Matchlock

June 18th, 2011 by


Military firearms are highly collectible antiques that peak a lot of buyers interests. One rare antique that fits this category is the matchlock weapon. The matchlock first came into existence in the 14th century. The significance of the matchlock was that it had a mechanism or “lock” invented to facilitate the firing of a hand-held firearm. Its design removed the need to lower by hand a lit match into the weapon’s flash pan. The matchlock also made it possible to have both hands free to keep a firm grip on the weapon at the moment of firing, and, more importantly, to keep both eyes on the target.

The classic European matchlock gun held a burning match in a gun that was known as the serpentine. A variety of matchlock was also developed called the snapping matchlock, in which the serpentine was spring-loaded and released by pressing a button, pulling a trigger, or pulling a short string passing into the mechanism. This type fell out of favor with soldiers, but was often used in fine target weapons. One weakness of the matchlock was the necessity of keeping the match lit. The sole source of ignition for the powder was the match. If the match was not lit, then the mechanism was useless and the gun became little more than an expensive club. This was mainly a problem in wet weather for the matchlock gun. It became an issue when the damp match cord was difficult to light and to keep burning. Another drawback was the burning match itself. At night, the match would glow in the dark, possibly revealing the carrier’s position. The distinctive smell of a burning match-cord was also a dead giveaway of a musketeer’s position. This was one reason why soldiers in charge of transporting and guarding ammunition were amongst the first to be issued self-igniting guns like the wheel lock and snaphance. The matchlock was also uneconomical to keep ready for long periods of time. The matchlock first appeared in Europe in the middle of the 15th century. By the 16th century, the matchlock was universally sold everywhere. The Janissary corps of the Ottoman army adopted matchlock arms from Hungary gradually from the 1440s onwards. Improved versions of the musket were transported to India by Babur in 1526 and then to Japan by the Chinese. The Japanese were technically able to produce tempered steel such as swords and blades. However, they preferred to use work-hardened brass springs in their matchlocks. The low cost of production, simplicity, and high availability of the matchlock kept it in use in European armies until about 1720. Both the Qing Dynasty and the Joseon Dynasty used matchlock arms as late as the 1850s and 1870s. They used these during the Second Opium War and the United States expedition to Korea. Improvised matchlock guns were last used by pro-Indonesia Timor Leste militias in the 1999 conflict.

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