The wheellock was fitted to long arms often used primarily for hunting, and since this was essentially a pastime of the rich these wheellocks were often very ornate and elaborate. To ensure greater accuracy, many of these hunting wheellocks were fitted with rifled barrels. They are extreme­ly attractive pieces but their very quality ensures that they fetch very high prices indeed.

Wheellocks were in general use from about 1550 to 1650 but their cost meant that they never ousted the matchlock musket as the standard military firearm.

The matchlock was gradually displaced from the middle of the 17th century, not by the wheellock but by a much simpler system, the flintlock. In place of the pyrites a shaped piece of flint, an even more common mineral, was used. 

The flint was gripped between the jaws of the cock, which was connected by means of a shank to a shaped metal block, known as the tumbler, fitted on the inside of a lockplate. Bearing down on the tip of the tumbler was a strong V-spring; also pressing against the outer edge of the tumbler was a small arm known as the sear.

 As the cock was pulled back the tumbler turned and the sear rode over the out­side edge and slipped into a small slot cut into the face of the tumbler. In this position the trigger could not disengage the sear from the slot. Known as the half-cock this position enabled the shooter to carry the loaded weapon in safety.

If the cock was pulled further back the tumbler turned and the sear automatically disengaged from the first slot and moved along the edge of the tumbler and then engaged with a second slot.

 This was the full cock position and in this setting pressure on the trigger disengaged the sear. As the spring was under tension, once the sear was released, it pressed on the tip of the tumbler and caused it to turn rapidly and so swing the cock forward. The flint held in the cock scrapped down an L- shaped arm of metal known as the frizzen, to produce sparks.

 The short arm of the L served as a pan cover and as the flint pressed on the top section it caused the frizzen to pivot forward allowing the sparks to fa directly into the pan to ignite the priming and so fire the main charge.

There were several varieties of flintlock but the most common form was the French lock which appears to have been first constructed in France about 1610. 

The miguelet lock is a variant form in which the cock was locked not by a sear pressing against the tumbler, but by an arm which passed through the lock plate to engage directly with the arm of the cock. The common Spanish miguelet is characterized by a short, square frizzen and a squat, square cock.

The flintlock was simpler than the wheellock and by the end of the 17th century the only wheellock weapons still being produced were very expensive hunting arms for the leisured nobility. The matchlock was no longer the standard military issue and generally the only matchlocks still in use after the 17th century were to be found in the East. 

When the Portuguese explorers first reached Africa, India and, eventually, China and Japan they took with them their matchlock muskets.


The Indian matchlocks are generally quite simple with very long barrels and plain, chunky stocks but the obvious difference between matchlocks from India and those from Europe is that the serpentine arm is set partly inside the stock, unlike the European pattern which has the lock plate mounted on the side of the stock.

Japanese matchlocks are far more ornae and, as befits the skill of their craftsmen, the Japanese produced some \ery fine quality pieces. Barrels on the Japanese matchlocks tend to be vay thick and heavy while the wooden stock does not, like the Indian verson, copy the European style.

 Japanese matchlocks are usually quite shoit and chunky and they are frequently inlaid or lacquered. The springs ou these weapons are almost invariably of brass and the lock favored by the Japanese was that known as the snap lock. 

When the arm was at rest the serpentine was pressed down into the pan, a dangerous system for accidental discharges were common. The European style had the serpentine at rest with the arm raised away from the pan.

One great advantage of the flintlock was that it could be produced in any size, large enough to fire a cannon or small enough to fit on a pistol to slip into a pocket or purse. 

The wheellock may have been responsible for the spread of the pistol but it was the flintlock that made the pistol commonplace. From the 17th century onwards the French style of lock was the dominant version and will be found fitted to pistols and longarms made all over Europe and America.

The shape of the lockplate can be a useful guide in dating flintlocks. The late 17th-, early 18th-century lockplate tends to be rather drooping, almost banana shaped, and is frequently convex in section.

 As the 18th century progressed the lockplate became straighter, losing that charac­teristic droop at the rear; it also became flatter in section.

The shape of the cock can also help in dating, for early ones have a very graceful S shape, later versions are less graceful. By the turn of the century many of the cocks are of the ring necked style with the lower S- section being replaced by a strengthened neck.

 Various improvements were made to the mechanical action of the lock - all designed to reduce friction and make the action more positive. Small metal rollers were

fitted on the lock at points of maximum friction such as the tip of the frizzen where the spring pressed against it - a feature of the late 18th and early 19th century weapons.

Another useful guide, but by no means infallible, is the butt cap on the pistol. As a generalization, and it must be appreciated that there are exceptions to all these general guidelines, the earlier the pistol the larger the pommel or ball at the end of the butt is likely to be. 

The pommel was usually fitted with a metal cap, and running up the side of the butt were two arms, one on either side. As the 18th century progressed these arms tended to be shorter until, by the turn of the century the butt cap was often dispensed with altogether. 

If, as on many military pistols, a butt cap was still fitted, the only trace of the side arms was a slight upward curve on the edge of the cap.

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