP, 20g/312 grains bullet
    Austrian made ammunition 3 (29mm case) – 1.6g/24 grains, 312 grains bullet
    Belgian made ammunition (32mm case)- 1.8g/28 grains, 18g/277grains bullet

  5. Where does the pinfire cartridge fit within the U.S. legal system, which only mentions by name rimfire and centerfire ammunition?

    For instance, it would seem that a pinfire firearm with a bore over .50″ might exploit a loophole in 26 U.S. Code § 5845 by evading classification as a “destructive device” since a large-bore antique replica rifle (perhaps even a cannon) firing centerfire or rimfire — but apparently not pinfire — would not be granted an antique exemption and would therefore need to be registered by the ATF as a destructive device.

    At least that’s what the law seems to say (depending on how the phrase “or similar” might be interpreted) although how this might work in practice could be far different, as it seems the NFA law’s authors wrongly assumed that all fixed ammunition was either centerfire or rimfire.

    • Being of pre-1898 manufacture, it’s not a Destructive Device no matter the type of cartridge. If you were to make a reproduction, I expect ATF would consider it a DD unless you got the paperwork to get it exempted for sporting purposes.

      • Thanks, Ian. In this case, I’d guess that getting a ‘sporting purposes’ exemption from the ATF for a large-bore rifle with a built-in bayonet might be an uphill battle.

        I’m sure this must have been a well-worn topic around here, regarding assumptions of the pre-1898 exemption which appear to contradict the law’s actual text:

        “The term “antique firearm” means any firearm not designed or redesigned for using rim fire or conventional center fire ignition with fixed ammunition and manufactured in or before 1898 (including any matchlock, flintlock, percussion cap, or similar type of ignition system or replica thereof, whether actually manufactured before or after the year 1898) and also any firearm using fixed ammunition manufactured in or before 1898, for which ammunition is no longer manufactured in the United States and is not readily available in the ordinary channels of commercial trade.”

        ( https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/26/5845 )

        So basically a pre-1898 gun is not (automatically) legally an ‘antique’ if it fires rimfire or centerfire (and pinfire is not explicitly defined).

        I would also argue that “percussion cap or similar type of ignition system or replica thereof” should allow a large-bore pinfire (since it is not “rim fire or conventional center fire ignition” and contains a percussion cap internally).

        The law’s wording is additionally troubling because it would imply that if some guy on the far side of the country decides to make large-bore cartridges in his garage and put up a website selling them, then all pre-1898 guns that chamber that cartridge would presumably gets their ‘antique’ status automatically stripped away.

        But the ATF is known to work in mysterious ways — and I’ve yet to figure out how post-1898 ‘elephant’ rifles can be granted the ‘sporting purposes’ exemption when the actual text of the law only grants >.50″ shotguns that privilege.

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