RIA: Extra-Fancy 20-Shot Pinfire Revolver

The pinfire cartridge was a popular development in Europe in the mid-1800s that never saw much exposure in the United States. A huge variety of pinfire revolvers were made by a myriad of large and small shops, with Liege Belgium being one of the biggest manufacturing centers.

Guns ranged from tiny folding-trigger 5mm models to massive 12mm weapons, with capacities from 5 to 20 shots. This particular one is both mechanically and visually interesting. It is a twin-barrel example, with a 20-round cylinder using chamber in two concentric rings. The inner ring of ten rounds are fired from the lower barrel and the outer ring of 10 rounds are shot through the top barrel. As one cocks and fires, the gun automatically alternates between the two. It is a clever way to get a large capacity without the cylinder become too ridiculously huge. Visually, of course, this revolver is pretty arresting, with its complete coverage of decorative gold embellishing and fancy case.


  1. Thankyou so much for covering this Ian! I’m sure a lot of viewers have seen this type of pinfire in a book but to have a video examining it really is wonderful. Despite it’s novel form it is striking how similar to a regular pinfire revolver it is mechanically.

  2. This is like what you see in the Arms and Armor section at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; beautiful to look at and inspect, but way too pretty to shoot!

  3. There’s a flea market near my home that has a pinfire howdah pistol. It looks like it is at least 12mm. Haven’t gotten around to asking to handle it and put a bore measure into it yet…

  4. I’ve been waiting for a vid on this type of revolver. I saw a picture of a Spanish S&W top break copy that had the same set up in .25apc. Definitely a lot of capacity for a revolver.

  5. Ah the assault revolver.

    Beautiful piece, thanks for showing its case as well Ian. Did anyone make center fire double barrel revolvers?

    • “Ah the assault revolver.”
      For me it is Browning HP, just crafted from technologies available in 19th century.

      Considering from many Hollywood movies, where hero fire 15 shots or so from revolver without reloading, it is how Hollywood revolver work 🙂

    • The double-barrel (over/under) revolver seems like such an intuitively practical concept, it’s a wonder that the double-row cylinder design did not seem to survive past the pinfire era.

      More modern combat shotguns like the Striker-12/Streetsweeper with its gargantuan cylinder could certainly have benefited from a 2nd barrel (especially if the inner ammo ‘ring’ being a smaller caliber) or even the more common 12-shot .22 revolver.

      • “double-row cylinder design did not seem to survive past the pinfire era.”
        It did, see here: http://www.littlegun.be/arme%20belge/artisans%20identifies%20h/a%20h%20d%20h%20gb.htm for center-fire over-under-barrel revolver;
        in chapter titled Revolver HDH (with 20 shots) states that:
        “manufactured(…)by firm HDH (patent of 1910) until the beginning of the years 1930 (the catalogue from where is extracted annexed publicity is gone back to 1928)”
        you can also see vintage advert for this revolver, if I am not mistaken its stated that this revolver is available in following chambering:
        20-shot firing 6.5 Velodog
        20-shot firing 6.35 [probably mean 6.35 Browning* known as .25 Auto in USA]
        16-shot firing 7.65 [probably mean 7.65 Browning* known as .32 Auto in USA]
        16-shot firing 32 S & W [this mean .32 S&W Short** or .32 S&W Long?]
        I hope someone with better Français-skill will fully translate it for us – text under drawing is apparently describing available finish version.
        *this cartridge can function in revolver because is semi-rimmed
        **i know it is designation fitted to cartridge retroactively to distinguish it from .32 S&W Long

        • is: “(…)can function in revolver because(…)”
          should be: “(…)can function in revolver like rimmed because(…)”

        • French, but not a specialist with the jargon. Here is my translation, feel free to correct or complete it 🙂

          “HDH: Special revolver. [Unique type? as in “only one model”?], with [pushing extractor?], 2 barrels and two [mobile] firing pin. Grid nut, high quality black finish.
          HDH Nacre: Idem. Nacre handle, black or nickel finish.
          HDH Lux: Idem, nacre, *gold* threads around the [pieces?], engraved black lining, tempered, grandrelle, blue finish, extra-fine.”

          • The “extracteur poussoir” is literally “push extractor,” but it’s the term for a star extractor. I believe “noyer quadrillĂ©” is checkered walnut (grips).

            “Nacre” is mother-of-pearl grips for the fancier models.

            For the Lux, “trempĂ© jaspĂ©” is literally something like mottled tempering or marbled tempering, but I think it’s the period term for case hardened, and “bleui” is blued.

  6. I’ve seen a few plain pin-fire revolvers of this capacity–all well used, so they seem to have been successful in the real world. But you have to wonder: how did you holster these revolvers?

    • If you’re in a predicament where you feel the need to carry a revolver with at least 3 times the capacity of other sidearms of the time, I would imagine you wouldn’t need a holster because you’re already too busy fighting off assailants to require it!

      In all seriousness though—I would be very interested to see how these 20-rounders were retained when they weren’t needed. Maybe a lanyard, or a just wear a greatcoat and use the pockets?

      I don’t remember where I read this, but supposedly some officers in the American Civil War bought these kinds of revolvers as well.

  7. It looks quite scary, especially if one were looking down both barrels. But the only way to load this is to insert cartridges one at a time (and I don’t think there’s any chance that a center fire version comes with moon clips or speed loaders). Once the user’s twenty shots are out it’s time to pull a New York reload unless all the intended recipients of the bullets are down for the count. But if I had to make a high capacity revolver, I would definitely NOT try the Enouy approach.

    In a dark alley scuffle, would you pick?

    1. HDH 20-shot double barrel revolver
    2. Steyr 1893 gas-seal experimental DA revolver
    3. Rast & Gasser M1898
    4. Webley-Fosbery
    5. Smith & Wesson Model 10
    6. HK Mk. 23 with suppressor (comes with Sykes knife for your non-dominant hand)
    7. Screw this! Uzi or Schnellfeuer!
    8. Get something else!

    The activity above is completely voluntary. You are not required to participate. Please keep any and all criticism of this post humane and free of foul language.

    Thank you,


    • S&W M10 for me, but I’ll take the Sykes-Fairbairn dagger, too, just in case thing go on after six rounds.

      The HK MK 23 is more of a “distance” weapon, for whacking sentries and guard dogs than a CQB gun. The Webley-Fosbery belongs on a target range, not in combat.

      A Schnellfeuer with a Parker-Hale suppressor, or an Uzi with a Ciener on the nose, would just about be the bee’s knees in an alley fight, assuming you weren’t right on top of the other guy(s) when the festivities opened. (First Rule of Alley Fights; If It Can Be Grabbed, It’s Gonna Get Grabbed.)

      Been there. Done that.

      No, I don’t like it.



    • I’m going to take the HDH for one hand and a Fairbairn Smatchet for the other. I’m not a great pistol shot so I will just pull trigger until empty then slash and stab vigorously with smatchet. Will totally rely on aggression and proximity to compensate for lack of skill.

    • I’ll take the Uzi using a two handed grip, as eon says ‘if it can be grabbed, it will be grabbed’ and a two hand grip will give you enough time to “discourage” someone from holding on to the wrong end of the Uzi. I also agree with eon that a fight in an alley with multiple opponents is no place for this country boy and I want something to get me out of trouble as fast as I can humanly arrange it.

    • “and I don’t think there’s any chance that a center fire version comes with moon clips or speed loaders”
      Why? If you look on photos of HDH in link which I provided:
      especially that showing revolver opened there is no thing obstructing usage of said devices. I’m not sure how two-ring speedloader would exactly look, but there shouldn’t be problems with using half-moon clips.

  8. Apparently at RIA Ian is not asked to wear white gloves. I’d expected them this time. Is there an interesting reason why not, dear Host? I’d like to have seen more of the case. It looks like walnut veneer, and I expect it to have been Italian walnut. The darker wood around all the perimeters I suspect is a rosewood; the queen rosewood then, (as now) is Brazilian rosewood. If the handles, pistol, screwdriver and oil bottle itself were wood, I’d suspect Gaboon ebony or perhaps African Blackwood. The latter is used, I think to this day, for clarinet bodies. These two black African woods are fiercely dense, with virtually without grain, often heavier than water, but carve wonderfully well. (No grain direction against which cuts need be carefully made.)
    Thanks Ian.

    • Ian has previously pointed out that rock island is more concerned about things being dropped because of the reduced dexterity of wearing gloves.

      I still find it shocking when he uses a ball point pen as a disassembly tool.

  9. Yes, walnut burl veneer. And the work to inset those brass hinges, and the curved stop for the lid, and the lock is work equal to the level of gunsmithing the case contains. That lighter color of wood between the purple interior and the inside edge of the case is mitered at the corners, thin, (3/16th’s), and inset all the way to the bottom. Nice corners at all 16 corners. Zowie. Given the age, we suspect French polished shellac. See the current Sippican Cottage for his post on shellac.

  10. The Ming the Merciless Special. Sets new standards in tacky over-ornamentation.

    Those grips (gutta-percha?) would be pretty uncomfortable if the caliber has any amount of recoil. (Looks about 7mm-?)

    On p.69 of Firearms Curiosa by Winant, plate 59 shows an un-decorated, probably blued 20-shot 7mm pinfire that looks to be a dead ringer for this one. It’s marked “Le Page Freres a Paris”. So this could either be a Belgian copy, or Le Page had them built in Liege for sale in France- take your pick.

    Somebody once suggested that the whole thing with 18 to 20-shot revolvers in France was “inspired” by early American silent Western films like “The Great Train Robbery”, in which cowboys’ revolvers never seemed to require reloading. Sorry, but the concept is a lot older than that.

    Even before metallic cartridge revolvers, Mariette was making percussion-cap pepperboxes with up to 24 barrels;


    And Le Page beat Walch and Lindsay to the punch in the superposed-load department with a six-barreled pepperbox with two loads per barrel, as well as two-shot single-barrel pocket pistols that could just about be hidden in your palm;


    The French may not have quite grokked the idea of hitting power, but from the start they certainly understood the concept of firepower.



    • “(Looks about 7mm-?)”

      I would have guessed 8mm, but it seems 7mm was the common caliber. It’s no doubt somewhat of an art form to be estimating measurements based on the (assumed) size of the presenter’s hands. ‘Numbers geeks’ are becoming an increasingly oppressed minority in recent years (I’m still annoyed at Youtube for rounding off the upload time listed in search results to the nearest year, which makes research efforts [particularly regarding rapidly-changing news stories] much more cumbersome). But since most people seem to find numbers boring, that’s what pop-culture caters to. (though it’s possible that Ian’s occassional ommission of bore and barrel length estimates could be more for legal reasons — as these auction videos could technically be considered commercial advertising)

      “The French may not have quite grokked the idea of hitting power, but from the start they certainly understood the concept of firepower.”

      It’s interesting how the perceived importance of hitting-power vs. ammo capacity/rapid-fire capability has wavered back and forth over the last century or so. And even up to the present day, with the FBI reversing course (once again) and abandoning the .40 in favor of a smaller (& faster followup) round, while at the same time the US military looks for something harder hitting than the current 9mm (a decision that if implemented, could well be reversed soon if the military were to become increasingly female & Hispanic.)

      • “It’s interesting how the perceived importance of hitting-power vs. ammo capacity/rapid-fire capability has wavered back and forth over the last century or so.”
        Let’s see example of Red Army, later Soviet Army and now Russian Army:
        1930 – 7.62×25 is adopted, but notice that it was done because it was considering as best cartridge for sub-machine gun available.
        With development and wide introduction of new category of weapon – avtomat – role of sub-machine gun narrowed
        1951 – 9×18 Makarov is adopted, as it allow reasonable size blow-back automatic pistol to be constructed
        Experience gained during intervention in Afghanistan show that new cartridges able to defeat body armour is needed
        early 1990s – 9×19 7N21 high-pressure cartridge is developed
        early 2000s – 9×19 7N31 improved penetration cartridge is developed
        late 2000s – 9×19 7N30 even more improved penetration cartridge is developed
        note that 2 last have special design, if they hit something hard enough core abandon jacket (acts like APCR), but if something soft they remain together (acts like FMJ)
        enhanced penetration cartridge were also developed for 9×18

        Early requirement for project Grach was convertibility between following cartridges:
        7,62×25 Tokarev, 9×19, 9×18
        it was later abandoned but this feature remained in OTs-27 Berdysh automatic pistol, finally heavy-powder-charge 9×19 was chosen for further usage

      • “while at the same time the US military looks for something harder hitting than the current 9mm”
        If I am not mistaken, don’t they want cartridge-agnostic automatic pistol?
        Which could be converted between various cartridge by swap of few parts?
        I bet that they will stay with 9×19 or just limit to introduction of heavy-powder-charge 9×19. When better cartridges exist its advantages are outweighed by simple economic: you need many many $$$ to change all automatic pistols AND accessories for it. If they decide to adopt new wide-issued handgun cartridge it would be probably principally superior to now existing.

        And anyway there is no much place for improvement in (automatic pistol) cartridge case, if we stick to classic brass. Dimensions are restricted by anatomy of human hand (just look at .30 Carbine AutoMag pistol) and how many recoil we can soak.

        Finally almost all most common cartridge are well over 50 year old, sometimes even older than 100 years(!) like .380 Auto, 9×19, .45 ACP and nothing suggest that they will fade-out in predictable future.

        • There will never be the “perfect” gizmo, because the more designers optimize something for a specific role, the more they necessarily degrade it’s effectiveness for other roles (that are thought at the time to be less important, but may turn out to be otherwise). Psychological factors (“shock and awe”, suppressive fire, etc.) can also play a factor.

          This 20-shot pinfire revolver, for instance, must have had a considerable psychological impact upon the typical 19th century robber. With its unexpectedly huge size, and bristling with a seemingly infinite number of bullets pointed one’s way, the intimidation factor alone was perhaps a far greater deterrent than its lightweight ballistic performance might otherwise merit.

          Although the accepted orthodoxy preaches otherwise, even just firing blanks at an attacker is likely to defeat a high percentage of criminals, most of which are just looking for an easy payday and will be more than glad to move on in search of an easier victim.

          • Revolvers firing only blank or tear-gas cartridges were popular in Europe a century or so ago for that exact reason. Plus the often-quoted “statistic” that even at point blank, 90% of shots miss. (Don’t bet your life on it.)

            There was a version of the Dutch M1873 9.4mm military revolver, the “tot transgaspatroon”, that was intended to fire only tear-gas rounds as a civilian defense weapon. It had an abbreviated 1″ barrel with no rifling.

            It apparently didn’t occur to anyone that it was still perfectly capable of firing a standard lead-bullet service round. Or that with no rifling, the bullet would probably begin exhibiting serious yaw after leaving the stubby muzzle.

            It probably wouldn’t hit anything you aimed it at much beyond four or five meters, but whatever it hit would suffer serious damage, because odds are the bullet would hit sideways and continue tumbling inside the target.


            (See pp.258-259 of The Handgun by Geoffrey Boothroyd.)



        • The choice of pistol calibers depends on what kind of ammunition you can use and what you have to penetrate. I suppose that’s the reason for the US Army’s wish for an exchangeable caliber pistol. Military use dictates ball ammunition, so going from 9mm to .40 makes very little sense. 1mm larger bullet diameter will not make a significant difference. For “stopping power” .45 caliber would be the best of established pistol calibers, but it can’t penetrate armor well unless you go to +P ammunition, which will be too hot for many soldiers. So, 9x19mm for armor penetration and .45 Auto for increased stopping power, and change the caliber depending on the need. Makes sense at least on the surface. On a deeper analysis, though, it is yet another US Army optimization game, which costs a lot but is unlikely to result in a truly practical multi-caliber pistol design.

  11. My goodness, that thing is magnificently ridiculous, on several levels.

    About what caliber is it?

    What is the space at the upper left of the box for?

    Thank you!

    • As I said, probably a 7mm, as that was the pinfire equivalent of .32 S&W, basically.

      The space in the corner in boxed presentation cases would generally be for ammunition, in pasteboard cartons or paper packages.



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