Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oh, boy! A gun blog meme!

Via Tamara, I learned of a challenge from Robb Allen over at Sharp As A Marble. Robb asks:

What 5 firearms would I purchase, should price nor practicality be an issue?

He gives his list, then challenges his readers:

What about you? What 5 guns do you lust after?

Well, how can I resist a challenge like that? Of course, my answers are going to seem rather strange to those who get excited about 'plastic fantastic' pistols and 'poodle-shooters'. If practicality and price are of no concern, I'm going to get historical - and expensive! Here are my five selections, in order of their history.

1. An Elizabethan 'minion' cannon.

Elizabethan ships such as Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hind mostly carried small, relatively lightweight cannon known as minions, along with even smaller falconets (although larger ships were already beginning to carry newly-developed heavier weapons such as sakers, demi-culverins, culverins and demi-cannon). Minions fired a cannonball weighing up to 5 pounds, which was too light to inflict much damage on the hulls of opposing ships, but could destroy masts, rigging and sails. Also, the light weight of cannon and ammunition, and its wheeled carriage, allowed for a much higher rate of fire than the heavier guns found, for example, on ships of the Spanish Armada. (An interesting archaeological perspective on the cannon of both sides during the Armada battles may be found here.) Furthermore, the basic design of the minion and its carriage would be 'scaled up' to become the pattern for almost all future muzzle-loading cannon of the Royal Navy, until the advent of breech-loading weapons in the 19th century.

Replica 'minion'-style cannon aboard a replica of the Golden Hind in Brixham, England
(image courtesy of the replica ship's Web site)

I'd love to own a copy of the type of cannon that sailed round the world with Sir Francis Drake between 1577 and 1580, and fought the Spanish Armada in 1588! It would satisfy all sorts of piratical historical longings; and, being a small cannon, I could probably load and fire it myself (although I'm sure I'd have lots of friends coming out of the woodwork to help!).

2. The Puckle gun.

The Puckle gun was an early attempt to produce a repeating firearm before breech-loading technology was developed. It suffered from the indifferent metallurgy of the early 18th century, but appears to have been a perfectly feasible design.

Replica Puckle gun (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Intriguingly, it could be modified to take account of the religion of its targets! Wikipedia reports:

Puckle demonstrated two versions of the basic design: one, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets. The square bullets were invented in part by Kyle Tunis and were considered to be more damaging. They would, according to the patent, convince the Turks of the "benefits of Christian civilization".

There's more at the link.

I don't know about shooting square bullets at Turks . . . I've rather liked the few Turks I've met! I'd prefer not to shoot anything at them! Still, the Puckle gun has long interested me as a technological antiquity. Its fictional employment in the Belisarius series of alternate-history novels has cemented that.

3. The Baker rifle.

The Baker rifle was developed at the dawn of the 19th century, and armed the famous Rifle Brigade in the Peninsular War from 1807-1814. It played a major role in the long struggle to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte. Its adoption was partly inspired by British experience of the deadly effectiveness of rifles in the hands of American rebels during the Revolutionary War.

The Baker rifle, third pattern of 1806 (image courtesy of Military History Encyclopedia)

In recent years the Baker rifle has been exposed to a wider audience through the Richard Sharpe novels of Bernard Cornwell and the made-for-TV movies based on them. A number of excellent (albeit non-firing) replica Baker rifles were produced for the TV series, and some have come onto the market for private sale. I don't want one of them, though - I want something I can shoot! Original Baker rifles are sometimes available, although they tend to cost many thousands of dollars for a good specimen. Still, if money's no object, I can dream, can't I?

4. Holland & Holland Royal Grade double rifle.

As a former African boy, I have a high regard for double rifles as defensive weapons when dangerous game is around. The instant availability of a second shot, and the ability to use the largest and heaviest cartridges ever developed for hunting, made them a natural choice for many generations of sportsmen and professional hunters. I've had the privilege of shooting three specimens in Africa, made by Westley Richards, Rigby and Purdey. Any one of them would have cost me several years' salary at the time, so it's a good thing I was introduced to people who already owned them! As it was, each cartridge cost the equivalent of $5-$10!

That said, I'd love to own one; and if, as Robb Allen posits, money is no object, why not go for the best? Rather than buy a new rifle, I'll pick this one for its provenance and historical interest.

Holland and Holland Sidelock Non Ejector - Toplever Hammerless "Royal" Grade Double Rifle in .500 3¼ “ N.Ex. 26” chopper lump barrels. Concealed third bite. Strap over comb. "Nizam of Hyderabad's" rifle. Cased in new brass bound oak and leather with canvas/leather outer and all accessories.

Restocked and refinished in the highest standard to as new and remains in that condition (100%). Number 1 of a pair. Made in 1905. Lettered. Serial 19XXX. $45,500

Holland & Holland's 'Royal Grade' double rifles are absolutely magnificent - the very peak of firearms craftsmanship. For that matter, everything sold by the company simply oozes that 'British upper class' snootiness - although the quality of their products entitles them to it, I guess! Here's a promotional video from H&H to give you some idea of what I'm talking about.

The .500/450 Nitro Express cartridge was developed by Holland & Holland during the transition from blackpowder to cordite as a propellant. It's one of the classic African 'safari calibers', and for historical reasons I think it would be just about perfect for my collection. Of course, it's a classic Indian 'tiger cartridge' as well, as evidenced by the Nizam of Hyderabad specifying it for this rifle and its twin.

5. Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver.

The intriguing - and, let's be honest, just plain weird! - Webley-Fosbery was developed in the late 19th century, and produced in the early 20th century, in an attempt to increase the rate of fire and ease of use of a revolver. It was intended to rival the first generation of semi-automatic pistols, such as the Borchardt C-93 and the Mauser C96.

Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver (image courtesy of Wikipedia)

When the revolver was fired, recoil forces cocked the hammer while half-turning the cylinder. As the gun came down from recoil, the cylinder moved forward, completing its rotation to bring the next round into line with the barrel. A more detailed description of its operation may be found here.

The Webley-Fosbery was never adopted as a service sidearm, but it was an intriguing attempt to bring the perceived advantages of semi-automatic pistols to the older revolver platform. As an historical oddity, I'd love to have one in my collection.

So, there you have it. Five guns, selected without regard for practicality or price. They'd be enough to give me warm fuzzies for months! How about you, readers? Which five guns would you select in response to Robb Allen's challenge? Let us know in Comments.



STxRynn said...

My five are a bit eccentric as well. I want the 41 Mag my dad carried at his first police department when I was 1. My grandpa's colt woodsman that had my uncle's picture under a perspex grip panel, an 88 mm flak cannon from ww2, a 105 that flew on a B25 Mitchell (like a General Kenny commerce destroyer), and a sho' 'nuf 1911 from 1911. 2 for sentimental reasons, 2 for my historical curiosity, and one for sheer pleasure.

Take care.....

Wayne Conrad said...

I want only a few sporting arms:

A German 88.
Barrett 50 cal.
A semi-auto shotgun, like Benali makes.

I can't think of a fifth. I guess I'll have another German 88. Can't have too many of those.

trailbee said...

These weapons are gorgeous! I don't know enough about firearms to have a wanna-have arsenal listing lurking in my brain. But, I did ask my husband his choice and he said his grandfather used a bolt-action 303 Enfield in the Boer War in Africa.
For me, as long as it shoots when I need it, I'm happy. Four more? Are you kidding? :)

Anonymous said...


You *CAN* own a repro Barker's Rifle.

URL's follow: Non-firing version, with the vent hole into the chamber not drilled. BUT, you can send it to a gunsmith, who will replace the non-firing barrel with one you can shoot with.

Other mfr's are available, just use a search engine with "Baker rifle for sale"

C-90 from #GBC

TomR said...

1 M60 gpm

2 M14

3 1911A1 in .45acp

4 M2 Carbine

5 Ruger GP100, .357 magnum

Mad Jack said...

I selected my five and explained myself here: Gun Blog Meme: Five Firearms

Two shotguns, two rifles and a pistol. Nothing as esoteric as I read on your blog - just when are you going to try out your cannon (canon?).

Slowcoach said...

I was wondering if you guys can help. I am working on my bucket list and on it is to fire a puckle gun. Both models. Does anyone know-
1) where can I find a puckle gun?
2) where can I hire one to fire?
3) if not, does anyone know where I can get the design specs and try and build one for myself?

Please leave a comment here and I will check back or should I put up an email?

Peter said...

@Slowcoach: I've never heard of a replica/reproduction Puckle gun being available for sale or hire, so I think you're out of luck - unless you made your own?

There are video clips on YouTube of a replica Puckle gun being fired - for example, this one:

Anonymous said...

The 500 3 1/4" Nitro Express round that the Nizam of Hyderabad's rifles were chambered for and the 500/450 Nitro express round that you state is a caliber you would like, are two different calibers. Also the 500/450 Nitro is more of a elephant cartridge, but of course could be used and was used on tiger. The 500/450, 500, and 450 Black Powder Express cartridges were more the famous tiger crtridges. These were less powerful than the Nitro rounds (still very powerful though!) That is sure a beautiful rifle though, would love to own it!!