As discussed a few weeks ago, metal cartridges were not an option yet as precision mass-production didn’t exist. While you could make a handful of cartridges that would work in one given firearm, Making hundreds of thousands of cartridges that would work in every musket issued to your soldiers potentially all the way around the world was a manufacturing impossibility.
During the years of the Lorenzoni action, soldiers were almost universally issued paper cartridges to speed up reloading over manual powder pouring and ball loading. As a result, well-trained soldiers could fire three to five rounds per minute with a consistent load each time. As the advantage of breech loaders became clear, militaries looked at the various options for cartridges that could be loaded from the back of the gun and continue to speed up the rate of fire.
Although manufacturing had come a long way since Henry VIII’s carbine, a universal metal cartridge wasn’t a realistic possibility yet, however if designers could find a way to make a series of cartridges that were somehow locked to the gun…
This is how the revolver was born. Early revolvers were made as rifles and pistols and in wheellock and flintlock versions, clearly developments from earlier rotating-barrel designs, some were even made by the same manufacturers.
They were quite different to the revolvers of today, cylinders were loaded from the front with loose powder, wadding and ball much like miniature musket barrels. After each shot the cylinder had to be rotated and indexed by hand. In the first models, the pan had to be re-primed as well, though self-priming pans did really start to make sense for these pieces.
This genre of firearms was short-lived, the percussion cap changed the way that firearms were able to be used and designed overnight. As a result they are not well-known today compared to their descendants of only 20 years later.
One of the few to gain any attention is the Collier system, which by modern standards was a flop with only 150-450 produced. But for hand-made, cutting edge armaments this wasn’t doing too badly for the day. This had a hand-turned cylinder and a self-priming pan, which refilled as you cocked the hammer.
Some have suggested that Samuel Colt may have been inspired to create his revolver by one of these designs, apparently coming across them during his travels in India.
However it is interesting to note that this late Collier revolving carbine in the Royal Armouries collection has either an unusually complex indexing system or something which looks awfully like a slot for a hand in the back plate and arms on the back of the cylinder…
This guy got SO close to completely revolutionising firearms. It was just within reach to create the single-action revolver 16 years ahead of Colt. As it was, the gas-seal for these would have made it impossible but it could have been remedied for the loss of a little velocity.
You can see Ian’s AWESOME video on these at Forgotten Weapons.