BLTC Press Titles

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The Pictorial Key to the Tarot

Arthur Edward Waite

The Worm Ouroboros

E. R. Eddison

Vanity Fair

William Thackery

The Fairy Tale of the Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Thomas Carlyle, Rudolf Steiner

Our rifles

by Charles Winthrop Sawyer


About 1800, in Belhelvie, Scotland, a shooting parson with an inventive turn of mind became greatly interested in the experiments of French chemists to substitute potassium chlorate for potassium nitrate in gunpowder. They were unsuccessful in using one for the other; so his first experiments were along the line of mixing the two for use as a charge in his gun-barrel. Happily his courage was such that he was not deterred by the astonishing consequences from continuing to experiment. While trying detonating powder in the pan of his flint shotgun for a priming he discovered that it gave better results when ignited by a blow than by a spark; out of this small beginning all subsequent developments grew. iron, with the idea of repriming them for successive use; in 1815 he made them of pewter, to be thrown away; and in 1816 he made them of copper exactly as they were made for the next fifty years. However, the claims of Roantree, Egg, Hawker and others to its invention had a basis of fact, if not of priority. The device was too obvious not to have been conceived by many minds.

Several years were spent in developing a gun-lock suitable to this new method of firing a charge of gunpowder; in 1805 one was fixed upon and applied to his fowling-piece. He shot with that gun all of the season of 1805 and took it to London in the spring of 1806 to show to some of his sporting friends.

By the time he received his patent papers in 1807 the news of the discovery and invention had spread far and wide. Hundreds of ingenious minds in Europe and America set to work to simplify or improve the new gun-lock or the fulminating powder. One of the first steps was the formation of the priming powder into small pellets or pills. These could be used in a magazine priming-powder lock without mechanical changes, and in single locks with far greater facility than could loose priming powder. Some of the expensive magazine locks were imported into the United States, but the cheaper form of single-pill lock prevailed.

Meantime the copper cap had been designed, but had not achieved popular use. Many inventors claimed it. Priority, however, seems to rest with Joshua Shaw,1 an English artist living in this country, who applied in 1814 for a United States patent. Not having been a resident of this country for two years, it was refused. His first caps were made of

■Joshua Shaw, b. Belingboro, Lincoln County, England, d. Philadelphia, 1860.

Before the copper cap was universally in use a form of it, called "tube detonator," was designed by Joseph Man ton and patented prior to and again during 1818. The tube detonator itself was expensive and it required an expensive lock; its use in America was almost wholly confined to the arms brought by visiting British sportsmen; nevertheless it became an object lesson to American sportsmen of the educated and influential class on the advantages of the percussion system.

Plate 4

No. 1, The original Forsyth percussion magazine-priming lock, patent of 1807. In front of the hammer is a magazine holding forty primings of either powder or pellets. It can be revolved through 180 degrees on a hollow axle; the hole in the axle runs to the chamber. When in the position shown by the picture the lock is primed. After firing, the magazine is to be turned upside down, to spill into place a fresh charge of priming powder or a priming pill.

The section drawing of the magazine, at the right of the picture of the lock, helps to explain the simple mechanism. A is the hollow axle communicating with the chamber of the rifle, on which the magazine turns. B is the cavity for the storing of priming powder or pills; it is covered by a thin lid lightly pivoted; when the magazine is turned over so that the cavity is uppermost a priming enters the hollow axle through the vertical hole. C is the firing-pin, held away from the priming until the hammer strikes it by a spiral spring. DD are oil-soaked corks for lubricating the axle and preventing the explosion of stray particles of detonating powder by the friction between the magazine and the axle. From this magazine pill lock sprang the pill locks used in America.

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