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A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Sat Oct 27, 2018 8:40 pm
by Stephen Nash 218
I have a William Moore & Co. pinfire, a 16-bore double-barreled lever-over-guard gun with an early Lang-type single-bite action and the assisted-opening stud on the action flats. The back-action locks are marked “W. M. & Co.”, and the top rib is indistinctly marked the same. I cannot make out if there was a street address, though it seems not. The gun has London proofs, and is not a Belgian copy. While the chamber is for 16-bore shells, the barrels carry '14' bore stamps. The serial number is 1159A, suggesting one of a pair? The well-shaped fences and other small details suggest a good quality gun, but unfortunately information on Moore pinfires is difficult to come by.

I know of a William Moore & Grey pinfire in a collection on the Internet, and I assume there must be Moore & Harris pinfires out there. An auction house listed a 'W. Moore" pinfire some years ago, but without information on the gun's markings. William Moore appears to have sold sporting guns as William Moore, and pistols and military pattern guns (higher quality Sniders) as W.M. & Co. Perhaps a WM&Co pinfire was destined for the export market, as I found this one in Canada - however, I'm not aware there was ever much of an export market for British pinfires. I don't know how other William Moore pinfires may have been marked.

I'm also curious by the WM&Co marking. There is certainly room on the lock plates to have 'Wm Moore' at the least. Moore was a very well known and well respected maker, perhaps everyone at the time would have known who WM&Co was? Yet it seems strange to just have initials.

Any information on still-surviving William Moore, Moore & Grey, Moore & Harris and WM&Co. guns, especially pinfires, would be gratefully received.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Sun Oct 28, 2018 11:37 am
by John 39
This would seem to be an open bored 16 bore and it seems to have been one of a pair, I can think of no other reason for the A suffix. At this time gun makers probably had no regularly used system for denoting pairs of guns.

The history of pinfire guns is interesting, not that I have studied it in detail or ever owned one, but your post has prompted me to take another look through our histories.

The needle fire was invented before the pinfire but was not particularly successful because of gas leakages and broken needles (see J V Needham).

Casimir Lefaucheaux famously exhibited his breech-loading pinfire gun and cartridge at the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, nothing much happened until in 1855 John Blanch bought from Beatus Beringer of Paris and St Etienne, "a breech-loader for the sum of £27". He copied and improved on the design, and he imported cartridges from Chaudun and Gevelot, there being no English pinfire cartridge makers at that time.

Eley only started manufacture of pinfire cartridges in 1859/1860, they were first mentioned in the 1861 catalogue and were colour coded and came in various qualities, blue (best quality), Brown, Green (extra quality), and red. This indicates that pinfire guns were really only produced from 1860 onwards and production was curtailed from not so much by the introduction of the Lancaster Base fire but really from the introduction of the Schneider derived Daw centrefire cartridge in 1861. Given that it took three or four years for this to become popular the pinfire was out of date by 1865 although it continued in production for another 10 years or so.

In 1853 Louis Julien Gastinne took out French patent No.9058 for a breech-loader. Auguste Edouard Loradoux Bellford developed Gastinne’s ideas and came up with his cartridge patent No. 2778 of 29 November 1853. This was assigned to Lancaster on 22 November 1856. On 28 September 1854 Lancaster registered patent No. 2089 for his base fire cartridge which was something of a cross between the rim-fire cartridge invented by Flobert in 1845 (his.22 "Gallery Cartridge" which had no powder just the priming compound), and Daw's later 1862 centre-fire cartridge which was developed from Francois Schneider's and Clement Pottet's cartridges (the latter later improved by Colonel Boxer's new primer and adopted by the Board of Ordnance).

The base fire cartridge was not perfected until 1857 when, on 16 September, Lancaster patented his improvements (patent No. 2400), but even then the base fire was only moderately successful because it tended to mis-fire. On the base-fire cartridge the base was a copper disc coated with a compound of fulminate of mercury. The disc had four flash holes. It was not re-loadable and was eventually replaced by the centre-fire cartridge and many base-fire guns were modified to accept them.

In 1861 Schneider took out patent No. 2203 which was bought by George Daw. This was for the Daw centre-fire cartridge and the manufacturing machinery to make the cartridge. The cartridge was essentially a rim-fire cap in the head of a larger cartridge case, the cap had a tightly fitting brass rod with four external grooves in it so that the flame could pass down to ignite the powder. The key to this patent was that the rod formed a single anvil in the percussion cap.

At the International Exhibition of 1862 in London, George Henry Daw was awarded a prize medal for his cartridge, and in 1868 the Government awarded him a £400 prize. The Daw cartridge was the precursor of the modern cartridge and George thought he had a monopoly on the centre-fire principle. He prevented several attempts at copying it by threats of legal action, but in 1865 Eley Brothers finally made a similar centre-fire cartridge, and George challenged them in Court in November of that year. He won the case but Eley Brothers redesigned their cartridge with two anvils instead of one triangular anvil. Daw went back to court but lost the case, which nearly bankrupted him. This meant that Eley Brothers and everyone else was free to further develop centre-fire cartridges.

On 4 August 1865 T W Webley took out provisional patent No.2030 for a centre-fire cartridge (with a dummy pin which acted as a loaded indicator, and for conversions of pin-fire guns and revolvers to centre-fire).

A word more - for members searching our database for info: searches for words are not always easy because pin fire can be written as pin fire, pinfire, and pin-fire. It is the same with centre fire, breech loader and gun maker, and possibly other search words too! In future I will adopt the two word approach as this would have come first ! All existing histories have been updated the hypenated versions and single word variations exist only in quoted advertisements.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Mon Oct 29, 2018 5:28 pm
by Stephen Nash 218
Thank you for the overview. The development of the breech loading game gun, and the development of the pin fire cartridge are two very interesting and linked steps in gun history. Like most inventions, these did not happen overnight, but over decades of thought and experimentation! Also, thank you for the mention of the date, 1855, when John Blanch acquired (and started to copy) a Beringer gun - this is the start of the lever-over-guard in British gunmaking, and another example of the influence of France on the development of sporting guns. I have some notes on this period, which I can share.

The idea of loading from the breech-end of the barrel is almost as old as firearms themselves, but until the middle of the 19th century this had never seriously been explored by British makers of sporting arms. Muzzle-loading arms had the benefit of a sealed breech which did not allow the rearward escape of expanding gases. The very nature of a breech-loading firearm means there is a gap, however well the gun is constructed, between the barrel/chamber and the breech face, where the barrel meets the body of the action. The primary obstacle to building a workable breech-loading gun was the difficulty of achieving an adequate gas check or seal at this junction. Without this gas seal, a significant portion of the energy needed to drive the charge down the barrel would be lost and wasted, and distance, accuracy and penetration power would suffer. Rearward-escaping gases worked to force apart the breech and breech face, and in time this would dangerously weaken the gun – to say nothing of their effect on the nerves of the shooter. There would be little worth to a game gun that, no matter how easily it could be re-loaded, did not shoot strongly and accurately or became increasingly dangerous to the user from normal use. Until the gas-seal problem could be solved, the breech-loading option remained frustratingly beyond reach.

Across the Channel in Paris, great progress was being made on breech-loading guns. Jean Samuel Pauly and François Prélat together developed around 1808 the very first central-fire cartridge, incorporating grains of a fulminating compound in its base. The cartridge was patented in 1812 for use in a gun that had fixed barrels and a lifting breech. It is unclear if this cartridge was obturating – if it provided a gas seal upon firing. It may have been, but it does not appear to have been recognised as such at the time.

The Pauly cartridge had a metallic base and a paper tube body, and the grains of fulminate were held with wax in a depression in the bottom of the cartridge base. One description has the priming compound, a mixture of potassium chlorate, sulphur and powdered charcoal bound together with gum arabic, fixed to the brass base with a paper patch; a later version of the cartridge used a one-piece brass case. The fulminate was provided separately, and the shooter had to add the fulminate to the ready-made cartridge. Lifting the breech allowed the cartridge to be inserted, and internal piston-like hammers struck the fulminate mixture. While the guns had external ‘hammers’, these were effectively cocking levers, and the design was ‘hammerless’ in the modern sense of having the striker completely enclosed within the action. Pauly and Prélat built guns on this clever principle, and hired the German Johann Nikolaus von Dreyse (later famous as the inventor of the needle fire) as a lock-maker. But, despite the ingenuity of the Pauly/Prélat action and cartridge, the gun is said to have had only moderate success.

Pauly left Paris in 1814, and the gunmaker Henri Roux continued the business and built Pauly-type guns. Roux modified the cartridge design to use pre-formed fulminate pellets instead of having to add the mixture manually before each shot. However, the notion of handling constantly primed cartridges was met with apprehension in the sporting community, which is not surprising considering the sensitive and violent nature of the fulminate used. Perhaps in response to this, Roux's successor Eugene Pichereau took the retrograde step of adapting the Pauly lifting-breech breech-loading gun to use an external nipple and copper cap, made to ignite a paper-wrapped cartridge placed in the breech. This approach made the design into a capping breech-loader, a design more frequently seen on rifles than on shotguns. The Parisian gunmaker Casimir Lefaucheux succeeded Pichereau in the original Pauly-Prélat-Roux business, and in 1827 he patented his version of the capping breech-loader, this time with a drop-down barrel.

Until this point almost all the attempts at making breech-loading guns revolved around a fixed barrel and a movable breech. The idea of having a fixed breech and a movable barrel was at the time revolutionary, though today it is the reverse that feels strange in the hand. On Lefaucheux’s gun the barrel was permanently hinged on a transverse pin, and when released the muzzle end of the barrels dropped and the breech end of the barrels rotated upward to allow loading the paper cartridges. The breech on Lefaucheux’s gun was closed and fastened by rotating a forward-facing lever under the action bar. The lever acted on an interrupted screw, engaging twin notches on extensions under the barrels. Lefaucheux was to take out several patents in the 1830s based on his designs. While the barrels could not be removed, Lefaucheux's double-bite interrupted-screw bolting system was essentially the same sound configuration as the one the Birmingham inventor Henry Jones would later patent in Britain in 1859. Ironically, it was later to become known in France as the English T-grip or double grip, and it was the most widely-produced breech-bolting system in use until the end of the century.

The Lefaucheux capping breech-loader had the same basic problem of all the breech-loading guns of the day—it was not gas-tight. Furthermore, the flame from the exploding cap did not always reach and pierce the cartridge's paper wrapping and ignite the charge. While the capping breech-loader solved the problem of ease of loading, it could not meet the other sought-after requirements, reliability and gas-tight efficiency. Around 1828 Casimir Lefaucheux made the logical deduction that eliminating the distance between the fulminate and the main charge by placing the sensitive fulminate inside the cartridge case would increase the reliability of ignition. At the same time this provided for safer handling, rather than using loose fulminate powder, or externally-primed cartridges like the Roux cartridge. In 1836 he patented a design which contained a pellet of the fulminate mixture within the metallic base of the cartridge. Against this pellet was a metal pin which ran through the base of the cartridge and extended outward through a hole in the side. A cap-lock style of hammer would strike the pin and explode the pellet, which would ignite the main powder charge. Casimir Lefaucheux adapted his hinge-action dropping-barrel gun to use this new cartridge, and the pin fire was born.

The pin fire cartridge might have solved the reliability problem, but the gun and cartridge were still not gas-tight. It appears it was the Parisian inventor Benjamin Houllier who finally solved the gas-seal conundrum, with his 1846 patent for an improved metallic pin (pin fire) cartridge. What made the design special was the inclusion of resilient material in the base of the cartridge, or what would be recognized today as a base wad. This material expanded under rearward pressure from the igniting powder and pressed the thin metal wall of the cartridge base outward against the barrel chamber, effectively sealing the breech – a simple but very effective modification that allowed obturation. After the shot was fired and pressure in the chamber returned to normal, the cartridge base returned to its initial size and the spent case could be easily removed. By solving the gas-seal problem with the Houllier cartridge, gunmakers no longer had to look to the breech mechanism for the gas-seal solution, and the way was finally clear for building practical, reliable and gas-tight breech-loading guns.

Several additional improvements to the French pin fire system appeared in the years following Houllier's cartridge, such as Jean Lepage's addition in 1850 of a second small lever in the fore-end section to allow the easy removal of the barrels, and the Parisian gunmaker Beatus Béringer’s reverse placement of the breech-fastening lever over the trigger guard loop (what the British call the lever-over-guard), but these were minor in comparison to the major leap the pin fire system represented over contemporary lifting-breech actions in France and the standard muzzle-loading gun in Britain. Lefaucheux’s inventions and gunmaking skills were recognized by the French government, who accorded him an honourable mention in 1827; bronze medals in 1834 and 1839, and a silver medal in 1844.
Casimir Lefaucheux never applied for a British patent for his breech-loading pin fire gun, but it could be said that at the time he needn't have bothered—the resistance (even revulsion) in Britain amongst the sporting community against the continental breech-loader was very strong and almost universal. The British sporting press virtually ignored all the French breech-loading guns, and influential men of the day spoke strongly against the pin fire in particular. Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Hawker, esteemed author of Instructions to young sportsmen in all that relates to guns and shooting, stated in its 9th edition (1844) that breech-loaders were "a horrid ancient invention, revived by foreign makers, that is dangerous in the extreme." No doubt he was not alone in expressing such an opinion.

Casimir Lefaucheux was likely aware of the harsh reaction his design provoked across the Channel, but thankfully this did not discourage his participation in the Great Exhibition of the Industry of all Nations, known ever since as the Great Exhibition of 1851. The exhibition was opened amid great fanfare on the first of May 1851 by Queen Victoria and Albert, the Prince Consort. In the exhibition, Casimir's son, Eugène-Louis, presented exhibit No. 1308 containing a single-barrelled hinge-action shotgun and a pepperbox pistol built on the pin fire system.

The Exhibition ran from May to October, and in that time some six million visitors passed through its gates. How many of these visited the north side of the Foreign Nave, and saw the exhibit of French firearms? For those who didn’t have that opportunity, The Illustrated London News ran an exhibition supplement in its 5 July 1851 edition, which helpfully carried excellent engravings of Casimir Lefaucheux’s single-barrel hinge-action pin fire gun, and his profusely-decorated under-hammer pin fire pepperbox. Anyone with an interest in sporting guns would have certainly taken note of the peculiar breech-loader, either in person or in print. Casimir Lefaucheux died in 1852 and did not see the impact of his exhibit.

Oft-reprinted history tells us that upon seeing the Lefaucheux pin fire at the Great Exhibition, the London gunmaker and fellow exhibitor Joseph Lang recognized its value and produced his own version, and by so doing started an avalanche of demand for the new dropping-barrel breech-loader. The authors Crudgington and Baker suggested in the first volume of their work The British Shotgun this was not the case, presenting instead an anecdotal recollection that it was the skilled craftsman Edwin Charles Hodges who, after seeing the Lefaucheux gun, built an English-styled copy that was sold to Lang, and later built and marketed under Lang's name. To Lang's credit he risked his reputation as a leading gunmaker by building and marketing the new design, but if it wasn't for the forethought and skilled hands of E. C. Hodges, the British pin-fire game gun might never have existed. Crudgington and Baker further argue that, unlike the popular version of the story, reluctance towards adopting the new system meant very few pin-fires were built before the very end of the decade. I have encountered very few British pin fire guns that can be reliably dated pre-1860.

What the Hodges-Lang gun did was to start imposing an unmistakable British character on a French design. The Lefaucheux gun on display at the exhibition had large, arched hammer noses, a long and heavy forward-facing underlever over a steel fore-end, and deep-relief engraving, together forming a style that became almost universal among continental pin-fires well into the early 20th century. On the other hand, the Hodges-Lang gun employed a smaller and less intrusive forward-facing underlever under the action bar, a detachable wooden fore-end fixed to the barrels, tall and slender hammers that closely mimicked those of a fine percussion gun, and muted decorative engraving. These largely stylistic modifications greatly minimized the differences in appearance between the pin fire and the British muzzle-loader. Indeed, retaining the shape and style of the muzzle-loader would be a recurring theme throughout the pin-fire period. Continental pin fire guns or continental-style actions were used but were never popular in Britain, and competition for the market was to be almost entirely fought between British makers and their home-grown designs.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Tue Oct 30, 2018 4:11 pm
by John 39
Stephen, the info you have taken the trouble to type out above puts everything into context, gives invaluable names and descriptions, and shows how these developments took place. I bow to you as the master.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Wed Oct 31, 2018 9:56 pm
by Stephen Nash 218
John, you are too kind! The development of the pin fire in Britain is my obsession, one that I have maintained for some 25 years. Your site is a wonderfully accessible resource and a gold mine of hard-to-find information.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Fri Nov 09, 2018 4:59 pm
by John 39
Hi Stephen,

Do you reload your own cartridges? I guess you must, in which case do you use any tools? I know reloading tools were made by a number of people such as James Dixon and William Bartram both of Sheffield. I don't know how the tools worked but know they were used to remove the old pin and insert the new pin. I know some were adjustable for the depth the pin was inserted. This sound like a good idea! What primer compound does one use to ignite the powder and what powder do you use?

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Sun Nov 11, 2018 8:42 pm
by Stephen Nash 218
John, long ago I used to reload reusable brass pinfire shells I purchased from Henry Krank, if I remember correctly. These involved using currently available percussion caps, and black powder. However, I no longer have these, and I do not reload for any gun - that is one aspect of the hobby I don't pursue. I am fortunate to have a pinfire-era centre-fire gun (the Lancaster appearing in the hunting forum), and a single-barreled conversion from percussion cap (Thomas Seymour) to centre-fire , for my hunting needs. The pinfires have earned their retirement.

I do have an assortment of pinfire reloading tools, though I was too late in starting to collect these. At some point I'll find time to photograph and describe them!


Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Mon Nov 12, 2018 4:10 pm
by John 39
On the single, was the pin to the right of centre? Would it have interrupted your line of sight? One of Boothroyd's regrets was that he never saw a single barrelled pin fire.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:21 pm
by Stephen Nash 218
The Seymour likely went from percussion cap straight to centre-fire without being a pin fire (at least the proof marks don’t indicate it), so there is no pin hole.

Single-barrelled pin fires are indeed rare, but I am fortunate to have three of them: a Boss & Co., a Dickson, and a Thomas Sylven conversion. On each one the pin hole is right of centre, and the hammer nose is slightly turned inward. I will try to get a photograph of the three actions, from above. All three are very fine examples.

The Sylven conversion can be explained by someone retaining a prized barrel. The other two would have been special orders, and I’m guessing they were for natural history collecting as opposed to traditional hunting guns. From the experience of the Seymour, a single-barrel gun is easy to carry all day long.

Re: A William Moore & Co. pinfire - seeking information on WM&Co.

Posted: Sat Nov 17, 2018 1:04 pm
by John 39
I've found a picture !